Open Letter:


Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s nephew appeals against Death Penalty

To President Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Dear sirs

We are writing to appeal to you to commute the death sentence of Mohammed Afzal, the only accused in the Parliament Attack case to have been sentenced to die. We write just in case what we have to say has not already occurred to you, or in case you are inclined not to act on your own natural instincts because you have been persuaded by some more cold hearted logic.

We wish to argue that our country can honour Mahatma Gandhi and Shaheed Bhagat Singh by doing away with the death penalty altogether as there are many valid grounds for this:

1. A civil society should not descend to the status of murderers by preferring revenge over far better forms of justice.

2. All investigations, however meticulous, are subject to human error. Such errors become irreversible in case the death penalty is imposed. All over the world there have been cases of executed people being proved innocent after their death.

3. In countries like ours where there is a huge gap between the privileged and the dispossessed, the death penalty becomes the final method of implementing class injustice. A cursory glance at the list of all those executed in our country will reveal the blatant fact that almost all of them were poor. The rich are rarely found guilty and even if they are, they are rarely executed.

4. There is no international evidence to suggest that the death penalty is a deterrent to violent and heinous crime. Countries like UK that did away with the death penalty did not see a rise in such crimes while countries like the USA that continue to impose the penalty, show no decline.

Moving from the general to the particular, our main argument is not that Mohammed Afzal is likely to be innocent, and we are not appealing for a pardon but for the commutation of the death penalty imposed upon him. Such a bold decision may or may not change the heart of Mr. Afzal, but it is likely to send a positive signal to the world.

If Momammed Afzal is a terrorist today, he was surely not born one. And he need not die one. Circumstances made him what he is. And circumstances may change him. The death penalty will change no one. Far from being a deterrent, martyrdom, as some will surely perceive it, can only achieve the opposite effect. To recall a relevant example, in comparison to today, the Kashmir valley was virtually peaceful prior to the judicial execution of Maqbool Butt in 1984.

The meaningful dialogue for peace that you have initiated on all issues should not be abruptly derailed by a mechanical approach to law and order. We appeal to you to halt the cycle of revenge that has been unleashed in our country and elsewhere in the world by making a bold statement that India wishes to reassert the path of humanity, not perpetuate the path of violence.

One of the signatories to this letter is a historian and a nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

Signed: Professor Jagmohan Singh , Anand Patwardhan
Bombay, 29 September, 2006