July 30 was a somber day for India — a day that called into question the application of the death penalty in a country whose criminal justice system is stacked against minorities, the poor and those who do not have the backing of powerful political interests.
On that day, Yakub Memon was executed. The same day last year, Maya Kodnani was released from jail. Just three years ago, Ms. Kodnani was sentenced to prison for 28 years for her role in an attack in Gujarat that left at least 94 people, all Muslims, dead during riots in 2002. She was also, however, a top lieutenant in the Gujarat state government once headed by the current prime minister, Narendra Modi. Mr. Memon had no such political connections. An accountant, he admitted to playing an accessory role in the 1993 bombings in Mumbai, masterminded by his brother “Tiger” Memon and Dawood Ibrahim, a Mumbai underworld boss. The bombings, which took the lives of 257 people and injured some 700 others, were set off in revenge for riots that engulfed the city in December 1992 following the destruction by Hindu militants of the Babri Mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya. More than 1,000 people died in the Mumbai riots, most of them Muslims.
Mr. Memon’s execution has now set off a vigorous debate in India on capital punishment. While more than 1,300 Indians were condemned to die by Indian courts in the decade between 2004 and 2013, only three individuals have been executed. But the sentences reflect huge disparities in the treatment of the accused in the justice system. A study conducted by the National Law University in New Delhi, working with India’s Law Commission, has found that nearly all — 93.5 percent — of those sentenced to death are low-caste Dalits or members of other minorities. Most are poor. Many are illiterate. Few received adequate legal representation.
Such gross injustice should weigh heavily when India’s Supreme Court receives a full report on the death penalty expected from the Law Commission next month. In the meantime, the government should reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty while India works toward joining most of the world in abolishing state-sanctioned killing.
Source: New York Times, The Editorial Board, August 5, 2015
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