The hangman’s noose has apparently satiated some of our appetite for revenge for the terrible crimes committed by a young man who so casually sauntered into Mumbai four years ago, a gun slung across his shoulder, shooting innocent citizens at random. That image of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab stays with us. In the nation’s collective imagination, we can now also see him hanging from a rope. Crime and punishment. Violence and retribution. Due process of the law. Justice delivered.
As we conjure up for ourselves the image of a medieval tradition in modern times, let us also see the picture with complete clarity, shorn of emotion. The Kasab hanging is also about politics. The man was quietly hanged and buried five days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the siege of Mumbai. It was announced to the world the day after Pakistani foreign minister Rehman Malik officially cancelled a scheduled visit to India. It happened the day before a stormy session of Parliament began. And it has come just ahead of the Gujarat elections, where the Congress would argue that it has some muscle to show the sole surviving ‘Hindu hriday samrat’ after the passing away of Bal Thackeray.
The unforgettable grab of terror stalking CST
Rewind to shortly after midnight between November 26 and 27. Kalashnikov-wielding terrorists zoom in from a lane on to the Metro Junction near the Mumbai Police headquarters in a police jeep. One of them, his weapon jutting outside the vehicle’s window, sprays a round of fire from the machine gun, injuring a journalist and instantly killing a constable. India’s ground zero. Soon, there comes news of the killing of top cops Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar. A few minutes later, we hear about constable Tukaram Ombale being killed and of a “terrorist having been captured alive”. This is one of the rare cases of a terrorist in a fidayeen attack being caught alive. He is a living proof of dangerous forces in Pakistan waging war against India.
A back story to that lethal child-man slowly emerges. He is from Faridkot district in Pakistan’s Punjab. One who left home at age 14 in search of a better life and ended up being a fidayeen. One who joined the Lashkar-e-Toiba and came to India on a boat with nine compatriots fully trained to execute the LeT’s lethal agenda. His nine companions died in the course of that operation. In his video confession, recorded soon after his capture, Kasab tells a Mumbai police officer that his handlers told him, “You have to do these things if you have to become a big man and get rewarded in heaven”. Kasab therefore had come to India fully prepared to be martyred in the name of jehad. Instead, he ended up being a “prize catch”. And a dead man at 7.30 am on November 21, 2012.
Kasab’s hanging is certainly a safe execution. He does not hail from India; so there is no political price to pay. The hanging of assassins from Punjab is a politically loaded question, as is the pending execution of Afzal Guru, which would again damage the delicate status quo in Kashmir. Ajay Sahani of the South Asia Terrorism Portal feels “Kasab’s was the easiest case for the government to take care of. He was past his utility in India. The case against him had been successfully concluded. Pakistan considered him an embarrassment. If we didn’t hang him, we’d come across as a weak state. But hanging Kasab doesn’t really make us a strong state either. So for the government, it was an easy point to score.”
Pandora’s box With Kasab hanged, the clamour for Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru goes up, especially from right-wing groups. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
Kasab, an inconvenient reminder for Pakistan, was indeed no one’s child. From a strategic point of view, however, his execution could be a tactical mistake for India. In summarily hanging him while there is an ongoing court case against him in Pakistan, it is difficult not to wonder if, in the search for short-term political gains, the Congress-led UPA has snuffed out a key piece of evidence (see interview with Shahbaz Rajput) and squandered bragging rights over India’s vaunted humanism? It was, after all, the great Indian, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is remembered across the world for saying that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
There is also the reality that the law, as it stands, ran its full course. There was no doubt about Kasab’s guilt; the only debate possible here is about the moral nature of capital punishment itself. Also significant is the fact that prominent Indian Muslims have made it a point to say that the law of the land has to be followed. MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi says that “there is nothing to debate here as the law of the country has been followed”. Mumbai-based advocate Majeed Memon says that he does not subscribe to the view that keeping Kasab alive would have been better for the probe. “There is some percentage of truth that some evidence could have been gathered by keeping him alive, but there is a limit for that. We cannot wait indefinitely, when he has been held liable for so much death.”
Indeed, there are those who believe there is some closure for 26/11. Smita Salaskar, wife of slain encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar, says she was satisfied with Kasab’s execution, “but I will be fully satisfied when the masterminds shielded in Pakistan are brought to justice”. K. Unnikrishnan, father of nsg commando Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the Taj strike, too accepts, “With the execution of Kasab, there is a sense of closure, yes.” A closure for some, but a simultaneous opening up of old wounds for others.
It doesn’t mask the lurking question and concern, though: could it be Afzal Guru next? People in the Valley know the Congress is being taunted by the BJP to hang Afzal Guru now. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi tweeted to this effect soon after the Kasab hanging, asking for Afzal Guru to meet the same fate next. There is a broad consensus among pro-Pakistan, pro-azadi and pro-India groupings in Kashmir that were Afzal Guru to hang, the Valley will burn again. His hanging wouldn’t pass off as a non-event here, says activist and lawyer Parvez Imroz: “He’s a native, and if he is executed, it would give birth to a new violent revolution in our streets. His conviction rested solely on circumstantial evidence. People in the Valley are aware that the SC found no direct evidence but said that the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”
Pro-independence JKLF chief Yasin Malik is one of the most vocal opponents of Afzal Guru’s hanging. Counted among the pioneers of armed insurgency in Kashmir, Yasin, who gave up violence in 1994, says that the people of Kashmir have consciously and collectively moved away from violence to non-violence. “Please respect this big gesture. My appeal to Indians is not to force Kashmiris into another phase of violence by hanging Afzal Guru.” Yasin recalled that thousands of Kashmiri youth picked up arms after JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat was hanged in Tihar in 1984. “Maqbool sahib’s execution had serious repercussions. A Maqbool Bhat was born in every home in Kashmir. Please don’t hang Afzal Guru unless you want to see another generation of Kashmiris carrying guns in their hands,” Yasin told Outlook. Chief minister Omar Abdullah too has said that he has “serious apprehensions” about what would happen were Afzal Guru hanged.
The Congress has certainly opened up an issue that is troubling for a vulnerable part of what we celebrate as the Indian Republic. In a scenario that now compels the party to live one day at a time (the motto of Alcoholics Anonymous), it can only take solace from the fact that there is greater public support for Kasab’s execution than for some of its other policies.
By Saba Naqvi and Toral Varia-Deshpande with Showkat A. Motta in Srinagar
I was extremely disappointed at the lead story and the accompanying pieces on the hanging of Ajmal Kasab (Dec 3). The tone and tenor of the articles were against his hanging. It’s surprising that you did not deem it fair to include at least one writer who justified the execution.
K.V. Menon, Thiruvananthapuram
When I came to know of Kasab’s hanging, I was stunned. And then sick—watching the whole country celebrate. I put up my feelings as a status message on Facebook: “The whole country is ecstatic. But I am feeling sad. Something wrong with me...or society?” Then I read Outlook’s cover. And realised I was not alone.
Goutam Das, Pune
Kasab’s hanging has brought to fore again the debate over capital punishment, shortly after India, along with 38 other member nations, voted against a non-binding resolution abolishing the death penalty at the United Nations. However, looking at the crime records in countries which cast the anti vote, it has been seen that retaining capital punishment has been no deterrent to crime. Given this, all countries should support the UN initiative—campaigned for extensively by Norway, a country which plays a leading role in global peace initiatives—to eliminate capital punishment. More than two-thirds of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty, and their number keeps increasing every year. In the latest round of voting, Israel too joined a majority of the European countries backing the UN resolution. It is indeed high time that this primitive practice is wiped out completely in this modern age.
Ramachandran Nair, Oman
Everyone knows Kasab was a mere pawn in the 26/11 terror game. The machinery that dispatched and remote-controlled him is still alive (and kicking) in Pakistan. That is what we Indians want dismantled. It’s an irony that the hanging of a man who became the emblem of the most audacious peacetime assault on India will weigh minimally on the long-term consequences of his bloody assignment.
Padmini Raghavendra, Secunderabad
India could hang Ajmal Kasab only because there were no protests for him like the one by pro-LTTE Tamil politicians against the hanging of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins or the street protests leading to the postponement of the execution of Beant Singh killer Balwant Singh Rajaona. No one’s fooled by this political gimmick of the Congress, which will shamelessly cash in on Ajmal’s hanging in the run-up to the 2014 election.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
Terrorists are created by dirty-minded politicians who enjoy unlimited power and vanity in the name of protecting the interests of a community that in turn is often misguided by religious sentimentality. These Frankensteins make monsters out of innocents. Conscience, love, compassion, living in harmony—the very bases on which human civilisation rests—mean nothing to them in their dark quest for power. An eye for an eye cannot be the answer. Countries have to rise above the politics of nationalism and communalism so as to be able to enrich human wealth and trust between communities and nations. Doing otherwise reeks of political cowardice.
Uttam Bhowmik, Tamluk
The government was free to hang Kasab after the President rejected his petition. So why the undue hurry and unnecessary secrecy?
C.V. Venugopalan, Palakkad
Though human rights activists may be unhappy with Kasab’s hanging, there was no way around it if India were to send a strong message to terrorists regarding its commitment not to tolerate terror. Commuting Kasab’s sentence to life imprisonment would only have further emboldened the masterminds of 26/11, who continue to roam freely in Pakistan.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind is just rhetoric divorced from reality.
J.N. Bhartiya, Hyderabad
Hanging Kasab was easy, will India ever have the guts to hang Afzal Guru, with Yasin Malik already having warned of ‘consequences’ in Kashmir should that come to pass?
Ramesh Raghuvanshi, Pune
I thank the Outlook editorial team for pointing out an important fact through the lips of Yasin Malik: that the people of Kashmir have consciously and collectively moved away from violence to non-violence. This is, in fact, the true homage to all our brave men who have fallen to terrorist bullets.
Gaurab Banerjee, Calcutta
The need to punish a crime is a fair argument, its jingoistic celebration—as was evident across a range of media, from tweets in cyberspace to comments on local radio channels—is not. The Ajmal Kasab case has been a politically charged affair, for which both the government and the Opposition need to share responsibility. Each day he spent in prison was sought to be projected as the weakness of a terrorist-appeasing government. The cost to keep him in jail was bitterly talked up: ‘biriyani for Kasab’ became rhetorical shorthand for the government’s allegedly twisted priorities.
J. Akshobhya, Mysore
‘Lethal man-child’, ‘misguided youth’.... All these adjectives mean nothing for a terrorist who knew exactly what he was doing, as was evident in his swagger. Even the argument that it was premature to hang him while a case was pending against him in Pakistan is hogwash. If their courts had decided he was not guilty, would India have let him go back and become a wheat farmer in Faridkot? Now we are being told that should India hang Afzal Guru, the entire Kashmir Valley will rise as one. Is one to conclude then that you can get away with murder if you belong to J&K?
V. Mahadevan, Chennai
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
"An Eye for an Eye makes the whole world blind"
goes the adage. But to give adjective lyk 'muslim' home
minister or christian 'defence' minister or 'hindu' President
seems we dont follow 'Ethics' in journalism.
Qaeda has already declared that it has enough Terrorists stationed in Hyderabad and Amritsar .They will avenge Kasab in a month.
First Installment of Blessings of Aman ki Asha and Easy Visa .By the way who are hiding and sheltering these killers in India ?? Await many more.
Time to go to Wagha border and burn candles of love to Jihadi Country .
Analysing the sequence of events will reveal that hanging Kasab might have satisfied majority of Indians but simultaneously the government missed out a golden opportunity to unearth the greater conspiracy and involement of Pakistan in the terror activities on 26/11. By executing the death sentence to Kasab, the government was almost sure of zero backlash either in India or in Pakistan. However, it seems too scared to touch Afzal Guru because of anticipated local protests. The Indian government further needs to clear its considered stand on death sentences since it speaks against it in the UN while following the same in the country.
Jurisprudence is one thing - administration quite another.
One of the points on which the Supreme Court in particular and the judiciary in general deserves admiration is the fact that they do not jump into areas relating to civil administration - which half-baked "intellectuals" (the quotes are pointedly mine) are only too willing to do.
I thank the Outlook editorial team for pointing out an important fact through the lips of Yasin Malik - the people of Kashmir have consciously and collectively moved away from violence to non-violence. This is, in fact, the true homage to all our fellow-Indians who have fallen to terrorist bullets.
May the soul of Tukaram Omble rest in eternal peace.
To hang Kasab is easy target, can government of India dare to hang Afzal Guru?Yashin Mal lick already threaten to Government of India donot dare to hang him otherwise face the sequence in Kashmir.I have no objection to hang Kasab but government no given him chances to in Supreme court to reapply or new request for mercy to President .Why Government hanged him haphazardly.?
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