Judging by the U.N. definition, Afzal and Bhullar are terrorists. Period. Whether they are Muslim or Sikh is immaterial.
Mohammad Amir Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was finally hanged to death. He was executed in the utmost secrecy with the knowledge of only a selected team of 17 government officials. And as this most awaited trial came to an end, what lessons do we draw from it?
First, considering the long years that simple hit-and-run cases take to reach a logical conclusion in India, this trial proceeded faster than usual. True, it is frustrating that it took four years to punish the terrorist despite his being caught on CCTV butchering innocents, but then it was no usual crime. The courts had to study an 11,000-page charge sheet, hear endless arguments and deal with inconsistent statements. And, finally after a marathon hearing, spanning over two and a half months, the Supreme Court found him guilty of 80 charges, including waging war against India, murder and terrorism, and upheld his death sentence.
Within two months, his mercy plea was dismissed and he was hanged at the Yerwada jail in Pune. Although Kasab’s death can hardly be called a closure for, the pain suffered by the victims and their families is too great, it will go a long way in instilling the faith in our judicial system.
Kasab’s hanging is also significant in the light of the fact that there are 11 mercy petitions pending before his plea, some as old as 20 years. The mercy petitions lying with President Pranab Mukherjee include that of Parliament attacker Afzal Guru (was to be hanged in 2006), Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan (were to be hanged in 2011) and the former Punjab Chief Minister, Beant Singh’s killer Balwant Singh Rajaona (was to be hanged in March, 2012). Back in April, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish at the long delays in disposing of mercy pleas, saying it rendered relief meaningless. Seven months after that court rap, the long queue of mercy pleas raises another big question — when will our governments and leaders give up hypocrisy?
Our governments and intellectuals never miss a chance to say “terrorism has no religion or colour.” A message relayed time and again during bomb blasts or riots. Isn’t it duplicity in behaviour that these same governments and intellectuals do exactly the opposite of what they preach by attempting to save criminals or seek clemency for them under the garb of religion? Isn’t it sad that in attempts to seek pardon for people like Afzal Guru, a terrorist suddenly acquires a religion and colour? Political parties such as the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir have voiced their support for Afzal Guru, implying that hanging a Kashmiri Muslim would risk peace in the Valley. Last year, the Centre’s interlocutor on Kashmir, Dileep Padgaonkar, said any decision on Guru’s mercy petition should be taken keeping in mind the present situation in the State. It is frustrating that a criminal, guilty of killing eight people, has been turned into a “defenceless and harassed minority.”
Back in 2011, the former President, Pratibha Patil, rejected Khalistani militant Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s mercy petition but his death sentence is yet to be carried out. Instead, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seeking his intervention in getting Bhullar a lease of life. Again, his Sikh status and the possible benefits of vote-bank politics outdid his crime of bombing a car and killing nine people. Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi’s killers have been saved by pro-LTTE organisations and Tamil politicians. Of course, why legally argue about one’s crime when playing politics with religion can do the work?
The reason why the law hanged Kasab is not that he is a Pakistani Muslim or that it quenches India’s thirst for revenge. But he knowingly committed a heinous crime and had the blood of 55 innocent lives on his hands. Not once was his religion part of the legal discourse. And this same yardstick has to be applied while judging the crime of every other convict. In the 2002 Gujarat riots case as well, how is the law deciding who deserves punishment? Is it because the culprits are Hindus or because they knowingly, with state support, killed thousands of Muslims?
The U.N. defines terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act.” Judging by the U.N. definition, Afzal and Bhullar are terrorists. Period. Whether they are Muslim or Sikh is immaterial. I hope that our leaders and governments would do a service and not link religion with terrorism whenever it is convenient for them. Secularism, remember, is not custom-made.
(The writer’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org)