Truth sent to the Gallows

In a season where everything under the sun has been politicised, Afzal Guru’s issue is once again assuming significance. Hindutva organizations are baying for his blood and the Congress led UPA government, playing an apologetic secondary role. Kasab’s secret hanging has further propelled the debate about Guru’s capital punishment. A blood-thirsty Fascist State we have become! The celebrations of a section of the nation and the congratulatory mode of the union government after Kasab’s hanging say it all. There is something flawed in both the tone of this celebration and the fresh demand for Guru to meet a similar fate.

“But his side of the story is not being heard. Why? Is somebody being shielded? Is something being camouflaged? The nation has a right to know rather than become mute spectators to another death.”

Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s recent remarks in defence of Kasab’s secret hanging is a dangerous reflection of how rule of law in this country is being sacrificed at the altar of whims and fancies of a handful of ruling elite. Kasab’s guilt was proven beyond doubt, and he had been rightly convicted by the courts. Whether one justifies death penalty or not,  the manner in which this capital punishment was executed, in complete secrecy, without even informing the man on death row about his right to a judicial review before being sent to the gallows, is not something that is in harmony with the Constitution. Nor does it add to the stature of a democratic country. Though criminals who commit heinous crimes need to be punished, the rule of law must be upheld, and not used as a monopoly of a lobby of powerful elite. In his act of self aggrandizement, Shinde quoted his stint in the police force before he joined politics as a source of his inspiration, stating that his experience as a sub-inspector and later as a chief minister taught him how to handle the Kasab hanging in a hush-hush manner.  The union minister, perhaps, did not realise that running a police station and a democratic country are not the same thing and replicating the police station model would only turn the country into a police state. By defending this act— with the remarks, that if terrorists can carry out secret operations, why can’t the government— he has only ended up equating the government, he is a part of, with lawless and brutal terrorist gangs which thrive on the fundamentals of illogical hatred and revenge. Governments, unlike terrorist groups, are expected to perform with a reasonable sense of responsibility, while adhering to the rule and spirit of law. In a democratic country, the government functionaries are accountable to the public for every action, big or trivial. The manner in which Kasab was executed was legally and ethically unsound; Shinde’s defence makes it worse.

Afzal Guru’s case is far more delicate than that of Kasab, whose execution received no response in Kashmir. Guru being a Kashmiri, his affair assumes an altogether different significance. Guru’s hanging is an emotive issue and would create a major upheaval in Kashmir. But that is not the only reason why Guru should not be hanged. While there is merit in the argument of doing away with capital punishment altogether, Afzal Guru’s crime is far too less to deserve it. Unlike Kasab, who was caught on camera with a gun, while on a killing spree, Guru’s guilt was never proved. There is only circumstantial evidence against him, that too not of killing people and attacking the parliament but being party to the conspiracy. In fact, Guru, who never got a lawyer to defend himself was not even heard. Whatever he forwarded as part of the statement, revealing that he was a surrendered militant and was working at the behest of some officers of the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir police, was not even admitted by the court while deciding the case. Guru may have been lying through his teeth but his statement was never verified or interrogated, amounting not only to injustice against him but also injustice to the public, who have a right to know whether indeed their law keepers can manipulate lesser mortals like Afzal Guru, co-opt them into doing the dirty job of perpetuating violence and then sacrifice them at the altar of what would be construed as justice from a rather Statist point of view.

There are several gaps in the investigations and Guru’s guilt is based primarily on the police version of the story, which has been taken on face value and his (Guru’s) confessional statement before the media, selectively picked up and unquestioned by the court, while his later statement was not even treated permissible. The verdict itself was dictated more by the zeal to “to satisfy the collective conscience of the society” as observed by the judge rather than on evidence. The Delhi parliament attack case simply nailed Afzal Guru and his accomplice Shaukat— both of whom, the court held, were not part of any terrorist organization— without questioning either the glaring security lapses or looking for other abettors to the crime or its mastermind. If Afzal Guru is the sole abettor, how did the killers manage to get inside the highly fortified parliament premises, with great ease? These are questions that need to be addressed. The debate then, is not simply about clemency but about justice, not just individual justice, but also finding the truth about who attacked the parliament, who masterminded it and who were the people involved. Especially the involvement at the official level, without which this attack could not have been executed. Apparently Afzal knows a lot. But his side of the story is not being heard. Why? Is somebody being shielded? Is something being camouflaged? The nation has a right to know rather than become mute spectators to another death.

There is, in fact, a similar strain in the cases of Kasab and Afzal Guru. Both were vital links to the main perpetrators of the heinous crimes. Afzal Guru’s complicity in the parliament attack case may be very minor but at the end of the day, Kasab was only a foot-soldier. His death neither brings back the lives that were lost that day, nor does it amount to justice and closure. It also does not make us any wiser in preventing such attacks, improving our intelligence and security apparatus to save innocent lives, and it certainly does not give us the consolation that young men and boys like Kasab will no more be indoctrinated and brainwashed into conducting such orgies of death. Similarly, whether Guru is finally sent to the gallows, secretly or announced, to satisfy the nation’s thirst for revenge or to suit the powers that be to score brownie points in the run up to some elections or whether his death sentence is eventually commuted to life imprisonment, unless the much needed questions are asked, we have neither ensured protection of our democratic institutions like the parliament nor hunted down the masterminds.

Can we be so gullible as to hang Guru and celebrate the complete obfuscation of truth and our failure to question our own security lapses, and rejoice that our zeal to know the truth is far weaker than our collective desire to seek revenge?

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal is the Executive Editor Kashmir Times and is a peace activist involved in campaigns for justice for human rights violation victims in Kashmir as well as India-Pakistan friendship. She also writes stories for children and adults.

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