When I woke up a few days ago to the flash news of Ajmal Kasab’s surprise hanging, there was very little reaction at first, simply because it was a known fact that he had been convicted and ordered an execution. This was a man who had not only walked around town mercilessly shooting people down, but was also captured on camera doing so with a triumphant smile pasted across his face. This judgment could not have gone any other way in any other part of the world.
It is only when I started reading the deluge of reports in the newspapers that the emptiness in me was taken over by an indescribable feeling of internal friction. As per reports, Ajmal Kasab was taken to Pune’s Yerawada jail in the dead of the night. He was informed of his impending death, and he spent the last day of his life singing songs. When asked for his last wish, he said he wanted to meet his family, which could not be granted for obvious reasons. Just before the execution, as he was standing staring at the knotted rope that would end his life, he said – Allah qasam maaf karna, aisi galati dobara nahin hogi (In the name of Allah, forgive me; I will never make such a mistake in my life). The irony of that statement left me baffled! Here was a man vowing to not commit a crime in his life, knowing full well that he was living the last few moments of his life. We never fully grasp death till it grasps us. As the hangman covered his head in cloth and tied the rope around it, Kasab began to babble incoherently. After the rope was pulled, he was left hanging for half an hour before being pronounced dead. He was then buried in one of six pits within the jail premises, the exact location kept secret for reasons of security. The government of his country, Pakistan, was informed in advance of the execution, not once but twice. It refused to respond to the memo both times. Unclaimed by his motherland, despised by the world, unable to see his family, buried in an unknown pit, he left this world. Ajmal Kasab was all of 25 years of age.
Death is one of the strangest phenomena of humankind, one that we will never fully understand. It ends the life of one person, but affects the people around them in bizarre ways. It makes us sombre, reflective, sad, and sometimes also undeservingly celebratory of the person who is no more (no matter what we said about them during their lifetimes). It is very very difficult to perceive death with objectivity, with clear logic, with a sense of justice. Ajmal Kasab, for all practical purposes, should have died and died the most undignified death, perhaps a more despicable one than he did. But, this is not about Ajmal Kasab. This is about the thousands and thousands of youth who venture into a territory they do not fully understand, who are drawn into it by people with vested interests, whose vulnerability is accentuated by young age, boiling blood, lack of education, no opportunities, chronic poverty, lack of exposure to the world, but largely, a feeling of injustice, a feeling of utter deprivation at being “left behind” in this world of jazz and glamor, of being denied respect and respectability. This feeling of injustice manifests itself into many forms – petty crime, large crimes, mental disorders, dysfunctional relationships, and even terrorism.
The more some people progress, the more they leave behind others in huge volumes. We forget that these others live in the same world as us, have the same emotions as us, are capable of what we are – just that maybe they were born into far lesser than we were, they were given far lesser than we were, and maybe they just need a little help, a hand to pick them up, a pat on the back, a smile.
The International Labor Organization says that more than 75 million youth in the world are looking for work. In 2010, UNESCO put the number of uneducated youth at 122 million. And these are just hard figures. There is no way of measuring the softer ones – number of youth who felt slighted, disrespected, discriminated against; number of youth who saw a loved one die of hunger, who were threatened into committing crimes by powerful forces, who were tempted to commit crimes themselves because there was no other way out of the darkness that had engulfed their lives?
I leave you with a few more numbers (these numbers are from reports from about a decade ago; these have obviously swelled)
- There are 1.1 billion youth in the world (between 15 and 24 years of age)
- 85% live in non-developed parts of the world (Asia, Africa, Caribbean, South America)
- 238 million of them live in extreme poverty (less than $1 a day), 462 million live on less than $2 a day
Ajmal Kasab was all of 25. Could this 25-year-old have had a different life-path? Can all other 25-year-olds have a different life-path? Depends on how the rest of us choose to address the root cause.