New Delhi: Nothing justifies the taking of human life unless it is mandated by a democratic constitution. In the judgment of the Supreme Court, both the custodian of the Indian Constitution and its pre-eminent driver, Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon were guilty of capital crime. They constituted together “the rarest of rare” cases and were given the death penalty.

That power to take away someone’s life is not sanctioned to anyone outside a democratically mandated judiciary. Some people support Dawood Ibrahim. Whatever his sense of hurt, there is no condoning the 1993 Bombay blasts. Similarly, the murderers of the two rationalists in Maharashtra and Karnataka deserve exemplary punishment.

Religions are not fragile to be shaken by acts of perceived impiety. On balance, impiety is preferred to intolerance. If a religion is great and good, it will absorb the impiety. What is a pearl without the foreign speck at the core? But a religion set on the path of intolerance may take centuries to recover. Who would want that?

Should there, therefore, be an open license to disrespect religions and hurt religious sentiments? Constitutional laws do not permit that. In proportion to the disrespect, there is punishment. But you cannot take lives.

Take the Satanic Verses. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie has no sanction in democratic jurisprudence. The fatwa of death springs from concerns of blasphemy going unpunished. But the punishment is not even proportional to take the egregious argument of an eye-for-an-eye.

Is Rushdie justified in what he did? Probably not. But you have to make concessions for a writer. Rushdie’s case is not, incidentally, the same as M. F. Hussain’s. Rushdie’s attack remained within his religion or at any rate the religion he was born in. Hussain crossed religious boundaries.

Does that justify the hounding of Hussain? No. His case would have been stronger had his irreverence been multi-religious. It was not. However, the difference with Rushdie again was there was no fatwa. He could have continued to live in the country as a highly protected person. He chose a life abroad.

The point still remains this. You cannot take a life. Not Salman Rushdie’s. Not M. F. Hussain’s. Not of the two rationalists. And certainly not via terrorism. Because once extra-judicial killings are carried out in the name of religion, the religion suffers. Millions of adherents are condemned. Eventually, the monster of intolerance turns on itself.

What about war? Do those preceding rules of life and death hold? War is a special circumstance. In the 500 years of recorded Modern history, the world has seen worse than now. As ideologies blur and the world grows closer, wars as were once fought are becoming history.

Religion remains the last unresolved place. Most of the mainstream religions have cooled down. There still remains Islam which has to come to terms with itself. It will have to moderate and modernize from within. Perhaps this is a utopian notion in a world so interconnected that it blocks the space and isolation necessary for the forces of reformation, renaissance and so forth to power ahead and flourish. But is there a better option? Outside intervention will not help. The Middle East horror is because of ill-conceived outside intervention.

It tells all the more that the surest way to blaspheme a religion is by violence and bloodshed. High priests of religions should be alarmed by where violence and killings are heading religion. Religion and politics make a further dangerous cocktail. The world is full of fallen leaders who were tempted to it.

It is sensible, on the whole, not to make too much or too little of religion. Religion is sacred but by no means fragile. It cannot be blasphemed. Killing someone in the name of religion is to insult and lower religion. Life is precious. It cannot be taken away except by due process of law and only in the rarest of rare cases. Those that kill for religion cannot be spared.