My Problem with the Hanging of Afzal Guru

The point is not that Mr. Guru was surely innocent. The point is that he should have been innocent until proven guilty. As a citizen of the State, that was his fundamental right. And, especially when the punishment being meted out for his guilt was the granting and subsequent upholding of the Death sentence, this guilt should have been ascertained beyond all reasonable doubt. It is not enough for the Court to be reasonably convinced. It is not fair of the Court to cite the “satisfaction of the collective conscience of society’. It is not alright, for the apex court of India, to base their decision on the blood lust, the need for vengeance, the crazed screams of the State’s citizens.

The truth is that this is the message that the hanging has sent out to the people: That an example was made out of Mr. Afzal Guru. A stern warning, not so much to terrorists, but to the entire community of Kashmir. And that warning basically tells them to keep quiet, to accept the atrocities they are forced to live under, to never complain, because the State can take away their lives, and the majority of this Nation will do nothing but celebrate. As long as they’re poor, and belong to the minority.

I can’t say that I am against the Death Penalty, per se. But, one reason I am highly uncomfortable with the same is that even the most efficient investigative agency, even the most vigilant justice system, even the more reliable governments – they can all make a mistake as to the judgment of a man. (Unless he is caught red-handed at the scene of the crime itself, of course). And the Indian justice system, the Indian police, the Indian executive, time and time again, they have not shown themselves as credible facets of the State machinery. Instead, the daily arbitrariness, the lack of any sense of responsibility while making comments on whichever issue best suits them, the constant harassment of regular citizens of the State – these are the norm in our Country today.

There are tons of people who believe that once a crime that crosses a level of heinousness is committed, the death sentence is valid. But, in a case where the media, the judiciary, the multitude of masses, not to mention our paranoid executive were all playing the presumption of guilt, where a lawyer was not provided to an undertrial at the most crucial stage of investigation, where most of their evidence comes from his own weirdly perfect confessions to the Police, where the Supreme Court of India has noted *several* discrepancies (not just procedural) in the non-circumstantial, non-confessed evidence against him, then isn’t it a little disturbing that the final rationale of the Supreme Court is that the execution is necessary to “satisfy the collective conscience of the people”.

Most importantly, half of those protesting this death sentence are not claiming he was innocent! All that’s being said is that the investigation was shoddy, and full of discrepancies. Don’t we learn about ‘Beyond Reasonable Doubt’? Mind you, it’s not like he was even at the scene. He’s alleged of conspiring to have committed the crime. Mainly based on his own confessions. While lawyerless. And in the custody of our glorious Indian police. The same one that came up with the theory that Aarushi’s father killed her when their original silly theory of the help being the murderer (before he was discovered rotting on the terrace) failed.

Executions are a big enough deal in States that have working justice systems. Because, there is always the possibility that you have condemned an innocent man. India’s police, judiciary and executive (bureaucracy) are nothing but flawed. 

A man who was not guilty beyond reasonable doubt was hung yesterday. *That* is my only problem..

I would like to conclude by citing a para of a article that has identified the problem with India’s Death Sentencing in a matter that is totally spot-on: “The hideous truth is this: judicial executions in India have all the rationality of the roulette table. Last month, Justices P Sathasivam and Fakkir Kalifullah commuted the death penalty given to Mohinder Singh for killing both his daughter and wife — this while out of prison on parole where he was serving time for earlier raping the girl. The judges argued that the death penalty ought only be considered when a perpetrator posed “a menace and threat to the harmonious and peaceful coexistence of the society.” One week later, Justices Sathasivam and Jagdish Khehar upheld death for Sundararajan, who kidnapped and then killed a seven year old boy. The judges noted, among other things the “agony for parents for the loss of their male child, who would have carried further the family lineage.” Besides the obvious imprint of gender values on judicial reasoning, it is the arbitrariness of outcome in cases that are similar which tells us something is seriously wrong.

Here is a Compilation of Four statements on the execution of Afzal Guru

1. PUCL
2. Amnesty International
3. CRPP
4. The Second Shahid Azmi Memorial Lecture

Here is Arundhati Roy’s piece on the impact of this hanging on the idea of Democracy itself

Here is what the Tihar Jail Officials had to say about Afzal Guru

Here is the State’s response to Peaceful Protests against the Hanging of Afzal Guru

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