ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Hanging Question

Is the death penalty justified within an iniquitous justice system?

Two questions are currently being discussed even as Yakub Memon, convicted for being the “driving spirit” behind the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai that killed 257 people, waits on death row after exhausting all avenues for mercy. Should he be executed? And should India abolish the death penalty? Since 2012, this will be the third death sentence to be carried out, the other two being that of Ajmal Kasab, the lone Pakistani gunman caught after the 26 November 2008 terror attack on Mumbai, and Afzal Guru, convicted for his role in the terror attack on Parliament in 2001. Memon’s forthcoming execution has raised several important and relevant questions that include the Supreme Court’s interpretation of awarding death only in the “rarest of rare” cases. The apex court had acknowledged in a ruling in 2009, while dealing with an appeal against the death penalty, that it had erred in the past.

In the Mumbai serial blasts, following the communal riots in the city for which, incidentally, not a single person has yet been convicted, the chief perpetrators are believed to be Memon’s older brother “Tiger” Memon, another brother, Ayub, and the notorious criminal Dawood Ibrahim. All three are absconding. It was Yakub Memon’s return to India in 1994, or his capture as the Indian authorities claim, that gave additional traction to the case. Memon persuaded his family, including his wife, to return and surrender and provided precious details about the involvement of the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence in the planning of the blasts. In return, he probably expected a lighter sentence. Instead, although others convicted of playing supportive roles have been given life sentences, only Yakub Memon has been sentenced to death. In the absence of the main masterminds behind the blast, it appears that the closest relation has been chosen to satisfy what has been often called “the collective conscience.” But does Memon’s role qualify as the “rarest of rare” cases for which the Supreme Court believes that the death penalty is justified? Memon has already spent over two decades in jail. Given this time lag, is he not entitled, as have others before him, for commutation of his sentence to life?

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