Only the poor and the disempowered are hanged: Justice Shah
In a public meeting held in Jamia Millia Islamia, the eminent jurist calls for an end to capital punishment
Souzeina Mushtaq Delhi
“It is the wealth and influence of the person that decides whether a person should be sentenced to death or not,” argued Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court in a public meeting on ‘Capital Punishment and the state of Indian democracy’. The event was organized by Jamia Teacher’s Solidarity Association at Jamia Millia Islamia on Tuesday.
Speaking on the occasion, Justice Shah highlighted the class bias in different cases. He narrated some examples where there was a thin line between rejection of mercy petition and execution. Quoting Justice PN Bhagwati’s judgment against death penalty in the Bachan Singh case, Justice Shah said, “It is the poor and the disempowered who are most vulnerable.”
“Death sentence has certain class complexion or class bias in as much as it is largely the poor and downtrodden who become victims of this extreme penalty. We would hardly find a rich or affluent person going to the gallows,” he read from Justice Bhagwati’s judgment.
Justice Shah is one of the 14 retired judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts who appealed to President Pranab Mukherjee to attenuate the capital punishment imposed on the convicts to life imprisonment.
Stressing on the case of Afzal Guru, who was sent to gallows in secrecy in February last week, Justice Shah said it has raised several “disturbing issues” as things were kept secret, starting from the rejection of his mercy petition to his execution and burial inside Tihar Jail.
“Over 135 countries have turned their backs on death penalty, why is India far behind?”
Nitya Ramakrishnan, Senior Supreme Court Advocate called it a “Macabre ritual”.
“In a civilized society, there is no place for death penalty,” she said, addressing a jam-packed hall. She also pushed revisiting the engagements with the issue and called for a strong media campaign to end the dreaded punishment.
Senior journalist, Iftikhar Gilani who was himself detained and harassed on the day of execution of Afzal expressed his confusion over the growing debate of the abolition of the capital punishment, but called for “jail reforms”.
“Jails are the crime universities, where more criminals are born. The relationship between superintendent and the convict is that of master and slave, and that needs to be changed.” Narrating his ordeal in Tihar Jail, he called it “the worst jail in India.”
Another senior journalist, Sukumar Muralidharan said that the execution of Guru has “hit us in the face and we need to revisit the issue carefully.”
“Death penalties are horrendously unfair and unjust and cultivates a deep sense of alienation,” he said, adding, “We should question these issues and not be afraid of them.”
At the end of the public meeting, eight resolutions were adopted, which included condemning the “cynical and callous denial of the right to seek judicial remedy” to Afzal. They also condemned the assault on Kashmiri students who were protesting at Jantar Mantar. Agreeing that “capital punishment is a cruel and degrading form of punishment, and has no place in civilized society, the resolutions stressed that India should follow the lead of over 141 countries, which have abolished the death penalty and strike it off from its criminal justice system.