The use of the death penalty, on the books since 1860, has been unheard of recently. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that it should be given only in the ‘‘rarest of rare’’ cases. The executions of Kasab and Guru were the first time in eight years India had put anyone to death.
According to the government, 476 people were on death row in 2012. With most appealing for clemency through India’s slow-moving judicial system, few will likely end up facing execution.
Rights activists point to the irrevocable nature of the death penalty and the rise in cases where DNA evidence has overturned convictions. They fear executions shrouded in secrecy deprive defendants of any last-minute legal recourse.
Attention is now focused on the four men on death row in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu whose mercy pleas were rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee last week, nine years after they filed them.
They were convicted in 1993 of involvement in a land mine blast that killed 22 people, including several police, who were on their way to arrest a notorious smuggler.
On Wednesday, they earned a short reprieve when the Supreme Court gave them six weeks to pursue a last bid for clemency.
Another case is that of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted in the 1995 killing of a former chief minister of India’s Punjab state. Last year, the present chief minister, Prakash Singh Badal, took the lead in getting Rajoana’s execution postponed while he filed another appeal in the Supreme Court.
Political experts say that Guru was hanged within days of Mukherjee turning down his clemency plea, which is unusual in India. They feel it was done with an eye on upcoming general elections expected next year.
The quick and quiet executions will allow the government to claim it is being tough on terror, without angering any major constituency, and perhaps winning accolades from the majority Hindus.
‘‘This secret hanging is a clear message to Kashmiris that Indian laws are only meant to protect the state and its officials,’’ said Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights activist.
Associated Press writer Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.