Sunday, November 25, 2012

The fine print


OFF LIMITS ~ Seema Mustafa
Though justice has been delivered by the Supreme Court that affirmed Ajmal Kasab’s death sentence and a special court in Gujarat conducting the Naroda Patiya trial, the country needs to assess whether it has been enough, whether there are several loose ends that still need to be tied so that the secular and just foundations of India are not just strengthened, but protected against future assault
Wednesday belonged to the judiciary. Two excellent judgments, well argued and sober came from the Supreme Court of India and a special court in Gujarat that had been briefly buffeted by high voltage politics.
The SC upheld the death sentence for Ajmal Kasab for ‘waging war’ against India. This was expected, and is a reflection of a judicial system that works slowly and patiently to review, and re-review petitions with justice in mind. And, even allows prisoners such as Kasab to appeal such reviews, although the terrorist had never really denied his guilt.
The trial court in Ahmedabad created history of sorts by convicting a senior BJP leader and a former minister in the Narendra Modi government ~ Mayaben Kodnani ~ and a former Bajrang Dal convenor ~ Babu Bajrangi ~ along with 30 others for massacring innocent Muslims in Naroda Patiya a decade ago. This is the first case in which political leaders, if one can call them that, have been found guilty of involvement in a massacre. Tears streaming down the faces of the survivors of the terrible tragedy more than depicted the trauma they have been enduring all these years.
But underneath the hope revived through these judgments, there is another tale that seems to have missed media attention. The Supreme Court, while convicting Kasab, acquitted two Indian Muslims ~ Farheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed ~ who had been named as co-conspirators by investigators of the 26 November, 2008 Mumbai attack. The lower courts had acquitted them but the authorities had appealed to the SC that upheld the acquittal of the two men. Significantly, save a few newspapers, no one bothered report this key aspect of the judgment, and even the sections of the media that had reported the facts did not dwell on the trauma that the two men and their families must have endured.
Who is going to compensate the two wrongly-accused men, to rehabilitate them and their families? There has not even been a hint of an apology from the state government and all those responsible for keeping two innocent men in jail for a crime they clearly had no part in. In fact, more and more reports from Maharashtra suggest that such arrests have become a common practice with police and politicians remaining totally unaccountable for the numbers of innocent people arrested, tortured and jailed without any proof whatsoever. So while the nation exults over the death for Kasab, it should also pause to pay some thought to the two innocent men whose lives have been ruined.
The Naroda Patiya verdict also has an untold story of the 97 victims who were brutally raped and killed by a 5,000-strong mob on 28 February, 2002 of whom 32 have been convicted by a special court. But what about the rest of the perpetrators? Where are they now? Why have not they been arrested? This is a story that needs to researched and told along with the saga of the survivors. Though justice has been dispensed for the moment, the country needs to assess whether it has been enough, whether there are several loose ends that still need to be tied so that the secular and just foundations of India are not just strengthened, but protected against future assault.
The investigating authorities in India seem to be falling short in more ways than one. Innocent persons are arrested, tortured, jailed and released only after courts intervene. The truly guilty are able to evade investigators and walk free as investigating agencies fail to collect sufficient proof, or at times, even track down the accused persons even though they are regularly interviewed by the media. The point here is that while the higher judiciary is at least trying to do its job with a modicum of responsibility and honesty, politicisation and corruption has hit police and investigating agencies to a point where fiction often replaces facts.
It all begins at the recruitment stage itself, particularly in police where freshers bribe selectors with lakhs of rupees to get a place in the force. They begin with experiencing corruption first hand and this becomes the hallmark of a service that should have been exemplary in its honesty and professionalism. The second lesson is of politicisation, when a recruit sees his seniors being transferred on the whims of political leaders. The two vices ~ corruption and politicisation ~ sound the death knell for professionalism and forever alter the consciousness of the recruits who learn to focus unfailingly on moneybags and/or politicians. This is, at one level, a simplistic version of a policeman’s life in the field, but unfortunately, it happens to be the truth.
Files are opened on instructions, closed on instructions with the odd police officer who stands in the way of the political will ~ be it the local MLA or a senior minister ~ being shunted into oblivion. Either the posting that the officer gets does not allow him to interfere with the entrenched, well-oiled system, or he/she is steadfastly denied promotion with the harassment continuing until he gives in or retires, whichever comes first. Sadly, those who keep the system well-oiled, never seem to retire.
Hence, it is important for the media not to lose focus of the so-called side stories. The stories of the two men acquitted after years of harassment and of those who escaped trial and conviction despite their involvement in a massacre are just as important as delivery of justice. The judiciary has helped focus on justice but to ensure that it is meaningful and complete, it is imperative that investigating agencies are held accountable by the media for their acts of omission and commission. Kasab ceased to be a story the day he was caught because he was so obviously guilty of the heinous massacre in Mumbai and it was just a matter of time before he was convicted and sentenced to death. But this was clearly not the case with the two Indian Muslims apprehended along with him, and their journey to hell and out of it needs to be told. Just as we need to know what happened to the rest of the 5,000-strong mob that never stood trial for the Naroda Patiya massacre.

The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman