Revenge is not justice

I had just boarded a flight when someone from a television channel called me on the mobile to ask for my reaction to the hanging of Afzal Guru. I did not know till then that he had been strung up to die. I instinctively replied that I felt saddened. It is a comment that is likely to haunt me, for many well-wishers have asked me why I did not hold my tongue or tailor my remark to the popular mood, for it seems that there is national rejoicing at the hubris that has overtaken those who sought to end our democracy in one fell blow on Parliament.

It may have been an instinctive reaction but it reflected my deeply held abhorrence of the death penalty. I had certainly articulated the same position when Nalini was spared the death sentence for her part in the assassination of my friend and patron, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. I had felt relief then that we were not taking a life to punish the taking of a life, even the taking of the life that was the staff of my life; my belief is that all life is infinitely precious, howsoever misused; that to imitate assassination by assassination is to become complicit in assassination.

I had felt the same when I heard of Ajmal Kasab's hanging, with this one difference — it can be said that Kasab had sought martyrdom when he embarked for Mumbai, and the Indian state was helping him realise his most ardent desire. On the other hand, Afzal Guru sounded resigned to his fate, rather than welcoming it.

Revenge is not justice. For revenge often engenders counter-revenge. That is why so many terrorists are born in the crucible of the injustice they see themselves being subjected to, or believe they have been subjected to — whatever the facts of the case. So, putting them away — for all of their natural life in high security prisons in the "rarest of rare" cases — is a reasoned response to terrorism. But leaving them dangling in the air is almost certain to be fertile breeding ground for more terrorism.

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