The Death Penalty: A legal, yet rarely carried out sentence

Mohammad Afzal Guru was hanged in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail at 8:00am on February 9, 2013. He was charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder and attempting to wage war against the Government of India. Afzal was convicted during the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, in which five gunmen infiltrated the Parliament of India and killed 12 people. Capital punishment is a legal, but rarely carried out sentence in India. In fact, Afzal’s hanging marks only the fourth time the penalty has been imposed.

Various appeals from human rights groups in Kashmir and around the world have been made to the Delhi High Court since his conviction, yet these were all dismissed. The clemency pleas argue that Afzal was denied natural justice, yet many argue that these appeals were made solely to appease Muslim voters in India, as Afzal is from Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress Party has received significant criticism for its handling of the trial, with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India challenging Congress’ ability to bring justice in an appropriate and timely fashion.

However, it is too late to ponder over whether Afzal was indeed denied the right to a fair trial. Each of India’s democratic establishments has played a role in his execution. In spite of the charges, the fact that Afzal’s family was informed of his execution through speed post two days after he was hanged is unquestionably inhumane. Now we are left with one question: was the death penalty simply an effort on the Congress Party’s behalf to appear stronger on counter-terrorism, or have they unwittingly made a mockery of civil law and society?