There was a time, when you did not hear another person properly, you would prompt him with a question, ‘pardon?’ The response that is current is, a soft ‘sorry?’ or a request to him to ‘come again?’ or a scowl ‘what?’ The word ‘pardon’ has simply gone out of daily use in words and in action. The French still use the captioned phrase in their daily conversational dialogues. In constitutional parlance, the executive’s power of pardon is associated with signaling a reprieve for a person convicted of a criminal offence. The assumption is, the crime is against not any one individual but against the society and the highest authority in the executive alone could show mercy. Indian law does not recognize the victim to have a power to condone or compound heinous and cognizable offences. The Islamic law is different. Section 403 C of the Criminal Procedure Code in Pakistan, for example, enables the victim’s legal heir the power to let a person go off the noose, when the guilty faces death punishment.
May 21, 1991. A dark spectacled woman garlands the leader and seems to lower herself to touch his feet offering obeisance to him. The modesty in the man stops the woman by holding her at the shoulder by his firm, but kind hands. The woman pulls the contrivance strapped around her waist. She blows herself to smithereens and the blast tosses up the leader to land on his now decimated face. 16 others in the immediate vicinity are felled simultaneously with the assassin and the slain leader. A lanky woman at a distance watches the gory spectacle, first hand. The crowd is confused; she is not. She was perhaps the only one alive out there who knew what really had happened and who was the prime target of attack.
The death of the leader changed the course of nation’s history. But the nation is big; its history is long and the resources of the country prodigious to throw up successive leaders who have given direction to the country’s destiny. A lot of things have also happened to that woman. She married the co-conspirator. She had a child while still in prison. She lost the child’s custody to her sister to be brought up outside the prison walls. The mother bore the separation from her daughter. Perhaps, the child has grown up without feeling the warmth of a parental hug or a protected home, when she could come back from her school and dine with her parents. There is infinite sadness in the homes of both the victim and the person in the killer team. The leader’s daughter still cannot believe that there could be a person in the world who could have had hated her adorable father. She meets with the convict to sit by her side to ask her why she did it. The newspapers report that both them wept silently.
The responses to this meeting have been diverse. Some say that the daughter of the victim is matured and a person who carries only love in her bosom is a noble soul; her brother says that he understands her feelings but he could not have done that act himself like his sister; some say that she is paving way for the safety of her family from the terrorist outfit by holding out the olive branch. The surviving victims and the next kin of other persons who died in the same incident have no residual sympathy for the mercenary group. They are maimed and in too much pain to experience the lofty emotions of mercy. Instead, they ask why she did not meet them and console them; what consolation is required for the person who was part of a team that spilt terror and blood, inflicted suffering and privations to innocent persons? They are too difficult to answer. It is all the more difficult to apply any objective standards. For instance, take the case of another person, another family. Sarabjit Singh was caught in the territory of Pakistan. After his arrest, Singh was accused of carrying out bomb blasts in Lahore, Kasur and Faisalabad and reported to have also "admitted" before the court that he had been "involved" in bomb blasts and terrorist activities in Pakistan. He was provided legal assistance to fight his case in the courts of law. He is now sentenced to death. The noose has been readied, but thank the providence, his head has not been shoved inside the ring. His sister, wife and two daughters have been praying, petitioning, beseeching, weeping, all to get their dear Sarabjit back. Now which side are you? Does not your heart pulsate for Sarabjit? Do you feel for the victims of blasts at Lahore and the other places? When the killings have been of innocent persons, is there any such category as friends or enemies? Do you still not love Sarabjit to come back to India and want the victims, their next of kin and the Pakistan establishment to show mercy?
There is no greater transcendent emotion than a willingness to pardon. Here lies the irony. In India, the victim’s heir may show mercy. It is meaningful to the convict only if the State also shows mercy. In Sarabjit’s case, it would seem that the State might show mercy, but will the victims’ heirs also show mercy?