The New York Times has an interesting article on the death penalty in India, from a unique point of view– that of the shortage of hangmen in a country so large as India.
This would be an almost humorous story except for the very real possibility that once a hangman is located, India’s first execution since 2004 will take place. Mahendra Nath Das is facing execution after the President of India unexpectedly refused his mercy petition. This surprised many legal experts in India and is especially worrying to prison advocates including the All-India Prison Officers Association a group that represents prison officials (isn’t it interesting that prison officials themselves are adamantly opposed to the death penalty and in fact assist prisoners with mercy petitions?).
But, rather than searching the country for retired hangmen, I’d propose a solution that is much easier– abolish the death penalty once and for all. It’s the right thing to do from a human rights standpoint which is certainly reason enough. But, as an added bonus, India’s prison officials will no longer have to spend its precious resources on finding someone to administer the gruesome task.
Street scene in Imphal, the capital of Manipur
Now is the time for Members of Parliament (called the Lok Sabha) to act to repeal the 1958 Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (aka: AFSPA) and its Jammu and Kashmir counterpart. This law allows the Indian security forces to operate in the northeastern part of the country as well as Jammu and Kashmir by declaring an area “disturbed.” This “disturbed” designation has been in effect for upwards of five decades in some parts of the northeast (Assam and Manipur in particular). This law gives security forces a licence to operate with virtual impunity with no fear of prosecution except in the rarest of circumstances. How would you feel if you knew that the Army could come into your house without a warrant and if they abused your human rights you would have no recourse for justice?
It’s not like this law is uncontroversial in India. On the contrary, it is very controversial indeed. In 2005, the Central Government appointed a former Supreme Court judge, Jeevan Reddy, to look into the law after widespread protests in Manipur. Judge Reddy’s committee recommended repeal of the AFSPA, saying that it had become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.” Oh, by the way, this law is also in violation of international law, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
So, let’s see– a government committee said it should be abolished, it’s in violation of international law and has been used to commit widespread human rights violations. Doesn’t it seem like these would be reasons enough to abolish this law?