Meeting with President Kalam on Death Penalty
By N D Pancholi
Nirmala Deshpande, Nandta Haksar and the under signed (ND Pancholi) met President Kalam on Monday the 18th June,07 and urged upon him to accept the clemency petitions of all the prisoners on death row before he vacates his
office. President listened and said that the issue of death penalty has not been properly studied. He stressed for the need of a national debate on death penalty. The following representation in this
connection was also submitted to him. He assured that he would consider it.
REPRESENTATION TO THE PRESIDENT:
June 18, 2007
His Excellency President of India
Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Re: Memorandum on question of death penalty
We are writing to you in our capacity as human rights lawyers and as citizens of our country. We would like to say that we, along with hundreds and thousands of fellow citizens regret deeply that you will soon no longer be our President. We believe that you have endeared yourself to lakhs of Indian citizens because somehow you were able to bridge the gap between Rashtrapati Bhawan and the ordinary citizen. We had begun to feel we could reach you, our President, personally, and somehow you would hear our grievances.
We belong to the human rights community and we were very excited and inspired when you took a public stand against death penalty. As lawyers who have been dealing with people in jails for more than three decades we feel a special concern for those locked behind high walls and who have no way to being heard.
India has committed itself to abolishing the death penalty in accordance with her obligations under international human rights law. We have reached a point in history when death penalty has been abolished even in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity. As you know that the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals had provision for death penalty but the International Criminal Court (1998) and the International Criminal tribunal for Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia (1993) do not provide for capital punishment. As human rights lawyers and activists we long for the day when India will abolish this brutal, cruel and barbaric practice.
In a situation where there is provision for death penalty principles of natural justice require that the courts should apply the highest standards of impartiality, competence and objectivity and independence when sentencing anyone to death. However, in our country’s experience also we have seen that the “rarest of rare” doctrine has not led to fewer death sentences, in fact through the years the number of laws which provide for death penalty has increased and the sentencing shows that the standard is arbitrary and flexible.
Your Excellency, you have yourself observed that a disproportionate number of poor and uneducated get the death sentence. And today more than 90 per cent of the cases pending before you from Bihar, Jharkhand and Kashmir are people who are poor and who have not been able to defend themselves because they could not afford to engage a competent lawyer.
Your Excellency, as human rights lawyers we see gross violation of human rights every day. But we continue to struggle because despite all the odds there is still democratic space within which people like us can fight for the rights of poor and oppressed. But when we see people who are condemned to death without a fair trial, or no trial at all we feel both outraged and absolutely helpless. It is this outrage and feeling of helplessness that has prompted to write to you.
We realize the fight to abolish death penalty is not easy. However, the fact that you have taken a public stand on the issue has kindled a new hope not only in the hearts of the human rights community but those waiting in death row, their families and friends.
Your Excellency, we have published Muhammad Afzal Guru’s petition to you. We have done this so that the facts of his trial are put in the public domain. We are a enclosing a copy of the book, entitled, The Afzal Petition: A Quest for Justice. We are also enclosing Nandita Haksar’s book, Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in Time of Terror. The book motivated many people of South Asian origin to join the campaign to save Afzal Guru from the gallows.
Your Excellency, we do not know for certain what stand the Government of India has taken with regard to Afzal Guru or the other unfortunate poor people in death row in Bihar and Jharkhand. But we fear that the Government would have advised that they all be hanged. Our conscience is outraged by the fact that more than a million farmers have committed suicide even as those fighting for the right to minimum wages are being condemned to death in democratic India .
The decision in the Parliament attack case has sent shock waves throughout the world. Already 28 British MPs have signed an Early Day Motion asking that Afzal be pardoned because the verdict lacked legitimacy. They have been shocked that the Supreme Court could have sentenced a man to death on the grounds that it would satisfy the collective conscience of our society.
Your Excellency, we ardently appeal to you to exercise your prerogative powers under the Proviso to Article 74 of the Indian Constitution and ask the Government to reconsider their decision. We ask this of you on behalf of all those millions of Indian citizens who believe in the values and cherish the noble ideals of India ’s epic struggle against British colonial rule. We believe that the abolishment of the death penalty on the 150th anniversary of India ’s First War of Independence would be a wonderful way to remember the martyrs and celebrate Indian democracy’s ability to survive and grow deeper even in the midst of the most difficult of times.
Please accept our best wishes,
Nandita Haksar N D Pancholi
163 Vasant Enclave
New Delhi-110 057
Tel. 011 26152680