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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Capital punishment revisited

The expected hanging of Afzal Guru looms over India. While many voices have asked for a pardon, the situation has provided a great opportunity for ardent nationalists and youth icons like Rahul Mahajan to launch their political career and demand for Afzal’s death in front of camera. And Baba Ramdev has also extolled the virtue of the hanging pose as a solution to common Indian ailments like arthritis. While we all have a lot to learn from the great Rahul Mahajan and Ramdev, it is disheartening to see how little time the media gives to the other perspective. Can anyone recall any Kashmiri complaining about army harassments or their problems with the Indian state on TV?

The issue of capital punishment was dealt with brilliantly in the film “A short film about killing” by the legendary Polish director Krzystof Kieslowski. The movie shows two murders with all their brutalities: the murder of a taxi driver by a 21 year old; and the hanging of the accused by the state. The first murder is presented with all its horrors to make sure that the viewer has no sympathy for the accused. The taxi driver is strangled, beaten with a rod, and finally stoned, in what is probably the longest and most gory murder scene in the history of films. The accused has no reason for committing the murder and the haunting moans of the taxi driver begging for mercy accentuate the crime.

The latter part of the film deals with the final moments before the hanging of the accused. He gets to talk briefly with his young and compassionate lawyer and describes in a confused manner how his life might have turned out differently if his beloved sister had not been killed in a freak accident. His last thoughts are focused on himself and his family and he has no visible repentance for his crime. The film brilliantly depicts the nervousness, anxiety, and desperation of the accused in the final moments. All this is contrasted with the eerie calm of the state officials, the Christian priest, and the doctor who are witness to this murder by hanging. The matter of fact mechanical approach of the hangman in testing the levers and his placing of a yellow tray to trap the drops of urine as the hanged person lives his final seconds, is spine chilling. The final attempts of the accused to break free from the grasp of state officials who have to carry out the sentence convinces that capital punishment is nothing but pointless murder, no matter how gruesome the original crime. But then, I am already convinced (see previous post).

There are other ways to provide state employment and prop up careers of Rahul Mahajan and Ramdev; let them stick to their drugs for the time being.

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