By Jyoti Punwani
WHEN lawyers showered Pakistani governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassin with rose petals, Indians looked on with a mixture of shock and pity.
But we needn’t have felt so smug: we had descended to that level much before Pakistan had. In 2008, when terror accused Lt Col Purohit was produced in a Pune court, he was showered with rose petals by admirers.
But no flowers greeted Swami Aseemanand when he emerged from the chamber of the Panchkula magistrate, Haryana, on January 15, having confessed a second time, to being part of the conspiracy to bomb mosques across the country. The Swami knew that others, totally unrelated to him, were in prison for the crime he had committed. He also knew that the police would not touch him. He is after all, a Hindu godman, not a maulvi, whose beard could be plucked amid taunts of “ call your Allah”.
There was also a good chance that the investigative agencies would abruptly drop the Hindutva angle, as they had so many times earlier. Finally, he knew that a confession before a magistrate could be used against him in court. So there was simply no need for him to admit to a crime that could earn him the death penalty.
The Swami’s confession has provoked a sense of triumph among Muslims and secularists, who had all along suspected that Hindutva groups were responsible for the series of blasts outside mosques that started in Maharashtra in 2003. But while the campaign now on, to get the Muslim boys arrested for these blasts out on bail is necessary, shouldn’t we also appreciate the act that made their release a possibility? Those fighting against injustice to the minorities must need be concerned with that cliché called “ communal harmony”. Swami Aseemanand’s act goes beyond harmony: as Kaleem, the prisoner who the Swami says prompted him to confess, told this reporter, in his Hyderabadi dialect: “ Bahoot bada kaam hai — confess karna.’’ The interaction between Kaleem and the Swami is truly the stuff legends are made of. The young man’s behaviour is no less inspiring than the Swami’s. Tortured and imprisoned for 18 months for a crime he hadn’t committed; his family hounded into moving house six times; losing his coveted medical seat ( he was fourth in the merit list); finally being acquitted, and then re- arrested in another case… after all this, to be kind to the man responsible for the very crime for which he had suffered, is hard to understand.
His mother had always taught him that revenge is no good, said Kaleem; in addition, the Swami’s age and calm demeanour moved him. Discovering the identity of the youth who went out of his way to help him, and hearing his story, the Swami in turn, was moved to confess.
Let’s not forget that till then, hatred for Kaleem’s community had defined the Swami’s life; and that Kaleem too, had enough reason to hate all RSS types.
Compassion such as Kaleem’s has been seen in recent times only in Gladys Staines’ forgiveness of the man who burnt alive her husband and two little sons. Even in last week’s shocking Supreme Court judgment, Gladys Staines could see an opportunity for her family’s killer to reform.
One of the arguments against capital punishment is the possibility of reform.
That, unfortunately, wasn’t what prompted the Supreme Court to refuse to convert Dara Singh’s life sentence to death. On the contrary, the judgment almost explained away the murder by referring to the intention with which it was committed. (The remarks have since been expunged, following protests.) Hardly an incentive for the accused to reform! But who knows? Even a man as merciless as Dara Singh might be moved to shame by the words of his victims’ wife and mother, the way his fellow traveller Swami Aseemanand was.
After all, didn’t the most cold- blooded terrorist we’ve seen in action — Ajmal
Qasab — have his moments of remorse? During his interrogation just after his capture, telecast repeatedly on TV, Qasab could be seen weeping: “Bhagwan mujhe nahin maaf karega,” when his interrogator pointed out that he had killed poor people like himself. “Kya jehad hai saab,” he said wryly when asked about the training he received for jehad. He even revealed his instinct to run away when he heard his Pakistani instructors orders to keep on killing. “ Hum bhi insaan hain yar,’’ the 22- year- old Pakistani, strapped to his hospital bed, told his Indian interrogator.
Had he not been captured, Qasab may never have felt remorse. But it was obvious during his trial too, that Qasab was unnerved at having to face his victims’ families and those who survived his bullets. Obviously, his trainers had not prepared him for the possibility of having to confront, as living human beings, the faceless Indians he was trained to kill.
(Were Muslims just faceless enemies for Aseemanand too, till he met Kaleem?) Just a year’s training in arms hadn’t been enough; Qasab the jehadi actually wanted some kafir to tie him a rakhi! There are chances of Qasab reforming if he is spared hanging. But will we have the guts to allow that? We would rather do the opposite — witness how the new Deoband chief, elected to be the spiritual guide for millions, has been pressurised into saying, “ We will take revenge on Modi; we will pray to Allah for this.’’
Reconciliation after years of conflict and hatred is a goal many of us yearn for. Such reconciliation is not possible without justice, goes the usual argument. But humans don’t follow such formulae. Even after his wife was burnt to death in Coach S- 6 of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002, Dr Girishchandra Rawal, aged 60- plus, refused to support the massacre of Muslims in Ahmedabad that followed. He told this reporter: “ I would like to burn the entire society. But my religion doesn’t permit me to do so.
There’s no space for revenge in it.’’ Gladys Staines didn’t wait for Dara Singh to be sentenced to life before she forgave him; she did so immediately after he inflicted the most painful death on her family. Her actions could be explained as that of a true Christian. What of Kaleem? He was eventually acquitted in the Mecca Masjid blasts case, but was that justice? Could it bring back his lost opportunities and make up for his family’s humiliation? Yet, he chose to serve the Swami.
Moved to repent, the Swami could have kept his remorse a private matter between him and God. But he went public knowing he was trapping not just himself, but all his associates; more than that, he was helping the community his organisation regards as traitors. As Kaleem pointed out, it’s not just the Muslim blast accused whom the Swami has absolved; his confessions have lifted the “terrorist” label from the entire community.
That in itself is a great disservice to the RSS. So far, the RSS has always exposed its intolerance and fanaticism involuntarily, by its actions. When one of its most committed ideologues chooses to expose the terrorist acts of its members, at great personal cost, we need to salute him.
Source: Mail Today