Thirteen people were killed and at least 82 others injured in a powerful bomb blast, on 7th September, 2011, outside Delhi High Court. This bomb attack was the 20th strike in the capital since 1996, apart from numerous others all over the country in places like Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Surat, Bangaluru Coimbotore, Lucknow, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Assam and many other cities. We have become a soft state as the politics and especially vote bank politics has got mixed up with the fight against terrorism and other crimes. The following facts speak for themselves.
Madras High Court has stayed the execution of three killers involved in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Earlier their appeal against the sentence had been rejected by the Supreme Court and the mercy petition was also turned down by the President. Tamil Nadu assembly has passed a resolution recommending that the death penalty be waived. Following the resolution of the Tamil Nadu Assembly, there have been similar demands for the waiving of the death penalty imposed on a terrorist involved in the attack on Parliament by J&K Chief Minister and also similar concession has been asked for the Sikh terrorist who killed the former Chief Minister of Punjab, himself a Sikh.
Death penalty has been almost non existent in India, since 1995, when Dhananjoy was executed. Indeed, death penalty has become fictional after the Apex Court Judgement, which remains unchallenged that death sentence should be awarded in the rarest of the rare cases. As a layman, in my perception, a killing is a killing, whether it is done brutally or ghastly or in a planned premeditated way.
Indeed the Right of Private Defence under the law confers power on every citizen to defend himself and others the power to kill in a certain set of circumstances. Indeed certain types of killings, by whatever name you call them whether killings under sudden or grave provocation of killing by rash and negligent driving already entail much lesser punishments. A murder is a murder, whether you do by overrunning sleeping innocent people by drunken driving or shoot anybody down. While living in any civilised society, one is expected to abide by the laws and keeping our temper under check.
Talking about any harm caused to others, Bible in Exodus 21:23-25 says
“But if there is harm then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
At the root of this principle is that one of the purposes of the law is to provide equitable retaliation for an offended party. In fact so slow is the process of imposing the death penalty in India is that it is almost as good as absent. At least 100 people in 2007, 40 in 2006, 77 in 2005, 23 in 2002, and 33 in 2001 were sentenced to death (but not executed), according to Amnesty International figures.
More than 105 people in India were sentenced to death in 2010, but no one was executed during the year. The kind of crimes which are committed in India, like the rape of the kids from 3 to 10 years, child abuse leading to death, killing of girls in the name of the honour of the family, resisting rape, contract killings, terrorism are some of the ghastliest crimes that deserve the death penalty more than once, if it were possible to do so. Child abuse, assuming that a child survives it, casts a shadow for a lifetime. But since the powers that be are living with security and all amenities, they are least bothered about the rights of the victim.
Technically, the state is the victim, but actually the victim is a victim and not the State Government. We all pay lip service to the Criminal Justice System, but the reality of the crime is that the there are more rights for the criminals and more injustice for the victims. The truth is that if a criminal, whether be it be a murderer or rapist or a terrorist, if he is traced, gets all free legal aid. But, if you are a victim, or a parent or a relation of the victim, you literally have no rights and no help from the state.
Otherwise, why the state should go all out to demand clemency for the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and 11 others as well as the attacker on the National Parliament. We as a nation seem to have skewed priorities or at least our rulers have. Life is not like a film or a television serial where in a case of heinous crime the offender is arraigned and brought to trial within 15 minutes. Within an hour, the killer has been tried, convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life or ordered to be hanged.
The victim’s articles and possessions are taken as evidence which may not be returned to him for years apart from the emotional and financial ruin. The victim of violent crime thinks and believes that the attack was a crime against his or her person. But our system says that a crime against the individual is a crime against the state, which is a totally impersonal entity.
The result of all this is that the criminals have a whole prop of constitutional rights; victims are left out in the cold and forgotten by the system of criminal justice. The then Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Mr. A.P. Shah said while releasing the High Court report for 2008, that it would take the court (Delhi High Court) approximately 466 years to clear the pending 2,300 criminal appeals cases alone. Over four million cases are pending in India in 21 high courts.26.3 million cases are pending in subordinate courts across the country.
Taking Uttar Pradesh as a test case, for delay in criminal justice system, according to solicitor genera of India, in August, 2011, 10,541 criminal trials were stayed by Allahabad HC. Of these, 9% were pending for more than 20 years and 21% for over a decade. This means, stay of trial in 30% of heinous offences continued for more than 10 years.
The Supreme Court observed that that”It’s sad that administration of justice has come to such a pass. The HCs stay the trial and forget all about it. This means, we are choking the administration of justice. No one should be denied a fair and speedy trial. But what about the victims? What about society which feels that a wrongdoer should be punished at the earliest. Through these stays, that is being denied.”
Whether it is terrorism or ordinary crime, unless the criminals or terrorists get the message that retribution will be fast and quick, he or she will continue in the same way. Government should remember, what Sophocles once said; “I have nothing but contempt for the kind of governor who is afraid, for whatever reason, to follow the course that he knows is best for the State.”
The writer is the former director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) India.