By Antara Dev Sen
Sep 1, 2012
Kodnani helped kill 35 kids, 32 women and 30 men. Almost as a reward, Mr Modi made her state minister for women & child development.
Our justice system presented us with two enormously important judgments on Wednesday, August 29. Both were about mass murder. Both were about massacres that had horrified the nation. Both had a sectarian angle. Both verdicts proclaimed that there was a larger conspiracy and meticulous planning behind the mass murders. Both found the accused guilty of pre-meditated mass murder.
But we responded to these two verdicts very differently. Which once again gives away our shameful prejudices, mindless priorities and silent fears.
The Supreme Court verdict on Ajmal Kasab upheld his death penalty awarded by the Bombay high court for the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008. And the verdict of a special court convicted 32, including two powerful political figures, for the Naroda Patiya massacre in Gujarat in 2002. Sentencing is awaited as I write this. The death sentence is a possibility, but life imprisonment is more likely. Especially given the VIPs convicted, and the fact that as far as I remember no one has got the death sentence for the massacre of Muslims in the post-Godhra violence till now. The only ones sentenced to death for the 2002 violence were 11 Muslims convicted of the Godhra train burning.
The SC’s verdict on Ajmal Kasab, a terrorist responsible for the “26/11” attack on Mumbai, was a foregone conclusion. Kasab was a self-confessed Pakistani terrorist, the only one captured alive of the 10 attackers who killed 166 in Mumbai, and his chance of escaping the death sentence was practically non-existent. But the 32 Indian citizens of Gujarat, convicted of murder and criminal conspiracy in the Naroda Patiya massacre that left 97 dead in 2002, had every chance of getting away with murder, like thousands of their fellow killers. And thus the conviction — especially of sitting MLA, former minister and Narendra Modi’s close aide Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi — made us sit up. Such verdicts were not for powerful folk. Whatever happened to our carefully nurtured political culture of impunity?
So our belligerent baying for Kasab’s blood is in stark contrast to our cautious, measured and often defensive response to the conviction of Kodnani and Bajrangi, along with 30 others. Even the media shows double standards in the way it humanises the ruthless killers who gleefully butchered 97 in Naroda Patiya, while demonising Kasab, who with his partner, shot dead 58 at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).
We are offered heart-wrenching images of weeping mothers, wives and sisters of the killers of Naroda Patiya. Killers who blocked escape routes and hacked to death little children and women, burnt babies alive, set fire to helpless old people and terrified men, women and children, raped and tortured their victims before burning them alive. Killers who slashed open the belly of pregnant women to carve out the womb and kill the foetus before the mother. Ten years later, when gruesome details of their brutality have faded, must we share the sorrow of these killers’ families hurt by justice? And if we are to look at the human face of inhuman killers, why don’t we witness the sorrow of Kasab’s mother, too? Dear God, no! That would be treason!
Hang Kasab publicly, demanded some of our political leaders, who would clearly prefer lynching to our staid process of justice. The Shiv Sena demanded that he be hanged at CST. “Does the government have the guts to carry out the sentence?” challenged Uddhav Thackeray.
In fact, our netas are falling over each other to insist on Kasab’s hanging right here, right now. It seems to be the only way to assert their patriotism. So BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi roars: “Kasab should be hanged without delay! Enough of biryani for him!” We even grudge him the basic jail food. And we hate the fact that Kasab has a right to appeal for mercy. Even a former solicitor-general of India, Harish Salve, raged that Kasab’s mercy plea, if there is one, should not be entertained at all by the government. And the Shiv Sena plans to seek amendments to Article 72 of the Constitution so that only Indians can seek clemency. “Are our laws meant for Indians or Pakistani nationals?” shouts Mr Thackeray.
So go get the hangman. The last hangman in the region, the old, infirm and very retired Arjun Jadhav, has agreed to do the honours. Not necessary, says Swati Sathe, a top cop in Maharashtra and former jailer of Arthur Road prison which holds Kasab. We could do it. Cops could legitimately hang him. “I would not have flinched if I was ordered to hang Kasab,” says she.
In contrast, those screaming loudest for Kasab’s blood practically dismiss the Naroda Patiya verdict as irrelevant. The BJP talks of “progress” and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s “good governance”, and brushes aside lesser “issues like this conviction”. Clearly, mass murders and conspiracy to massacre by an outsider is unforgivable, deserving of the highest punishment. But mass murders and conspiracy to massacre by our own leaders and elected representatives is not. Why is butchering those you are supposed to protect using the state machinery and public money and then using the state machinery to shield oneself less of a crime than murdering unknown people in a no-holds barred suicide attack?
Let’s look at Kodnani. This BJP MLA is a gynaecologist, and has been the trusted representative of Naroda for years. The doctor knew her locality well, and helped kill 35 children, 32 women and 30 men by supplying the rioters with information, access, weapons and fuel. Almost as a reward, she was made state minister for women and child development by Mr Modi.
I am not in favour of capital punishment. But I believe we must reduce our double standards in justice delivery. The SC says it has no option but to hang Kasab because he was part of a conspiracy to wage war against India and fuel communal tension. We leap in joy. But neither we nor the courts talk of waging war against the very idea of India, and fuelling communal tension by ruthless sectarian massacres by trusted state agents. That’s a war that can destroy India from within. And for ever. It is far more dangerous than sporadic terrorist attacks by outsiders.
The writer is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted a: email@example.com