By Ish Gangania, Sub-editor, Apeksha – quarterly Hindi magazine, Delhi, and a Social Activist.
The serious issue – ‘Why does the capital punishment confine only to the weaker sections of the Indian society?’ raised by the honourable President Prof. Abdul Kalam does not mean that the honourable president is interested in debating the issue – ‘Whether death penalty should be retained or abolished?’
He seems presently to be solely concerned with almost hundred percent cases of death penalty being awarded to weaker sections, dalits, and religious minorities.
Does this indicate that the upper class does not commit any crimes or there is something else that enables to keep them free from capital punishment? This issue is not as simple as it seems, so it needs a serious debate throughout the country to reach at an appropriate conclusion to ensure the true democracy and justice.
To debate this issue, it is necessary to look at the views of the eminent personalities concerned with the law of the land and justice administration system. First of all, I would like to quote the former attorney Ramsey Clark who has the same opinion as the honourable President has. He comments: ‘It is the poor, the sick, the ignorant, the powerless, and the hated that are executed. (1) Secondly, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer expresses the same views in his address at Stockholm, i.e., ‘Any economic-penological survey will reveal that, by and large, death penalty laws’ wrathful majesty, in blood-shot equality, over periods of history, deals the fatal blow on the poor, not the rich, the pariah, not the brahmin, the black, not the white, the under dog, not the top dog, the women, not the men, the dissenter, not the conformist. Capital sentence perhaps has a class bias and colour bar, even as criminal law barks at both but bites the proletariat to defend the proprietary.’ (2)
These two quotations tell that the people concerned with Money, Muscle-power (Mafia) and Monarchs (corrupt politicians who are an abuse on democracy) play the key role in making democracy and justice-a big fraud or hypocrisy. Actually the criminal cases against the so-called upper class/caste reach in the courts in large numbers but to play with the judiciary and the constitution not to honour the courts of justice. The episode of Gujarat riots, anti- Sikh riots of 1984, and merciless killing of five Dalits under the nose of police at Dulina (Haryana) are the burning examples of the combination of the ‘Three Ms’ where none got capital punishment. This type of massacres give a clear message that a person having even any one of the three, is above the law and it is the poor, deprived and exploited on whose shoulders the democracy and justice survive and enjoy glory.
Needless to say that all the pillars of democracy i.e. executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the media all have a caste/religion (Hindu) dominance and monopoly. They influence more or less all the social, political, economical, and judicial provisions. I feel it necessary to quote Dr. Ambedkar’s views to unveil the cruelty of caste prejudice that can be a great help to understand this issue to reach at an appropriate conclusion. He remarks-‘The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public spirit impossible. A Hindus public is caste. His responsibility is only to his caste. His loyalty is restricted only to his caste. Virtue has become caste ridden and morality has become caste bound. There is no sympathy to the deserving. There is no charity to the needy. Suffering as such calls for no response. There is charity but it begins with the caste and ends with the caste.’ (3)
What Dr. Ambedkar had remarked is relevant and remarkable even after fifty-seven years of independence. Take the example of a Dalit woman of Rajasthan named Bhanwari Devi who was gang raped by some people . They belong to so-called upper caste or marshal race. I doubt that they even deserve to be called human beings. They in fact are deadly cowards who gang raped an innocent Dalit woman. Secondly, the arguments given about their innocence in the judgment of courts at different levels proved very shocking when their caste was considered a symbol of superiority and their kinship was also declared one of the strongest bar where rape against a dalit woman was not accepted collectively. These types of developments put the judicial procedure under strong doubt where accountability, morality, social values, and humanity receive a blow on the face of law and order, social system and judiciary. That is why, justice dies a shameful death under the anarchy and monopoly of ugly casteism and religious fundamentalism. This type of corrupt and discriminatory social system is one of the main reasons that push the poor and depressed, not the rich and so-called upper castes, to the guillotine of death.
Nandita Haksar, a leading lawyer of Supreme Court also sees the roots of this issue in the socio-economic perspective. Keeping in view the issue of the death penalty against five Dalits (Krishana Mochi, Nanhey lal Mochi, Veer Kunwar Paswan, Dharmendra Singh etc.) in a conference at the Constitutional Club on May 21, 2004, she advocates – ‘At individual level capital punishment must be given to the persons like George Bush, the president of USA, Narendra Modi-the chief minister Gujarat, responsible for the massive massacres and Dara Singh-the killer of a German missionary- priest Graham Steins in Orissa a crime against humanity.’ (4) Still these people are out of the reach of the law, why? The reason is not far from reach. Its roots can be found out easily in the caste and religious hegemony where nothing is impossible to achieve.
The above comments reflect that Indian society is highly dominated by the socio-economic system that has the dictatorship of so-called upper castes and Zamindars (the feudal lords) whose socio-economic status is totally based on exploitation of the poor and Dalits who are determined to break the shackles of slavery and bondage of social customs and inhuman traditions of Indian society under the cover of strictly democratic and constitutional provisions for their survival, existence and dignity in their society. But these religious and feudal lords try to wipe them from the face of earth by organizing massive massacres and bloodsheds. Sometimes, some people from these weaker sections respond in the same tone against their uncrowned masters. Under these circumstances, these autocratic monarchs break all the boundaries and act no less cruel in any respect than any of the religious fundamentalists/ national or international terrorists in dealing the issue of the poor, downtrodden, and depressed. The states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh are the burning example of this serious issue.
Nandita Haksar sees some roots of this issue linked with the leadership of revolutionary politics and in the light of caste and social circumstances. She comments-‘The main base of extreme communist revolutionary organizations is landless, poor Dalit farmers, and labourers.’ (5) This comment lays open another layers of this problem i.e., the landless, poor Dalit farmers and labourers are used for revolutionary communism. In most of the cases, these people are killed either by Senas of the Zamindars or get killed in artificial encounters by regional police-the legalized
murderers who are the mere puppets of ‘Three Ms’ means – Money, Mafia, and Monarchs. Those who are left behind are tried in different courts until they receive death penalty. The so-called upper castes and classes remain above the law on the ground of their socio-economic status and autocratic powers acquired on the basis of 3Ms. This is one of the main reasons that keep them away from the category of death penalty.
Now the question arises- ‘Why does the landless, laborers and Datits join these revolutionary organizations? It is the circumstances that are imposed by the armed groups named as ‘Senas’ e.g. Bhoomi Sena, Kisan Sangh, and Sunlight Sena, Sawarna Liberation Front, and Ranveer Sena. These senas kill the people of the weaker sections of the society and Dalits like the unwanted vegetation is removed from the ground without having any mercy and remorse while killing even the children, the women, and the old. Under these circumstances the life of these people becomes difficult and almost impossible to some extent. These weaker sections of the society have only one option- either to die a coward’s death or fight for their rights like a brave man. Definitely, Dalits and the poor also have dignity and self –respect, so they choose the second. Every thing seems to be positive and fruitful until they are independent in taking their decisions but when their movement is hijacked by any of the political organization like CPI (ML). They simply become the ‘sacrificial goats’ and remain mere puppets. With the help of the same above-mentioned comment, Ms Haksar gives the clear massage that the top leaders who are from the upper class/caste push forward this innocent mass of deprived sections of Indian society as Naxalites where their killing is certain by legalized/ unrealized killers.
These are the socio-economic conditions that ensure capital punishment for the weaker section of the society under the influence of these local feudal lords. That is why the death penalties remain intact even in the highest courts of justice. There is one more serious issue that needs to be debated. It is the dominant castes and classes including media and other agencies, advertise this struggle of survival, dignity, and identity as ‘caste struggle.’ The hidden agenda behind this conspiracy is to bring this struggle under anti-social/anti-national activity so that the capital punishment may be ensured under the severest and unpardonable articles of Indian Penal Code. Does the trial of the cases of five Dalits (as mentioned above) was made under TADA while it was abolished in1995, not justify this statement? Secondly, the Indian legislature that is also based on non-violence and reformist principles and death penalty is accepted in the rarest of the rare cases. In the same sequence, ‘the presence of thirty-five cases of death penalty alone in Bhagalpur Jail (6) unveils this conspiracy against the poor, minority classes, and Dalits. It does not mean, I am advocating their activities but trying to present the fact with different angle to expose the real masterminds and culprits to bring them under the law of the land. I think that the worry of the honorable President is the same that Ms Haksar is talking about in her conclusions.
When Ms. Haksar advocates the death penalty for the CM of Gujarat Narendra Modi along with the USA President George Bush and Dara Singh, she seems to give another massage that the people from weaker sections and Dalits are misused in communal riots too. They merely become instruments in the hands of political conspiracy due to ignorance and innocence and receive extreme punishment like death sentence. In advocating capital punishment against the masterminds of crimes, Haksar not only desire to save the innocent mass by becoming executioners in communal riots but also save them from committing such crimes as may take them to the guillotine of death. This type of steps against hypocrite political and religious leaders, if taken seriously, may reduce the number of the cases of death penalty from the society and against the innocent mass to some remarkable extent.
Further, in the light of the above statements, it can be said that the real cause of this burning issue lies in the socio-economic fabric of the Indian society that is based on ugly casteism and religious fundamentalism that confines the capital punishment to the Dalits, backward classes and religious minorities and the worst sufferers among these are Dalits. The article ‘Hundred percent reservation in capital punishment’ written by Prabhat Kumar Shandilya, published in Hindustan a leading hindi newspaper in the month of Oct./Nov.2003 covering this issue seriously.
Keeping in view the judgment of capital punishment given by the High Court against five Dalits of Bihar and Jharkhand that was remained unchanged by the honorable Supreme Court, he states – ‘There is hundred percent reservation in capital punishment in Bihar and Jharkhand states for Dalits, tribals, women and other backward classes and minorities. This reservation is unwritten and undeclared and ultimately based on traditions and prejudices. Other states of the country are not free from this practice. Even after the fifty-six years of independence Dalits and religious minorities have monopoly on capital punishment.’ (7)
In debating this issue, Prabhat Shandilya is practical and seems very close to Dr. Ambedkar, Nandita, Krishana Iyer, and Ramsey Clark who find the roots of this serious issue in caste, religion and social hierarchy that determine socio-economic status and mutual treatment/behavior within the society. M.N. Roy, a great radical humanist is very blunt in dealing with the issue of capital punishment. He reacts as – ‘Justice is far from being civilized. She reminds a savage goddess who demands human sacrifice. And gods and goddesses are made after the image of their worshipers. If the world was really civilized, it would not worship a savage goddess with the offering of blood. You may place the offering in an electric chair; yet it is human sacrifice.’ (8)
Here M.N. Roy openly declares that the Indian society is uncivilized on the basis of what, he calls the justice far from being civilized. He stresses that whatever is prevailing in the society in the name of god and goddess, is publicized in the vested interests of selfish/wicked people and to befool the innocent people for their exploitation and to retain their outstanding traditional status in our society. He also calls the armed gods and goddesses ‘savage.’ He prefers the offerings in the electric chair instead of savage gods and goddesses and calls it more human. In his rational and scientific approach, it can be said that he holds the Indian society responsible for all the inhuman and barbaric episodes i.e. capital punishment, superstitious stupidities, and all form of discrimination including untouchability and exploitation.
Due to corrupt practices, the real criminals who deserve capital punishment remain unpunished and feel themselves above the law and remain involved in heinous crimes. They have no fear of law because they are capable of buying witness and lawyers, can have FIR having loop holes on the power of money, and the worst of all, the judiciary is influenced on the basis of money, mafia and monarchy as described in new terms. Needless to say, the weaker sections of the society and Dalits who are incapable to afford two meals a day comfortably, can be made easy prey of capital punishment and the real culprits deserving for capital punishment remain absolutely free from even a little harm. These auto
cratic tendencies encourage them to play with the life of innocent people and the law of the land. Consequently, the rapes, massive massacres based on caste religion prejudice are increasing day by day to disturb the social harmony in the society. (Increase in the number of scams and scandals are also the result of the same autocracy and monopoly at both social and political levels.) Regarding the increase in crime rates against Dalits, Dr K.P. Singh states – ‘Every two hour two Dalits are assailed, every day three women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, two Dalit houses are burnt.’ (9)
The increase of cruelty and intensity in the crime rates provide sufficient food for thought to reach at an appropriate conclusion i.e., these so-called fundamentalist upper castes and classes are vested with all kinds of prejudices against the weaker sections of the society, especially against the Dalits. Debating over this issue in his editorial in Apeksha – a quarterly Hindi literary magazine, Dr. Tej Singh-a well known critic and Ambedkarite remarks – ‘Sawaran communities still have complete possession over the police and the judiciary. Under the cover of this Sawaran mentality all the decisions are given where Dalits and other weaker sections of the society receive death penalty.’ P. (10)
The above-mentioned episode reminds me of ‘Manu’ – the destiny designer of Hindus who had deprived the out castes (Dalits of today) from all the fundamental rights and requirements essential to lead a normal human life. He also had ensured separate and discriminatory laws that were based purely on caste hegemony and religious prejudice. I am sorry to say that we all claim to live in a modern and developing era but this is nothing more than an eyewash which has nothing to do with reality. We in India, are still living in the savage era as mentioned by M.N. Roy where the laws of the land seem meaningless and directly or indirectly, the legislation of Manu Smriti decides the destiny of all the citizens of India that is governed by hegemony of religion, caste, race and sex. It is making the life of Dalits, minority and the other weaker sections of the society miserable and intolerable while other feel comfortable and proud of over these provisions made by ‘Manu.’ To divert the attention of the world community from such legislation and crimes, religious and caste fundamentalists keep on reciting the superiority of their caste, culture, traditions, spirituality and religion that determine socio-economic structure of Indian society. Such issues need to be post-mortemed bluntly and honestly to reach at logical and unbiased conclusion.
To conclude, I am not able to make myself free from the temptation of quoting Pt Jawaharlal, the first president of independent India, who had raised this type of issue of discrimination at different levels in the name of past traditions and customs. He mentions in his autobiography -‘The Discovery of India’ – ‘Though I have discarded much of past tradition and custom, and am anxious that India should rid herself of all shackles that bind and constrain her and divide her people, and suppress vast numbers of them, and prevent the free development of the body and the spirit; though I seek all this, yet I do not wish to cut myself off from that past completely. I am proud of that great inheritance that has been, and is, ours, and I am conscious that I too, like all of us, am a link in the unbroken chain which goes back to the dawn of history in the immemorial past of India. That chain I would not break, for I treasure it and seek inspiration from it.’ (11)
Nehru ji leaves this issue over the weak and worst sufferers, considering it a social issue but this is no more a social issue but has become a serious social, judicial and political issue too, which needs honest, urgent, and stern remedial measures and strong determination as well as strong will–power. Until this issue is taken seriously or simply politicized, the so- called upper caste and class will keep on playing with the life of the downtrodden and supremacy of judiciary too. This all will adversely affect the social harmony and lead to more and more bloodshed. It would be a serious blunder to consider this issue confined to the weaker sections of our society and Dalits not for the whole society and the nation.
1. Dossier for The National Conference against Death Penalty-New Delhi, July 22, 2000, p.20.
2. International Conference against Death Penalty at Stockholm on Dec.10, 1977.
3. Ambedkar, B.R., Writings, and speeches, Vol. 1, p.56
4. Conference at Constitutional Club, New Delhi, organized by ‘All India Committee Against Death Penalty’ on May21, 2004.
5. Apeksha – quarterly Hindi magazine, Delhi – ‘April-June 2004’ editorial by Dr. Tej Singh, page-3.
8. Dossier for ‘The National Conference Against Death Penalty – New Delhi 22-23, July 2000, p. (vi).’
9. Singh, K.P., The Vancouver Vision on Diversity” presented in International Dalit Conference, Vancouver, 2003, p.7.
10. Apeksha – quarterly Hindi magazine, Delhi – ‘April-June 2004’editorial by Dr Tej Singh, page-3.
11. Discovery of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.