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Policy
 
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Will India’s most politicised death penalty ever come to a logical end?
Voices are rising over demand for clemency for Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. But indifferent to the politics, which is being played around his death, one martyr’s family says there is no other option but capital punishment for the one who shattered all their hopes.
Issue Date - 27/10/2011
 
Death penalties have always evoked controversies and differences of opinion amongst thinkers. And if the sentence of death happens to be upon Mohammad Afzal aka Afzal Guru, the main accused in the 2001 Parliament attack in New Delhi, how can one stay away from it? As expected, the trial and subsequent proceedings have been successful in attracting great media attention with several political parties debating the issue, time and again.

For the uninitiated, Afzal Guru was awarded the death sentence by a Delhi court on December 18, 2002 after being convicted for plotting an audacious attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 (the attack had claimed 11 lives, including nine security personnel out of which 5 were policemen. Had it not been for these people, who laid down their lives on that fateful day, the death toll could have been much worse and included many of our Parliamentarians). The death sentence was upheld by Delhi High Court on October 29, 2003 and Afzal’s appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court two years later on August 4, 2005. In fact, a sessions court had even fixed the date of his hanging on October 20, 2006 in Tihar jail, but Afzal Guru’s wife Tabassum filed a mercy petition before the President and the execution was stayed.

However, six years after Afzal appealed to the President of India to commute his death penalty, the Ministry of Home Affairs has finally sent its opinion (in August this year) to President Pratibha Patil recommending rejection of the clemency petition. The move could pave the way for the likely hanging of Afzal, an issue that has already generated much controversy. The file is now with the President who will have the last word on the matter.

While Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been a vocal supporter of death for Afzal, has welcomed the move, Jammu & Kashmir’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he was worried that the hanging of Afzal Guru could revive militancy in the state. Not too far behind the political sparring are various human rights groups who have come out on streets demanding clemency for Afzal. Emotions are high, and so is vote politics. This is perhaps the only reason why opinions on the matter are flowing in from every nook and corner of the country. But what about the families of the policemen who laid their lives for the country on that day?

Well, away from the high octane environment of Delhi, for Jayawati Devi, widow of Vijender Singh, a Head Constable of Delhi Police who died after a bullet hit his chest during indiscriminate firing between the terrorists and the police outside the Parliament, there is no peace of mind yet. Justice, she says, will be served to them only with the death of Afzal Guru (Jayawati at present lives with her two sons Vipin and Sachin, Vipin’s wife and her 10-month old granddaughter in a house in Molarband village near Badarpur on the outskirts of Delhi). “My husband sacrificed his life for the country. But delaying justice is dishonour to the death of martyrs,” Jayawati tells B&E.

 
The six years after the family lost its only earning member have been deeply traumatic. Seeking payment of compensation promised by the government was a tedious task. “For six years, we were running from pillar to post to get files cleared. Getting clearance for the petrol pump, which was allotted to us as a part of the compensation, was a horrifying experience,” says Jayawati. She even claims that district officials in Faridabad had categorically demanded an upfront payment of Rs.40,000 for giving the necessary clearances. However, the family decided not to entertain the demand (which she claims had come down to Rs.10,000 in the next couple of days). Instead, they contacted higher officials and got two government officials arrested and suspended from work. “Things started moving only after we took this step. We realised that we had to be assertive in order to be heard,” she tells B&E.

In fact, the family’s decision to return the Shaurya Chakra awarded to Vijender Singh is proof enough of their disgust over the delay, not only in releasing compensation by the government but also in hanging Afzal Guru. And they are not alone. The martyr’s family has found support from the families of Vijender’s colleagues who lost their lives in the 2001 attack and later, and also from some of the families who fell victim to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. What is more disappointing is that the despair these families feel stems from a sense of hopelessness, specifically with the political class. Jayawati, for one, blames the entire political class for their indifference. “Why doesn’t the government answer us on why it is choosing to keep Afzal Guru alive? We have good reasons to demand his death. It’s been around 10 years since that fateful day. We have lost our family members. The person accused has been found guilty by the Supreme Court,” she says. And her angst is not limited to the government. On being quizzed whether she is happy with the way opposition has supported her, Jayawati says, “Things would have been no different had the opposition been in power. It is just a question of vote politics.” In fact, the whole experience has left her very angry and disappointed.

          

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