MVFHR was mentioned in a column published yesterday in The Morung Express, an English-language Indian newspaper. The column, titled "Justice, not revenge," was written by Bikram Jeet Batra, a lawyer and researcher who is working on a book about the death penalty in India).
The column begins:
In India, public support for capital punishment is quoted as the reason for continuing a practice that is increasingly being discredited worldwide. Yet, apart from half-baked media surveys and television SMS polls, there is no serious evidence to support this claim After every prominent, violent crime that takes place in the country, a recurring media response is the call for enhanced punishment and, almost inevitably, for the death penalty.
Further on, after some discussion of the media and of politicians, there's this:
While the rhetoric of the media and the politicians can be dismissed, the call for retribution and revenge cannot be ignored when it comes from a family member of a victim of a crime. It is important, however, to distinguish between a call for justice and a call for revenge killing. The thin but important line between the two demands is often ignored by the media, as also – rather conveniently – by those advocating the death penalty. Yet some families do and will call for the death sentence as an appropriate response to the murder of a loved one. Neither statistics nor human rights arguments are likely to convince them otherwise. Instead it is only time and effort spent by abolitionists working along with community and religious groups and engaging with such victims’ families that will make a difference.
In a context where family members of victims are looking for closure, a public barrage calling for revenge can easily override other views and emerge as the sole option. It is here that the role of organisations like the Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) is vital. MVFHR, as the name suggests, is an organisation made up of families of murder victims that has been crucial in asserting the importance of a societal response to murder being consistent with human rights. They argue that no death sentences should be carried out in the name of the families of victims, who should be allowed to speak for themselves. Although no such organisations exist in India, there have been instances of families responding in this manner, including – most famously – the sons of Mahatma Gandhi who sought the commutation of the death sentence awarded to their father’s assassin, Nathuram Godse. More recently, the family of murder victim Jessica Lal also asserted their moral authority, calling for a conviction of the guilty as a just response instead of resorting to the rhetoric of the death penalty.
Many families of victims demand the death sentence under pressure from peers and the public or because they believe that there could be no justice except the death sentence. In the Indian context, misinformation also plays a major role since most laypersons are unaware of the intricacies of the law on life imprisonment and mistakenly believe that it means only 14 years in prison. Unfortunately, with the real voices of such families rarely heard, manipulations and hijacking by those pushing a pro-capital punishment or other political agenda is common. A prime example is the mobilisation of the family members of those killed in the Parliament attack by some politicians to further the cause of their own organisations of ostensibly combating terrorism. This is inevitable unless abolitionist or progressive groups address the real issues and concerns of victims’ families instead of ignoring them.