Shanmugam Murugesu was hanged at dawn by the Singapore government on Friday, 13th May 2005.
His face looked serene. Nothing betrayed the agonizing death that he was put through just hours earlier. The late Shanmugam was carried in on a wooden tray wrapped up in white sheets. He was hanged this morning.
His mother collapsed weeping when she first saw the casket men. Later when the lifeless body of her son was carried into the house she lunged forward to grab it, restrained by relatives who themselves were breaking down with grief.
For a few minutes, heart-wrenching wails filled the house and wafted morosely along the corridor, down the stairwell, disappearing into the open space.
The corpse was placed on a mattress on the floor, a simple altar stood at the top of Shanmugam’s head with a photograph of the man dressed nattily in a tie and suit. The face in the photograph smiled the smile of a handsome man, who for one insane moment agreed to carry a vegetable into Singapore that would cost him his life. The face on the floor was still, the eyes slightly opened to reveal what seemed like dried blood underneath the lids.
Mother Letchumi broke free from her minders and lurched forward, grabbing the body of her son, her pain searing the hearts of everyone who was present. She pressed her cheek against his as if to wake him up. Her hands instinctively reached out to caress his face as if she was soothing her newborn. She pounded her chest and beat her head. Her cries were piercing and directed at the only person in the room who couldn’t hear them.
Up until then Shanmugam’s sons had remained stoic, pacing in and out of the house. It was obvious that they were unsure of how they would handle their own feelings. They found out very quickly. Gopalan knelt down and held his father’s face. He kissed his cheek and then couldn’t let go, sobbing uncontrollably. Krishnan his twin brother sprinkled red and yellow petals across his dad’s torso, his hands shaking and his tears softening the pieces of blossom.
“He struggled, I know he struggled before he died,” Shanmugam’s sister said. “It must have been painful. I couldn’t see but my soul was there with him when he died.” A hint of a smile broke when she recounted that they laughed loudly when she visited her brother a few days before his execution. It was an attempt to bury the fear and sorrow that hung around them. She talked with him through a glass window. “We asked if we could touch and hug him, but they wouldn’t let us. He is our property and I wanted to hold him just one last time. Why won’t they let me?”
One cannot even begin to imagine what went through Shanmugam’s mind that evening before his execution. As each minute passed, it was each minute his life shortened. Could he eat? Could he sleep? What was he thinking of during those final moments before he closed eyes forever? His sons? His grieving mother? His Maker?
Did he beg with the prison warden to spare his life? Did he walk to the gallows or did he have to be dragged? Did he struggle and gasp for that one last breath of air before his neck broke?
Did we have to inflict such cruelty and unspeakable terror on our fellow citizen? Here was a man, in his prime, facing a financial crisis and who turned to smuggling marijuana into Singapore to make some money. He committed a crime. But criminals can change. Shanmugam was never given the chance. Why did the PM say that Singapore is a society that gives people a second chance? What heinous crime has this man committed that he had to be destroyed and that so much sorrow had to be wreaked?
Deterrence, the Government says. But here’s how deterrence really works. The PAP Government lavishes its ministers millions of dollars in salaries to deter them from corruption but executes the Shanmugams to deter them from carrying drugs. If there is sense in any of this, the SDP would like to hear it.
Don’t take this a minute longer, fellow Singaporeans. We need to force the Government to, one, be more transparent about the issues of death penalty and, two, to initiate a proper forum where a debate on such mindless state-sponsored killing can take place. Shanmugam is dead but we don’t have to let his death be in vain. We can do something about it; we are not helpless.
We may appear beautiful and spotless to the rest of the world. It’s the filth underneath the façade that needs cleaning up.
Jacob 69er: Photos of funeral here. On a related note, read SFD’s call to the Singapore Government to set up an Independent Clemency Board for Death Penalty Petitions.