The death of Mohammad Afzal Guru on 9th February 2013 caused an unprecedented stir within the different factions of the Indian society. A death sentence had been looming above his head ever since it was declared by a ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ court for his crucial role in the 2002 Parliament house attack. Eleven years later, the Kashmiri convict was sent to his death, opening a Pandora’s Box filled with debatable questions on the decision of ending his life.
Though most political parties are celebrating Afzal Guru’s death, the BJP further stating that it should have been done a lot earlier, a section of Kashmiris criticised the Indian government of discriminating against Kashmir and hurting its sentiments. When we look at death sentences issued in the past, notably that of Ajmal Kasab, most of the citizens didn’t bat an eyelid as the man who represented the monstrosity of 26/11 was taken to the gallows. However, what really gives one man, namely the president, to push aside pleas for clemency and condemn a man to his deathbed? One might blame it on public pressure, the chance to justify the deaths of millions, to hold up the pride of India and a multitude of other excuses. Afzal Guru’s death was riddled with controversy and protests, as he wasn’t even granted one last wish of seeing his family before his execution. On the other hand, we have a woman who was one of the masterminds behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination receiving life imprisonment instead of a death sentence, due to the mercy shown by India’s most influential woman, Sonia Gandhi. The death of convicts seems more like a political gamble rather than a true analysis of who deserves what form of punishment.
Drawing the line between what is considered ethical and what isn’t seems to be one of the toughest questions faced by this country. Despite the magnitude of the crime committed by Afzal Guru, jailers spoke of his pious nature and the change in his attitude as he spent his last few years in jail. A man well versed in both Hinduism and Islam, he claimed to have been dragged into the world of terrorism instead of willingly engaging in it. Before his demise, he said goodbye to his fellow inmates as he was taken away to be hanged. Comparing this behaviour to that of his past deeds, it is hard to draw the line between justice and mercy. Though the anger of the Kashmiri people and their representatives might be justified to an extent, while looking at the bigger picture one has to note that duty to the nation comes before showing sympathy to a man caught in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Maybe Afzal Guru deserved to live, or maybe his death is the wakeup call that India sorely needed. Either way, there is no real answer to what sort of crime really deserves capital punishment. At the end, we are all just pawns being played in a big political game.
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