I am opposed to the death penalty. That makes me appear obnoxious to many, since the death penalty is often handed out to people who have committed serious crimes. I was opposed to the hanging of Dhananjay Chatterjee, not because I believed he was innocent, but because he was guilty, but death penalty is not a deterrent but an articulation of the eye-for-an-eye “principle”. In fact the one category of people who are hanged though innocent are the fighters on the class struggle front. When Kista Gour and Bhumaiah were hanged, or when, back in the 40s the Kayyur martyrs died, left wing activists knew that the crime involved was really a simple one – refusing to allow the ruling class to rule without putting up a resistance. Such people nether appeal for mercy, nor does one expect the state to show any mercy to them. Hanging them and calling someone like them for discussion and then killing that person (remember a man named Azad?) are all the same.
It is a more complicated case with Kasab. He was the representative of another state, or its covert arm, doing damage, killing innocent people. He was duly convicted by a court of law, and the death penalty was upheld by the Supreme Court. Absolutely correct. The problem lies in the argument that once the Supreme Court has upheld his conviction he has to be hanged and there should be no mercy. My point is, the question of mercy is only applicable to such cases. If he had not been found guilty by all the layers of judiciary, there would have been no death penalty to uphold and no mercy petition etc. If Kasab had been granted a mercy reprieve from hanging, he could still have been kept in jail for life. It is unlikely that he would have reformed (though strange things have very occasionally happened). But we would have been a more civilised society, not a blood thirsty one.
It has been argued that he was a criminal and therefore he deserved to die. In that case, so did Lyndon Johnson, who intensified the Vietnam War. So did Winston Churchill, who, on being told that there was a severe food shortage in Eastern India in 1943, asked why in that case Gandhi was still alive, and who refused to stop the moving out of food from that area. (This resulted in the Bengal Famine and the death of between one and three million people.) So do all leaders of Israel, who have been waging a murderous war against the Palestinians for decades. Are we going to demand the judicial killing of all these people (where still alive)?