Is it time to end the death penalty in India?
Suddenly, everyone in India is talking about executions.
Grim hangings are a topic of animated conversation at water coolers, cocktail parties and chat shows. Everyone seems to favour them, the quicker the better.
Just weeks ago, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani gunman convicted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was sentenced to death by hanging.
Everywhere in Mumbai, where 166 people were gunned down by Kasab and his accomplices, people cheered and fought to express their joy to newspapers and TV channels.
But Kasab, who has the right to appeal his sentence at a higher court, is in queue. Ahead of him is Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Guru had filed a mercy petition, which is doing the rounds between ministries in Delhi.
Everyone, it seems, wants him hanged quickly so Kasab can be hanged quickly.
Except Farooq Abdullah, the minister for renewable energy and a lone dissenting political voice, who said he was not in favour of death for Guru as it would make a hero of him for generations of misguided youth.
That is the argument being made in some quarters against death for Kasab, as well.
More than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in death or practice, according to Amnesty International.
China tops the list in terms of numbers executed, well above 1,000 in 2009, Amnesty says. At number five was the United States, where one can still opt for the gas chamber or the firing squad in some states.
The death penalty in India is only handed down in the “rarest of rare” cases. Those that are convicted have the option to appeal to a higher court, going up to the supreme court and also file a mercy petition with the president.
That is not enough, say human rights activists who want to do away with the death penalty altogether.
The state should not have the right over someone’s life and India’s criminal justice system cannot be trusted to be fair, they say. The world’s largest democracy ought to show humane leadership, they argue. Sentencing someone to life – that is, for as long as they live — is just as severe a punishment, they say.
The families of victims disagree. Punishment must be equal to the crime and only the death penalty would dissuade potential militants and other criminals, they say.
In the 21st century, we are finding new ways to create life and prolong life. But we still can’t make up our minds about whether it is right, ethical or good to take someone’s life, even when it is dignified by a court of law.