May 17, 2021
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26/11: Death Sentence for Ajmal Kasab

'Rarest Of Rare Punishment'

'We fail to see what case would attract the death penalty, if not the case of the appellant. To hold back the death penalty in this case would amount to obdurately declaring that this Court rejects death as lawful penalty even though it is on the st

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'Rarest Of Rare Punishment'
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'Rarest Of Rare Punishment'

Excerpts from the judgment. Full text of the judgment is available under the excerpts

Lashkar Indoctrination

27. Kasab said that Ameer Hafiz Sayeed exhorted them by saying that all Mujahedeens must fight for the independence of Kashmir; Zaki-ur-Rehman announced that the time had come for Jihad, adding that their orgainsation had been fighting in Kashmir for the last fifteen (15) years but the Hindustani Government was not allowing Kashmir to be independent. It had, therefore, become necessary to fight a war against Hindustan to capture Kashmir. Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi asked them if they were ready to wage the war. They all said they were ready for the war. At that time, Abu Al-Kama told them that they had to attack the major cities of Hindustan; that they would wage war against Hindustan from within, so that it is weakened from the inside. He added that anyone who would die in this war would go to paradise. In response, Kasab and all his associates said that they were ready to launch an attack on Hindustan.


The role of photographers

121. While dealing with the CST episode we must take note of two other witnesses. Their evidence is extraordinary in that they did not only witness the incidents but also made a visual record of the events by taking pictures of the two killers in action and also of their victims. The pictures taken by these two witnesses, without anything else, are sufficient to conclude the issue of identification of Kasab and Abu Ismail (deceased accused no.1) as the killers of CST. Both the witnesses are professional photographers working with the Times of India group. Both of them, caring little for their own safety and displaying exemplary professionalism, followed the killers practically at their heels. Their ocular testimony together with the photographs taken by them provides a graphic picture of the carnage at CST.

[The judgment then goes on to elaborate the role played by Sabastian Barnal D’Souza (PW-61) and Sriram Ramakant Vernekar (PW-102).]

What would Jinnah have thought?

[Note 45 to Para 313]: It is reported that it was at the Taj Mahal Hotel ballroom that, on February 20, 1918, at her eighteenth birthday party, Ruttie had accepted Mr Jinnah’s hand in marriage while the band was playing the Chopin tune, So Deep is the Night. It is also reported that both Mr. Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan, and Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, the President of the Indian National Congress, often held court at Taj Mahal Hotel. Mr. Jinnah also had an intimate connection with Mazgaon, where the bomb planted by two terrorists in a taxi exploded, killing three (3) and wounding nineteen (19) people. It is reported that Mr. Jinnah devoted Thursday afternoons to visiting the grave of his wife Ruttie at the Khoja Shiite Isna’ashri Cemetry, situated at Mazgaon, Mumbai. One wonders what Quaied-e-Azam would have thought of the terrorist attack on his favourite city in the subcontinent and especially on Taj Mahal Hotel, with which he had a personal relationship of a very intimate kind.


' The most clinching evidence'

360. The most clinching evidence regarding conspiracy comes from the recordings of intercepted telephone calls between the terrorists and their coconspirators and collaborators sitting in a foreign land that, in light of the over all facts and circumstances of the case, can only be Pakistan. Unlike the appellant and his dead companion, Abu Ismail (deceased accused no.1), who were constantly on the move, the other terrorists had gone to Hotel Taj, Hotel Oberoi and Nariman House and were holed up there, even taking hostages for some time. From their respective positions they were in regular contact with their collaborators and were constantly receiving moral support, tactical advice and guidance from them by means of mobile phones.

361. The phone calls made by the terrorists from Hotel Taj, Nariman House and Hotel Oberoi came to be noticed and were intercepted by a watchful member of the Anti Terrorist Squad.


'Ominous and distressing'

395. The deception, the falsehood that the terrorists were Indian Muslims coming from Hyderabad and were connected with some fictitious organization called Mujaheddin, Hyderabad Deccan, is one of the most ominous and distressing parts of the conspiracy. If the appellant had not been caught alive and the investigating agencies had not been able to unravel the conspiracy fully and in all its devious ways, the terrorists might have passed as Indian Muslims and that would have led to devastating short-term and equally debilitating long-term consequences. It would have caused a cleavage of distrust and suspicion between communities and disturbed the communal peace and harmony of the country. It is not impossible that conflagrations would have erupted in different parts of the country which the governments would have found difficult to contain.


397. The deception was ominous because it aimed at destabilising Indian society and its governments. But it was equally distressing for being so deeply untruthful. Indian Muslims may have a long list of grievances against the establishment. Some of the grievances may be fanciful, some may be of their own making and some may be substantive. Nevertheless, no Indian Muslim would even think of venting his grievance like an animal, killing, maiming and wounding innocent people; his own countrymen. This is because he is not only loyal to his faith and community but equally loves his country and fellow countrymen.


Role of the media:

402. Before parting with the transcripts, we feel compelled to say a few words about the way the terrorist attacks on Taj Hotel, Hotel Oberoi and Nariman House were covered by the mainstream, electronic media and shown live on the TV screen. From the transcripts, especially those from Taj Hotel and Nariman House, it is evident that the terrorists who were entrenched at those places and more than them, their collaborators across the border were watching the full show on TV. In the transcripts there are many references to the media reports and the visuals being shown on the TV screen. The collaborators sitting in their hideouts across the border came to know about the appellant being caught alive from Indian TV: they came to know about the killing of high ranking police officers also from Indian TV. At one place in the transcript, the collaborators and the terrorists appear to be making fun of the speculative report in the media that the person whose dead body was found in Kuber was the leader of the terrorist group whom his colleagues had killed for some reason before leaving the boat56. At another place in the transcript the collaborators tell the terrorists in Taj Hotel that the dome at the top (of the building) had caught fire. The terrorists holed up in some room were not aware of this. The collaborators further advise the terrorists that the stronger they make the fire the better it would be for them57. At yet another place the terrorists at Hotel Taj tell the collaborators that they had thrown a grenade. The Collaborators reply, “the sound of the grenade has come, they have shown the grenade, the explosion has taken place, people are wounded”58. At yet another place the collaborators tell the terrorists at Hotel Oberoi that the troops were making their position very strong on the roof of the building59. At yet another place the collaborators tell the terrorists at Taj Hotel the exact position taken by the policemen (close to a building that belonged to the navy but was given to the civilians) and from where they were taking aim and firing at them (the terrorists) and advised them the best position for them to hit back at those policemen.60 There are countless such instances to show that the collaborators were watching practically every movement of the security forces that were trying to tackle the terrorists under relentless gun fire and throwing of grenades from their end.

403. Apart from the transcripts, we can take judicial notice of the fact that the terrorists attacks at all the places, in the goriest details, were shown live on the Indian TV from beginning to end almost non-stop. All the channels were competing with each other in showing the latest developments on a minute to minute basis, including the positions and the movements of the security forces engaged in flushing out the terrorists. The reckless coverage of the terrorist attack by the channels thus gave rise to a situation where on the one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact position or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed and on the other hand the positions of the security forces, their weapons and all their operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists.

404. In these appeals, it is not possible to find out whether the security forces actually suffered any casualty or injuries on account of the way their operations were being displayed on the TV screen. But it is beyond doubt that the way their operations were freely shown made the task of the security forces not only exceedingly difficult but also dangerous and risky.

405. Any attempt to justify the conduct of the TV channels by citing the right to freedom of speech and expression would be totally wrong and unacceptable in such a situation. The freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression.

406. The shots and visuals that were shown live by the TV channels could have also been shown after all the terrorists were neutralized and the security operations were over. But, in that case the TV programmes would not have had the same shrill, scintillating and chilling effect and would not have shot up the TRP ratings of the channels. It must, therefore, be held that by covering live the terrorists attack on Mumbai in the way it was done, the Indian TV channels were not serving any national interest or social cause. On the contrary they were acting in their own commercial interests putting the national security in jeopardy.

407. It is in such extreme cases that the credibility of an institution is tested. The coverage of the Mumbai terror attack by the mainstream electronic media has done much harm to the argument that any regulatory mechanism for the media must only come from within.


A Patriotic Pakistani

495. The appellant’s refusal to accept the services of an Indian lawyer and his demand for a lawyer from his country cannot be anything but his own independent decision. The demand for a Pakistani lawyer in those circumstances, and especially when Pakistan was denying that the appellant was even a Pakistani citizen, might have been impractical, even foolish, but the man certainly did not need any advice from an Indian court or authority as to his rights under the Indian Constitution. He was acting quite independently and, in his mind, he was a “patriotic” Pakistani at war with this country.


What case would attract the death penalty, if not the case of the appellant?

580. It is already seen above that the appellant never showed any repentance or remorse, which is the first sign of any possibility of reform and rehabilitation. 

581. In short, this is a case of terrorist attack from across the border. It has a magnitude of unprecedented enormity on all scales. The conspiracy behind the  attack was as deep and large as it was vicious. The preparation and training for the execution was as thorough as the execution was ruthless. In terms of loss of life and property, and more importantly in its traumatizing effect, this case stands alone, or it is at least the very rarest of rare to come before this Court since the birth of the Republic. Therefore, it should also attract the rarest of rare punishment.

582. Against all this, the only mitigating factor is the appellant’s young age, but that is completely offset by the absence of any remorse on his part, and the resultant finding that in his case there is no possibility of any reformation or rehabilitation.


585. Putting the matter once again quite simply, in this country death as a penalty has been held to be Constitutionally valid, though it is indeed to be awarded in the “rarest of rare cases when the alternative option (of life sentence) is unquestionably foreclosed”. Now, as long as the death penalty remains on the statute book as punishment for certain offences, including “waging war” and murder, it logically follows that there must be some cases, howsoever rare or one in a million, that would call for inflicting that penalty. That being the position we fail to see what case would attract the death penalty, if not the case of the appellant. To hold back  the death penalty in this case would amount to obdurately declaring that this Court rejects death as lawful penalty even though it is on the statute book and held valid by Constitutional benches of this Court.

586. We are thus left with no option but to hold that in the facts of the case the death penalty is the only sentence that can be given to the appellant. We hold accordingly and affirm the convictions and sentences of the appellant passed by the trial court and affirmed by the High Court.

587. The appeals are accordingly dismissed.

39511 Supreme Court: Kasab

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