Monday, 16 April 2012

Afzal Guru Vs Balwant Singh Rajoana: India's hanging dilemma, BJP's strange politics and need for a rethink on capital punishment!

Balwant Singh Rajoana
The BJP leaders who are most vocal over the demand to hang Afzal Guru, were singing different tunes when it came the issue of hanging Balwant Singh Rajoana, the Sikh militant who was convicted for assassination of Beant Singh.

In parliament, BJP's leaders spoke against capital punishment to Rajoana. Already, in Punjab a huge movement against the hanging, had built up. Law-and-order situation was fluid once again. The jailer said that he couldn't hang Rajoana, despite court's orders.

Sushma Swaraj was no longer mouthing fire over 'Centre's delay' in hanging the convict. Clearly, it was coalition-era politics consideration that was a reason for this stand. The same party has been aggressively pushing for execution of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru.

As Akal Takht ordered the Punjab Chief Minister to ensure that Rajoana was not executed, the Chief Minister acted as per the directions. Akal Takht, the supreme Sikh body, had suggested to Parkash Singh Badal, that he should take up the issue of staying the execution with President Pratibha Patil and PM Manmohan Singh.

Rajoana's supporters said that among those prosecuted, he was the only person who didn't contest the charges. He didn't engage a lawyer and also refused to accept the government appointed lawyer. The situation is quite similar to the Guru case though.

The issue of clemency led to an upsurge of popular opinion among Sikhs. The jailer refused to conduct the execution in his prison. Administration and police were wary of the situation as well. There were violent protests in Punjab.

To a large number of people it may seem insane that a 'terrorist' is not being hanged and there is a movement to stay the death sentence. But one must see from a larger perspective. The Sikhs perhaps rightly question that why Rajoanas get death sentence, but nothing happens to those who were behind the horrific dance of death in Delhi in 1984.

Rioters and the politicians who led the killer mobs that led to rapes and murders in Delhi, remain scot-free. Of course, one wrong doesn't justify the other. But slow judicial process, either in case of the Delhi anti-Sikh massacre or Gujarat anti-Muslim carnage, are reasons for this pain among minorities.

Big politicians who fanned the flames of hatred and were responsible for the large scale killings in riots are never prosecuted. They didn't spend a day in jail. They were not prosecuted under TADA or POTA.

After the desecration of Golden Temple in 1984, the extra-judicial killings, the overzealous cops' excesses in Punjab and human rights violations aren't forgotten as yet. Communal riots create deep scars and it's high time that the governments must ensure that the accused get punished.

Else, there will always be comparisons and discomforting situations. Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab are too states that need healing touch, rather than mob justice. When cases involving influential persons can drag for decades, there can be a thought surely when it comes to hangings that may inflame passions.

These issues must be dealt with sensitivity. For the moment, the hanging has been stayed. But the larger issue remains. Will politicians who preside over riots and communal pogroms face similar cases and get harsh sentences or they are above the law?

Of course, a debate is needed on capital punishment. Most countries have done away with his practice. In India also, the popular persons with mass support would never be given death sentence. Then, why continue this practice, at all?

Let's discuss it right now. Rather than wait for the next Guru or Rajoana.

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