Timing is Everything

The world may not be ending this year, but 2012 certainly is closing with one helluva bang.

This morning, at 7.30am, while I made me a cup of tea, Ajmal Kasab was hanged. Kasab is the only one of the gang of ten that carried out a 60-hour terror attack in Mumbai in November 2008 who was arrested. There is chilling video footage of Kasab and another terrorist striding down the corridor of CST (or Victoria Terminus, if you will). He was later injured and then arrested. His mate was killed by Mumbai police while they raced around the city. You can thank those annoying barricades for this success. (My posts from back then are here. I never want to read them again, but in case you want a live-blogging version of those terrible days, it’s there.)

Pakistani national Kasab has been in jail in India for the past four years. Pakistan has effectively washed its hands off him and the entire operation that began on November 26, 2008. This is not unusual. Pakistan, like most countries, isn’t clamouring to claim terrorists as its own even if it is something of a breeding and training ground for many terror outfits. It’s said that Kasab wrote to the Pakistani envoy twice and received no response.  This was when India appointed a lawyer to defend him. In 2009, however, Pakistan accepted that Kasab was a Pakistani citizen. I think the argument that Pakistan made after that was that Kasab should be sent to Pakistan for a fair and proper trial as per the Pakistani law since he’s a Pakistani citizen. That said, Pakistan’s quite happy to let India keep Pakistani terrorists. The body of Kasab’s partner in crime, for instance, wasn’t claimed by Pakistan and chances are, Kasab’s wont return to the land of his birth either.

Popular opinion in India was not supportive of the government’s decision to give him the benefit of legal representation and process. He’s apparently cost the country Rs 40 crore. Much outrage followed when the media got wind of Kasab having complained that the food in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jails is rubbish and that he’d like mutton biriyani, if you please. The fact that Kasab was found guilty of murder, waging war on India, possessing explosives and all the other 83 charges made against him didn’t mollify anyone. Most of us were baying for his blood, which is why people were quite disheartened that, as per procedure, a mercy plea was submitted to the President of India when Kasab was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Kasab had already been found guilty by Bombay High Court and a lower court.

On November 8th, 2012, the President rejected the mercy plea submitted to him, exercising the authority granted him by Article 72 of the Indian constitution.

On Sunday, while Mumbai was glued to Bal Thackeray’s funeral procession, Kasab was taken from Mumbai to Pune’s Yerwada Jail, which is one of 2 hanging facilities in Maharashtra. Apparently, the hanging was supposed to happen on a different date but despite the last-minute change, his family in Pakistan was informed, as per procedure. Kasab was asked if he had any will or a last wish. He said no to both. The Indian government has emphasised that every bit of process was duly followed.

The question of whether the death sentence should exist is, no doubt, something that we’ll all beat our heads against because of course, it isn’t humane regardless of how horrible the crime. Let’s not forget, Kasab was a boy sold by his parents to mullahs and then abandoned by his homeland at a moment of personal crisis; a brainwashed boy who did some horrific things, yet still a boy. To put things in perspective: Bal Thackeray got state honours for politics that are arguably as hateful as Kasab’s and Israel at the moment is killing Palestinians mercilessly without even the lightest rap on its knuckles. Kasab was 25 when he was hanged this morning. He was 21 when he took part in the three-pronged terror attack that killed hundreds of innocent people in Mumbai.

I’m well confused about the validity of death sentences, but it’s a sign of what a gnarly cynic I am that the question of human rights didn’t even strike me when I heard the news about 30 minutes after the hanging. What I thought was, “Bloody politicians.” Why? Because Kasab’s name was the 17th name in the list submitted to the President and that’s the one that got picked. Meanwhile, Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist Afzal Guru has been on death row from 2004. But hanging (or pardoning) Guru wouldn’t help the Congress party (currently in power in Maharashtra) counter the sympathy wave for Shiv Sena after Bal Thackeray’s death when elections roll around, would it? Neither would it help acquire some sort of high ground when the winter session of Parliament opens.

EDITED TO ADD: Kasab is being buried in Yerwada Jail. This was just confirmed by the Maharashtra government.

EDITED TO ADD: I was fed incorrect information. Kasab wasn’t transported to Pune on Sunday. He was taken on Monday, which totally destroys the image I had in my head of the city flooded with Bal Thackeray supporters coming in and Kasab’s little entourage whizzing out at the same time.

More disturbing is the nugget that he was hanged not by a professional hangman but an old cop. So chances are he didn’t have a swift, break-the-neck hanging. He probably suffocated to death, which is a excruciating way to go. Rajesh Parameswaran wrote a chilling, brilliant story in I Am An Executioner about an executioner, and I kept remembering it while listening to how it’s very difficult to find professional hangmen. Since we don’t have many death sentences, it’s not precisely a stable profession and traditionally, it’s something that would be relegated to people born into a low caste. So it isn’t something that you do full-time even if you’re desperate. I mentioned in passing that the idea of someone who moonlights as a hangman sounded distinctly unnerving to me and the person I was talking to looked at me completely perplexed. “But why?” he asked. “It’s weird,” I said. “I don’t understand.” “He knows how to kill you,” I said, in an effort to explain what I thought was self-evident. “And he kills people on the side, like an amateur poker player or someone who likes playing the piano. It’s sort of psychopathic.” “But it’s more like a social service — he makes sure people die painlessly. Anyway, by your definition then anyone who knows karate is also psychopathic. Even those Masterchef guys. Just think what they could do to the human body with their knife skills.”

This is why you should never be on the crime beat.

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