Remission policy needs rethink. We can’t free killers

The release of Anand Mohan at the behest of Nitish Kumar is being seen as a bid to capture the Rajput votebank ahead of the next election. India’s remission policy definitely needs a rethink. We can’t just free killers
It is appalling that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has released Anand Mohan, mafia don-cum-politician, after serving 15 years in jail for the murder of an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. He was released not because he is very old, suffering from some incurable disease, or has served a terribly long time already.
Rather, he is being released prematurely for an advantage in the next election. Mohan is still viewed as a Rajput political hero who can win a lot of votes. This gross misuse of the mercy system cries out for reversal by the courts.
The sentence remission rules in Bihar allowed the release of those that had served 14 years but had a clause prohibiting the release of anybody that had murdered a public servant on duty. Nitish amended this clause to release Mohan. This is sordid, cynical politics at its worst.
Last August, I wrote that I was ashamed of being an Indian because the 11 killers who were convicted of gangraping Bilkis Bano and slaughtering her family in the 2002 riots were granted remission by the Gujarat government. Not just that, the released convicts were felicitated and garlanded. But now Nitish, supposedly the great moral opponent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has followed suit. I am too numb with horror to feel shame anymore.
Nitish came to office on a platform of ending the gangster-politician nexus of the Lalu Yadav era. He cracked down on gangsters in his first term and was rewarded with public adulation and repeated re-election. Now, he has joined hands with Lalu’s party and is reported to happily flirt with the very mafia he once jailed.
His reputation as a rare politician of principle lies shredded. He has married and divorced political partners so often that nobody knows what exactly he stands for. Not long ago, some liberals regarded him as a secular hero worthy of heading a morally upright Opposition front to combat the BJP. Today that sounds farcical.

Anand Mohan is being released prematurely for advantage in the next election…this gross misuse of the mercy system cries out for reversal by the courts

The world over, murderers are typically condemned and ostracised regardless of their other achievements or followers. This indeed was one reason murderers, who used to be hanged in earlier times, are increasingly released after spending some decades in jail: Mercy was viewed as appropriate since the killers would supposedly carry the shame and taint of crime all their lives.
That assumption seems to have no basis in India. Some murderers remain heroes to their caste, community, or political party regardless of their crime. Far from being ostracised, they are greeted by adoring crowds when released. Those deserving the noose get garlands instead. In consequence, cynical politicians have started releasing them as soon as possible, ostensibly as an act of mercy but actually for political advantage.
Thousands of supporters had gathered to greet Anand Mohan at his scheduled time of release. But the uproar over his release had embarrassed the government. To avoid being seen openly promoting hero worship of a killer, Anand Mohan was released at 4am with nobody in sight, and whisked out of the state. Nitish hopes this will reduce the anguish of his liberal supporters while still gaining Rajput votes.

The Supreme Court must be petitioned to set limits on the discretion of state governments to release convicts

History shows that many people have been wrongly convicted and hanged for murder. Banning executions can end the gross injustice of innocents being hanged. I support the Indian system where execution is forbidden save in the most heinous cases, and life imprisonment is the rule.
But what about releasing prisoners after 14 years on the ground that they have repented, reformed, and suffered enough? This rule must change. Does anybody believe that dons repent and become exemplary citizens after 14 years in jail, and so should be released? Releasing convicted killers prematurely can be an outrageous injustice. Just consider the injustice to Bilkis Bano and the widow of the killed IAS officer.
Fourteen years is much too short a term for releasing killers. Dons have shown that they can continue running criminal enterprises even from jail. Politicians can continue to be powerful, operating through their spouses and other relatives.
The Supreme Court must be petitioned to set limits on the discretion of state governments to release convicts. For convicted killers that have an established political or criminal record, the minimum period of imprisonment before release should be 30 years. That will not exhaust the power of killers operating out of jail. But it will at least ensure that the families of those killed get some justice for the tragedy inflicted on them. And it will reduce the cynical release of killers for political profit.

This article was originally published by The Times of India on April 29, 2023.

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