Skip to main content

Muslims brutalized? Death penalty in serial blasts case; 2002 pogrom accused 'roam freely'

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*

On February 18, 2022, a Special Court, designated for speedy trial of the accused in the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts, handed the death to 38 of 49 convicts. The remaining eleven were awarded life terms in jail. A few days earlier, these 49 were convicted by the Special Judge who also acquitted 38 other accused in the case.
The convicted were apparently responsible for exploding as many as 22 bombs in an hour in Ahmedabad, on July 26, 2008, killing 56 people and leaving over 200 injured, in different parts of the city.
There was plenty of ‘celebration’ in Ahmedabad city, after the stringent punishment was announced. The twitter handle of the Ahmedabad BJP tweeted a highly irresponsible and insensitive caricature of some Muslim-looking men being hanged with the national motto ‘Satyameva Jayate' emblazoned alongside. Twitter finally pulled out this tweet after they received an avalanche of protests from everywhere!
The defence lawyers said the death penalty for the 38 convicts is the highest in a single case in the country; in 1998, a TADA court had handed the death sentence to 26 accused in the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The convicted will apparently appeal the sentencing handed to them.
No one condones the crime they were involved in! Any act of violence, be it serial bombing or domestic violence or for that matter even hate speeches which could lead to violence- must be condemned unequivocally, addressed squarely and nipped in the bud as early as possible! Appropriate punishment must be meted out to the perpetrators of all violence (it does not matter who they are) particularly the heinous ones. There are certainly no two ways or two opinions about that.
Interestingly, February 27/28 (and the weeks following) will commemorate full 20 years since the 2002 Gujarat Carnage (which many refer to as ‘genocide’). The bogey (S-6) of the Sabarmati Express from Faizabad to Ahmedabad was set on fire, early morning on February 27, 2002 resulting in the tragic death of 59 passengers. Nothing untoward happened that day in Gujarat or any where else.
What followed more than 24 hours later and only in Gujarat, was however, a brutal carnage! Apparently (and this from eye witness accounts), the Chief Minister of the State convened a meeting of some high-level BJP and Government functionaries very late evening of February 27.
What transpired at this meeting has two different versions -- but the actions that resulted were blatantly obvious: Muslims all over Gujarat were brutalized, raped, dispossessed of their lands and houses and murdered. The intensity of violence for days on, can be easily categorized as a crime against humanity.
At least two thousand Muslims were killed and thousands more were dispossessed of their houses and lands, their property looted and burned and affected in every possible way. Numbers, pale into insignificance, when one recollects the brutality of what took place. For weeks and then months, rampaging mobs indulged in some of the most despicable acts. Besides, the law-and-order mechanism had not merely abdicated its responsibility but were also seen actively involved in this carnage.
Thanks to the dogged and relentless efforts of concerned citizens and organizations – the Gujarat carnage then and today, is still on the radar. There certainly have been some small triumphs in this pursuit for justice and truth. That is certainly not enough.
The biggest perpetrators and the masterminds of this crime against humanity still roam the streets fearlessly as they continue to mainstream their fascist agenda of hate and vilification, of divisiveness and denigration, of exclusiveness and violence. Some of the lynchpins today rule the country. They have succeeded in generating a palpable in the hearts and minds of millions through their anti-Constitutional methods of falsehood and vindictiveness!
But none of the perpetrators of this bloodiest chapter in the history of independent India were given the ‘death penalty’ or for that matter even exemplary punishment. Some key persons who were convicted and sent to jail were in a matter of time even released on bail. Today, they happily enjoy their freedom protected by the most powerful of the land! That is the pathetic state of our criminal justice system!
The key question then is whether they should have been given the death penalty too? The answer is a clear and unequivocal ‘No’. Only God is the author of life and death. No one, not even the state, has the right to take the life of anyone! The death penalty must be abolished!
It is a barbaric act and not in sync with civilised society anywhere. No violence can be justified; no murder can be rectified; death penalty however is not the answer! Objective studies clearly demonstrate that in nations and societies where the death penalty has been abolished, the crime rate has decreased dramatically.
Amnesty International states that at the end of 2020, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes ( the number has changed since then; besides, on 20 January 2022 the Parliament of Papua New Guinea decided to abolish the death penalty) and 144 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice; 28 countries have effectively abolished the death penalty by not executing anyone in the past 10 years, and 55 countries still retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes
The International Commission Against Death Penalty (ICDP) enunciates four major reasons why the death penalty should be abolished: (i) the risk of executing innocent people exists in any justice system, (ii) the arbitrary application of the death penalty can never be ruled out (iii) the death penalty is incompatible with human rights and human dignity (iv) the death penalty does not deter crime effectively.
Some time ago, in a message to the ICDP, Pope Francis said, “today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed; capital punishment contradicts God’s plan for man and society and does not render justice to the victims but rather fosters vengeance.
‘Dead Man Walking’ is a powerful film based on the life of Sr Helen Prejean. This 1995 American film stars Susan Sarandon (as Sr. Helen) and Sean Penn (as a prisoner Mathew Poncelet on death row). Sarandon received the ‘Academy Award for Best Actress’ for her stellar role in this film. The film highlights the relationship between Sr Helen and Mathew first through correspondence and then by personal visits by Sr Helen both to Mathew and his family. She desperately tries to either get a pardon for Mathew or his death sentenced commuted to life imprisonment.
Mathew has ‘apparently’ murdered a teenage couple but till the very end continues to be arrogant, racist and sexist without demonstrating the slightest bit of remorse. He denies he ever killed the teenagers. Sr. Helen’s efforts are all in vain and Mathew is finally executed but not before he finally admits to Sr Helen that he had done that dastardly deed and asks forgiveness.
Sr Helen Prejean is no ordinary Nun. She is the member of the Congregation of St Joseph in the United States and for several years now she has been fighting against capital punishment through her ‘Ministry against the death penalty’. On her website, she writes:
“The death penalty is one of the great moral issues facing our country, yet most people rarely think about it and very few of us take the time to delve deeply enough into this issue to be able to make an inform decision about it".
Sr Helen’s fight against death penalty has paid rich dividends and has certainly impacted on the social teaching of the Church. She is not alone in this struggle as more individuals and organisations, all across the globe, join the campaign against this barbaric act.
On the October 3, 2020, Pope Francis gave to the world his powerful and path-breaking Encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (Brothers and Sisters All). In his Encyclical he devotes eight paras (#263- 270) dealing with the ‘death penalty’. He does give any room for ambiguity when he emphatically states,
“There is yet another way to eliminate others, one aimed not at countries but at individuals. It is the death penalty. Saint John Paul II stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice. There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that 'the death penalty is iadmissible' and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.” (#263)
With ‘Fratelli Tutti’ Pope Francis has moved opposition to the death penalty into the foreground of Catholic social teaching, completing the church’s long journey of mercy and reconciliation. ‘Mercy has been his consistent and pet spiritual theme!
Death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Today more than two thirds of the world have abolished the death penalty
There is another significant para in this section; so applicable to the death sentence given to the accused of the Ahmedabad serial bombing. Pope Francis says:
“The arguments against the death penalty are numerous and well-known. The Church has rightly called attention to several of these, such as the possibility of judicial error and the use made of such punishment by totalitarian and dictatorial regimes as a means of suppressing political dissidence or persecuting religious and cultural minorities, all victims whom the legislation of those regimes consider ‘delinquents. 
"All Christians and people of good will are today called to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, but also to work for the improvement of prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their freedom. I would link this to life imprisonment… A life sentence is a secret death penalty.” (#268).
Are Christians (and particularly Catholics) aware of this Church teaching? Sadly, ‘Fratelli Tutti’ has not been made an essential dimension of Church Teaching by clerics who do not want to get out of their comfort zones! Did we hear any of our Bishops going public in condemning this latest death penalty sentence? On the other hand, some citizens who tweeted against the judgement were immediately trolled by the ‘bhakts’ with derogatory comments!
Commenting on Pope Francis’ catechesis on the death penalty in ‘Fratelli Tutti’, Sr. Helen Prejean says:
“I rejoice in Pope Francis’s ringing proclamation of the inviolable dignity of all human life, even the life of murderers, and I am heartened by the church’s unequivocal opposition to governments’ use of the death penalty in all instances. In killing chambers, I’ve seen close-up the torture and suffering of human beings, rendered defenseless and killed by the state, their lives stripped of all dignity. I rejoice that now this clarity of church teaching will help end this unspeakable suffering and spark the Gospel of Jesus to be lived in its fullness: restoration of human life, not humiliation, torture and execution.”
She goes on to challenge all Catholics to put Pope Francis’ teaching into concrete action saying:
“Devotional assent is not enough. Unless we heed the Holy Father’s commitment to work for abolition of the death penalty, his words, however inspiring, will remain just that: words on a page, stillborn, an annunciation, but no incarnation. In us, may these words live!”
Do we have the spiritual depth and the prophetic courage to face this challenge?
No act of violence can be justified anywhere; more so, when the victims are innocent people. All dastardly acts have to be condemned strongly; but two wrongs have never made a right; just because a person has committed a particular crime, the answer certainly is not the death penalty.
The state has the duty to protect the ‘right to life’ of every single citizen. This is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Constitution of India. By espousing capital punishment, the state equates itself with the perpetrator. The death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Today more than two thirds of the world have abolished the death penalty. It is time that India does so immediately too!
Do we need a Sr Helen Prejean in our midst to remind us of our responsibility? Can we allow the words of Martin Luther King, “returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”; or for that matter, those of Mahatma Gandhi, “I cannot in all conscience agree to anyone being sent to gallows. God alone can take life because He alone gives it…” -- to permeate our hearts and minds?
Above all, do we have the humanity to say a full-throated “NO” to the death penalty? The death penalty must be abolished! Let us begin by demanding that the death penalty given to the 38 serial bombers is revoked immediately!
---
*Human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.