Why Kasab won't make a good martyr

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 22, 2012 03:03 hrs

I’m fairly sure that, among literate Indians who are not members of political parties – and don’t aspire to be – and who lost no family, friends or acquaintances in the Mumbai terrorist attack of 26-28 November, 2008, and who are not fans of Bal Thackeray and Narendra Modi, I’m in a minority when I say I’m glad Ajmal Amir Kasab was hanged.

There are some who are thankful our batty right wing has one slogan less to throw at voters, but this isn’t why I believe it was right to hang Kasab. I believe he was rightly hanged because he was a terrorist who set out to kill, and succeeded in killing, tens of people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m not against capital punishment, though I do find it hard to justify it when the more pertinent arguments in favour of abolishing it are put before me. The most valid of these, of course, is wrongful conviction. In Kasab’s case, we know this doesn’t hold.

Another argument is that no government has a right to take a life, since it can’t create life, which I find somewhat absurd, even without the connecting clause. If someone presumes to take another’s life, what is his just punishment? It remains that nothing will bring anyone’s loved ones back, and that, at best, their kin may draw some solace. However, letting people off with a prison sentence, from which years may be docked off for good behaviour, isn’t enough of a deterrent.

In India, capital punishment holds only in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases, and attacking citizens of a country in pursuit of Heaven and an assorted number of virgins should fit that criterion.

I’ve often thought the worst punishment must be to know a painful death is close at hand, and wonder whether one will live to see the dusk of each dawn. In Kasab’s case, that was true. Jail officials described him as being nervous ahead of his hanging – a rare display of emotion in a brute criminal, who grinned through most of his trial. Let’s not insult our own intelligences by tut-tutting about “brainwashing” that poor, innocent boys succumb to. No one gets brainwashed without having an inclination to do what one is asked to.

The random comparisons between Kasab’s killing spree, and Bal Thackeray’s brand of parochialism, I would dismiss, as I would the contention that every terrorist deserves his loopholes in the noose. Kasab got a fairer trial than he deserved.

But the largest concern, especially after the Lashkar-e-Tayebba’s announcement, is that Kasab would become a martyr, inspiring hundreds of future jihadis to go forth and murder.

I don’t believe Kasab will make a good martyr, for several reasons.

First, what everyone will see are pictures of Indian Muslims celebrating Kasab’s conviction and hanging – including that of a child holding up a board that says ‘Hang him at Bhendi Bazaar’ – and a series of articles about the Indian Muslim reaction to his hanging, all of which quote Maulanas of various Islamic schools approving of the decision. No rose petals, no clemency, no hailing.

What people will see is a cruel madman who disgusted everyone so much that no one wanted to defend him, irrespective of religious and political leaning.

What people will see is a lonely prisoner who swore at policemen who wouldn’t make conversation with him, despite his attempts to learn and speak Marathi.

What people will see is a stray piece of cannon-fodder nabbed alive, a piece of cannon-fodder that ratted out everyone he knew to be involved, and everything he knew about the assignment he was given, during interrogation.

What people will see is a “stateless actor” whose country did not want to claim him, and denied that he was Pakistani till the media tracked his father down in Faridkot village, days after the attack.

What people will see is a man who forced his family to leave their village in humiliation, and disappear.

What people will see is a self-proclaimed mujahid who wolfed down chicken biryani in a country he had set out to attack, notching up a food bill of Rs 42,313 (and a medical bill of Rs 39,829).

And people will read the stories that came out after his conviction, that were further fleshed out after his death. Like, it was his father’s refusal to buy him new clothes on Eid in 2005 that prompted a miffed Kasab to first run away from home. Like, he worked for a year doing odd jobs and making Rs 3000 a month, before finding employment with a suicide squad. Like, his mother locked him up when he last visited his village, and he escaped at night to find his death.

And what a death. It didn’t have the glory of a public hanging. It didn’t have the pathos of angry human rights activists staging demonstrations in a dramatic lead-up to the final moment. It didn’t have the rage of bleeding heart liberals writing impassioned articles in defence of a terrorist.

No, Ajmal Amir Kasab died alone, in a dank jail, painfully, mechanically.

And he didn’t want to die. It was an ignominious death, a death following courtroom trials, and appeals for Presidential pardon.

Kasab died after being kept alive by security on which far more was spent than on his board and lodging. He didn’t die fighting a holy war. If at all, he died when he was fighting dengue.

The big story after his death was whether Pakistan accepted or refused a letter from India on the decision to hang Kasab. The big story of the evening was whether the Congress hanged him as part of political strategy, as if to make up for the lapses that allowed terrorists to land in this country on the UPA’s watch, for the garrulousness of a former Home Minister who rattled off details of the NSG commando operation as it was taking place, for the laxity in letting a scoop-hungry media cover the operation like a Hollywood thriller.

The Lashkar-e-Tayebba may have felt compelled to attribute martyrdom to Kasab through Reuters, but he simply isn’t good martyr material.

Dead terrorists don’t make good martyrs, especially when they aren’t killed in action. Let’s remember that the granddaddy of dead terrorists, Osama Bin Laden, was exposed as a crazed aging man with a penchant for Viagra and studying videos of himself.

Yes, Kasab was a pawn, and I’m not holding my breath for Hafiz Sayeed to be extradited here. But hanging a pawn counts, because it sends out a message – this country will not be kind to people who wage war on its citizens. A dead pawn doesn’t make a good martyr. And a dead pawn doesn’t make a big difference, so I’m not celebrating. But I’m relieved.

More by the same author:

Why does no one care about the right to choose?

Book Review: The Teenager and the Art of Delusion

Who has the right to write about India?

Roll of Honour: Riots, fear & sodomy in 1984

Why India is the worst country for women

The author is a writer based in Chennai.

She blogs at

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