By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Jan 2 (IANS) As a global debate rages on the death penalty and back home, the four convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape try every trick in the book to beat the noose, a new book on capital punishment is a timely reminder of the perils of crossing the rubicon – and delivers a chilling message that if you take a life you will have to pay for it with your own.
But does that really happen on the ground? Upwards of 425 convicts are on death row in India but there have been only four executions during this century. Three of them were charged with terrorism and one with rape. The other cases are in various stages of appeal.
“As an advocate and practitioner of law, I always wanted to write something related to it. I thought it would be interesting to write about the major death penalties that happened in India since independence. There might be individual stories that may have published but not a single book that has all the major ones,” Prateek Jain, the author of “Hang Till Death” (Bloomsbury/pp 132/Rs 399), told IANS in an interview.
“I support justice to be served in whatever terms allowed by law. If the constitution of India terms the death penalty as the ultimate form of punishment then as a true citizen I support that.
“Many things happen around us. Many of them we know; TV channels and newspapers bring these stories to us. We are aware of a lot of what happens; but between our knowledge and awareness, sometimes lies the deepest of stories. And then there are some stories we have heard but are hard to tell. These are the stories that give us nightmares and make us anxious, but still, we continue to live with courage and hope,” Jain, a senior advisor to Bhopal-based Innovis Law Partners, added.
Meticulously researched, the book profiles 11 high-profile cases in which the death penalty was imposed and the sentence executed in India since Independence: Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination (Nathuram Godse/Narayan Apte), Pratap Singh Kairon’s assassination (Sucha Singh/Baldev Singh/Nahar Singh), the Chopra childrens’ murder (Billa/Ranga), the murder of Indian diplomat Ravindra Hareshwar Mhatre in Birmingham (Maqbool Bhatt), Indira Gandhi’s assassination (Satwant Singh/Kehar Singh), the assassinations of Lalit Maken, Arjan Das and General A.S. Vaidya post Operation Bluestar (Harjinder Singh/Sukhdev Singh), serial killings in Tamil Nadu (Auto Shankar/Eldin/Shivaji), the rape and murder of 18-year-old Hetal Parekh in Kolkata (Dhananjoy Chatterjee), the 2008 Mumbai terror attack (Ajmal Kasab), the 2001 Parliament attack (Afzal Guru) and the 1993 Mumbai terror blasts (Yakub Memon).
“It was very tough to write and collect information on these cases. I went into legal documents, books and newspaper articles, and most importantly the statements of the offenders in court and eyewitness statements,” Jain explained.
The result is a comprehensive account of each case, the background of the convict(s), the circumstances leading to the crime and the final denouement – a valuable contribution to the literature on crime in India.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])