Double Standards Can Never Be Justice

Several recent events have raised fundamental questions about the nature of ‘justice’ in India. The hanging of Yakub Memon was presented as an example of ‘justice’ and ‘rule of law.’ Citizens appealing for mercy were told that the families of the victims of the 1993 serial blasts needed someone to hang for that crime, in order to secure ‘closure.’

But many asked why ‘justice’ and ‘rule of law’ had so miserably failed the victims of caste and communal massacres in our country. Don’t the survivors and families of victims in the case of Bathani Tola or Laxmanpur Bathe or the 1992-93 riots or the Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 and anti-Muslim pogrom of Gujarat 2002 need closure? Can they get closure when the killers strut about publicly boasting of the killings and enjoying political power purchased with the blood of the victims? Can they get closure when those who seek justice are branded as ‘anti-national’ while the killers cloak themselves in claims of nationalism?

The acquittal of those accused of rape of Dalit teenagers at Bhagana; the Cobrapost sting revealing Ranveer Sena men boasting of Dalit massacres on camera; NIA’s decision not to oppose bail for terror-accused Aseemanand; the systematic sabotage of terror cases in which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is implicated, the hounding of activist Teesta Setalvad – all are questions that India’s democratic citizens are asking themselves. – ed/-

Reject Dehumanization and Double Standards, Balance the Scales of Justice

If we criminalize mourning and grief, if we criminalize pleas for mercy, do we not dehumanize ourselves? I ask this question in the wake of a disturbing discourse that has followed Yakub Memon’s hanging.

The Tripura Governor, Tathagata Roy, suggested that the throng of people who attended Yakub Memon’s funeral were “potential terrorists” who should be kept under suspicion and surveillance. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj added that those who attended the funeral were “anti-national’ and should “go to Pakistan.” On social media, I noticed people wondering why a “mob” had turned up for the funeral of a “terrorist.” And of course, several BJP leaders have suggested that those who pleaded for mercy for Yakub Memon should also be sent to Pakistan. And of course, we are told that the police and intelligence are “monitoring” and suppressing any expression of protest, anger or grief at Memon’s hanging.

Why should silent, tearful, grieving people be branded as a “mob” or as “terrorists”? Why, in fact, are so many shedding tears for Yakub Memon? Why does his hanging evoke the kind of pain and sense of betrayal and loss – to Muslims and also to many others who cherish democratic values – that the demolition of the Babri Masjid or the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom did?

They are grieving for someone a man who betrayed his brother, and brought himself and his family back to India from safety and luxury in the ISI’s lap in Pakistan – only to have his trust in India’s systems betrayed. A man who claimed his innocence till the very end, and against whom the tenuous evidence (statements of an approver and two retracted confessions of co-accused) pointed at best to violations of the Arms Act – charges that have not invited the death penalty in the case of others like Sanjay Dutt.

And above all, they are grieving for a country in which the scales of justice have forgotten even to maintain a pretence of balance. A country where the mastermind of the 1992-93 communal riots gets a state funeral and a memorial; while those very riots took Memon away from the life of a successful Chartered Accountant to a brutal death on a hangman’s noose.

The Sri Krishna Commission report had documented voluminous evidence nailing the role of Bal Thackeray and many others in the communal build-up and organized attacks on Muslims in Mumbai 1992-93. The Commission had expressed agreement with the assessment of “Mahesh Narain Singh who was heading the team of investigators who investigated into the serial bomb blasts case” who had emphasized that “the serial bomb blasts were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993.”

Many news channels had used the television podium to harangue the petitioners for mercy about “respect for the rule of law.”

Why does “rule of law” become a long rope, endlessly flexible, when it comes to a Maya Kodnani or a Babu Bajrangi, and a rigid noose for Afzal Guru or Yakub Memon? How can “rule of law” give Babu Bajrangi – who was caught on camera boasting of having “felt like Maharana Pratap” after killing women and children in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom – long periods of bail to attend a niece’s wedding or other routine family engagements? How can the same “rule of law” deny bail to Maruti workers for two and a half years – even though there is no substantial evidence against them?

Why does “rule of law” acquit all those accused in the Hashimpura massacre of Muslims or the massacre of oppressed castes and Muslims at Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe, feeling no pressure to appease the “collective conscience”? Why does the same “rule of law” that decides that the eyewitness testimony of massacre survivors isn’t enough even to convict a single person, decide that far flimsier evidence of peripheral involvement is enough to execute Afzal Guru or Yakub Memon to feed the rapacious creature called “collective conscience”? Why does the same “rule of law” that puts a noose around the necks of the Delhi December 16th rapists, fail even to drag the equally heinous rapists of Thangjam Manorama or the women of Kunan Poshpora, into a courtroom?

Many media channels present on some terror cases with a high-pitched patriotic rhetoric and provocative, polarizing hashtags. But why haven’t these channels shown the same unrelenting patriotic zeal and righteous indignation when terror cases are systematically sabotaged by investigative and prosecution agencies?

Why doesn’t the “Nation want to know” that Rohini Salan, Public Prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case has gone public about the NIA pressurizing her to soft on the case, citing “orders from above” after May 2014? Why not ask who gave those orders from above – in the month that Narendra Modi became Prime Minister? In June 2014, soon after the Modi Government took over, 14 key witnesses in the 2007 Ajmer blasts case turned hostile. One of them, Randhir Singh, defected from the JVM (P) to join the BJP, and was rewarded with a Minister’s post in the BJP Government of Jharkhand. Why doesn’t the “Nation want to know” about this terrorism-cover-up scam openly and shamelessly perpetrated by the country’s ruling party?

The Jammu and Kashmir police claim to have lost the file of the 2004 mosque blast case – where is the shrill rhetoric and outrage that we would ordinarily hear on the fire-breathing channels about how a terrorism case file could be lost?

We are forced to conclude that not only investigative agencies, but much of the media too treat terror cases differently based on the identity of the accused. Those in power who are sabotaging the Sanghi terror cases to protect outfits and individuals close to the RSS and BJP are not branded as “anti-national.”

It isn’t enough to blame “the system” for this state of affairs. If the scales of justice are to regain balance, we the citizens of the country must reject those who sow the seeds of hatred in the fertile soil of our own prejudices. We must instead fertilise the soil of our minds with empathy and solidarity with the Dalits, the minorities, the Kashmiris, the poor and share their pain at double standards. We must struggle to do away with the death penalty, and strive for justice for all the communal and caste massacres and terror cases irrespective of the political and social affiliation of the perpetrators.

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