What, after all, should our response be to an egregious outrage like the attack on Parliament? To me, this is the fundamental question in the whole uproar about the death sentence awarded to Mohammed Afzal: just what should our response be?
Should it be vengeance? Or should it be an attempt to thoroughly investigate the crime and punish all the guilty, so it won't happen again?
There is one statement the Supreme Court made that, to me, speaks of some perceived public desire for vengeance: "The [attack on Parliament] had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to [Afzal]."
Satisfying the collective conscience of the country is one thing. But I wonder what it achieves. The man will be hung and buried, and our collective consciences will be satisfied, and we will be nowhere closer to understanding what really happened that December day, to knowing who was responsible for the deaths of several brave men and women, to ensuring that their colleagues will not die in a future attack.
Yet somehow, that does not satisfy my conscience.
By putting Afzal to death, I believe we are letting the really guilty go free, in much the same way as earlier judgements in the Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases let the really guilty go free. (And remember it took seven years, and sustained public outrage after the Lall case, to deliver some justice in the Mattoo case).
This is not an argument against the death penalty. I do not claim that Afzal is innocent of the charges against him, or that he did not receive a fair trial. I am simply saying: Afzal alive is our only chance to find out the truth about the attack on Parliament.
I cannot imagine why we would settle for any less.