Rajat Sharma

Death row convicts who commit heinous crimes must not be allowed to file mercy petitions

AKB1010Today I want to share with you the grief of Asha Devi, mother of Nirbhaya, the girl who was gang raped inside a bus in Delhi more than seven years ago, brutalized and thrown out, causing nationwide outrage. I marvel at the tenacity of her mother, who made it a point to attend every court hearing for the last seven years, in the hope of finally getting justice.

The Supreme Court gave the death sentence to all the four Nirbhaya case convicts three years ago, the death warrants were signed twice by the lower courts, an executioner was also brought to Tihar jail for carrying out the death sentence, and yet the execution process seems to have got entangled in a maze of judicial procedures with the lawyers filing petitions, one after another, in different courts to stall the execution.

On Thursday, a division bench of Supreme Court had to deal with two petitions – one by the Union government seeking separate hanging of the four convicts, and the other by a convict challenging the President’s rejection of his mercy plea. The apex court reserved its verdict on the convict’s petition for Friday, when it will hear counsels on the Centre’s plea for carrying out separate hangings.

The Supreme Court has already rejected the review and curative petitions of all the four convicts, but in the meanwhile, one convict filed a plea in High Court claiming he was a juvenile at the time of offence. This, too, was rejected.

The Supreme Court is aware of the delaying tactics being employed the lawyers of the convicts, but it can do little except hear the petitions. On Thursday, a sessions court in Delhi observed that “Article 21 of the Constitution protects the life and liberty of a condemned convict till his last breath”.

Nirbhaya’s mother, with her voice breaking, told the court, “I come here every day with the hope of getting justice but I have to return disappointed.” The judge sympathized with her, but said, everyone has to function within the ambit of the law.

Just imagine the trauma the lady has to go through. First her daughter was gang raped and brutally murdered, the entire nation sympathized with her in her hour of grief, and then the long journey for seeking justice began. On every hearing date, the lady used to go to courts, waiting for justice, which is yet to come. This has been going on for more than seven years, even after the death sentence has been pronounced.

I only want to ask: what is her guilt? Is it because she wants death for all the four murderers who pounced on her inside a running bus? Is it because the sympathies of the entire nation are with her? Is she guilty because the President, the Supreme Court, and all lower courts refused to show mercy to the convicts?

The guilt lies with our judicial system. Imagine, for seven years the Nirbhaya case went through the courts, the death sentence was given by the Supreme Court nearly three years ago, their mercy petitions were rejected, and yet her mother is still getting adjournments after adjournments (‘tareekh par tareekh’ in Bollywood lingo).

Imagine the travails of a mother, when the courts give adjournments, and the lawyers for the convicts proudly claim outside the court, for her to hear, that the execution has been stayed “forever”. Nirbhaya’s mother, Asha Devi, wept again outside the courts on Thursday and left, and yet the nation watched in silence the blatant manipulation of our judicial system.

The lawyers for the convicts are so wily that they never file petitions together in order to gain time. They file petitions in different courts – Patiala district court, Delhi High Court and Supreme Court, only to gain time. And every time it is Nirbhaya’s mother who has to walk out with tears in her eyes.

The lawyers for the convicts argue in court, why is the government in a hurry to execute the convicts, when cases of so many death row convicts are pending. One of the lawyers, A. P. Singh, even went to the extent of saying “justice hurried is justice buried”. I want to tell him, there is also the saying ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.

Judiciary must not brook any more delay now. To those who demand that death row convicts must be heard till their last breath, I want to say, where was the ‘right to life’ when these criminals were snuffing out life from the body of a girl? Did she not have the right to life? Legal rights for a convict does not mean resorting to delay tactics and fooling the judicial system.

My heart is filled with anger when I see Asha Devi’s eyes brimming with tears and asking plaintively, ‘when will we finally get justice?’ The law against rape was changed after the sordid Nirbhaya incident, but now, the time has come to dispense with the provision of mercy petitions for those death row prisoners who have committed the most heinous crime on earth. So long as this is not done, our daughters will continue to suffer.

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