Afzal Guru hanging: Blame Speed Post or govt for lack of information?

Who should be blamed for the fact that the family of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru found out through television channels and friends that he had been hanged? In keeping with tradition, the blame has fallen to the messenger, in this case the oft reviled Indian Post, specifically its Speed Post service which was used to send the notification to the family.

When confronted with the fact that the family had not received any intimation before the execution, Home Secretary RK Singh said,"They (Tihar jail authorities) intimated the family through Speed Post, registered post and the DG (Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police) has been told to check with the family whether they got it or not.”

However, a crucial detail that was left out by the Home Secretary and prison authorities was when the letter was sent out.

Playing only to the gallery: Should the government have been more transparent about informing people about Guru's hanging? Reuters

Playing only to the gallery: Should the government have been more transparent about informing people about Guru's hanging? Reuters

A user of Speed Post, while attesting to its relatively higher efficiency, also knows that one of the most important factors is when the letter is sent. A letter could take anywhere between 12 hours to 24 hours depending on the intended destination of the letter.

Even the Chief Minister of the Jammu and Kashmir says he was informed the night before the execution was carried out, in effect giving him and the state administration around 12 hours before the execution to set up law and order machinery to prepare for the ensuing political turmoil. Given this, it is unlikely that the letter was sent with enough time to ensure that Guru's family were in the know about the impending execution in time.

“I wish we were the ones authorised to give the news to the family," Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in an interview yesterday, pointing out that other quicker means of communication might have been used.

He pointed out that he had more intimation when Kasab was hanged.

Even a lawyer who participated in the trial pointed out that Guru's family not being intimated was a violation of his wife's right to know that her plea seeking clemency for him had been rejected.

Unfortunately, they have a point.

Even in the most recent case of the death penalty being carried out, in the case of of Pakistani gunman Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the government had sent a letter to the Pakistani High commission and a courier to Kasab's family in Pakistan and had confirmation that it had been received.

The hanging of Guru was no doubt a more contentious issue than that of Kasab and had the potential to have a far-reaching impact on the security in Jammu and Kashmir, but carrying out the execution in complete secrecy has only raised more questions about the political motivations in carrying out the execution.

If indeed the government was following constitutional procedure, it could very well have followed procedure and ensured that Guru's family had some information about the impending execution. The jail manual may specify the use of Speed Post to send such information but to ensure its receipt was the responsibility of the government.

In a democracy, there may be opposing voices to any action. But to ensure they are silenced because it is inconvenient never augurs well for the future.

The government already knew the potential fall out of the execution, the least it could have done was ensured a basic level of transparency. In failing to do so, as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah pointed out, it has needlessly alienated people in Jammu and Kashmir over the issue.

Updated Date: Feb 11, 2013 12:25 PM

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