The High-Minded Illiteracy Of the Indian Elite
"No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law"
(Article 21, Constitution of India)
The atavistic blood-lust of India's corporate-media elite has again been to the fore.
Same "premier" English channel; same "top-billed" programme (viz., Face the Nation), same uninterruptibly high-pitched compere, shriekingly anguished about the State's less-than-murderous response to terrorist crimes.
Question posed for the day: should the lone Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, now in Indian custody and duly chargesheeted, be given a fair trial? To wit, does he deserve to be so given etc.,
Argument: since everyone saw the chap on video going about his terrorist business, do we not need only to find the most convenient lampost to hang him by?
Indeed, does it matter what the Constitution of the Republic of India stipulates in matters of life, liberty, or death? And, in any case, should not an elite mob have the privilege to consider the Constitution amended through high-minded soundbyte? A self-evidently patriotic procedure that would save the state much money, and peromptarily assuage the damaged prestige of the wounded clan of celebrities who, after all, speak for the whole nation—slumdog and all; at the least those slumdogs who have now become celebrities.
Interestingly, we have not heard such lawless bloodthirstiness expressed in relation to the accused in the Malegaon terrorist blast case. Recall that those accused are also in custody, and have equally made admissible confessions with regard to their guilt. Indeed, in the latest of those confessions, Dayanand Pandey has averred that the money for the Malegaon terrorist act came from the ISI of Pakistan (no less), and through the agency of two senior leaders of the RSS, under the patronage and protection of the top man himself, namely, Shri Mohan Bhagwat.
A senior advocate on the programme clearly had a hard time balancing his soundbyte on the question posed about Ajmal Kasab, since he happens to be defending the accused in the Malegaon case.
Much as he would have liked to concur with the compere, he must have known how indensible his defence of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur— allegedly, one of the chief perpetrators of the Malegaon blast—would have instantly become had he been tempted by the force of his cultural sympathies to argue that the Constitutional provisions of due process and fair trial need not apply to Kasab. After all, what is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander as well—at least for a practicing lawyer!
The instructive inference from all this is the following: India's fattened, free-market elite never tire of singing praises of India's democratic system, and of cocking a snook at the poor relations next door in Pakistan and Bangladesh where democracy never seems to take root.
But to this day, some sixty years after the Republic came into existence via the adoption of the Constitution, the further thought that its founding stipulations with regard to freedom and equality are compellingly grounded in the rule of laws and in their impartial and non-partisan application has not sunk in.
Or the fact that even when the rights of people are circumscribed, that too must happen through the enactment of legislative procedures. Something that Indira Gandhi did during the infamous Internal Emergency of the seventies.
And remember what howls that raised among precisely the sorts of people compering the programme I have talked about!
So that when our no-nonsense elite laud the no-nonsense confinement of "vicious" people in Guantanamo, they do not stop to think why the now thankfully bygone Bush had to find a place for them outside the juridical limits of them United States of America.
Because had they been confined within the territory of the State, they would have automatically, as per American law, become eligible to all the procedures and privileges that American laws furnish to its own citizens.
And that circumstance would have disallowed both torture and kangaroo justice of the kind that our own madam compere seemed to think warranted in the case of Kasab.
Indeed, a further compliment is due to American democracy.
Study any American election post the dismantling of racist discrimination and segregation, and you will find that it is never a matter of debate whther laws should apply differently to different people. What those laws should be invariably is the crux of the contentions, in relation either to domestic or foreign concerns.
Alas, we are not there yet.
Thus, in law, white-skinned Americans or Britons or others who have gone over to the Al Qaeda are as much terrorists as those whose skin colour is different, or who espouse a different faith. Those that did the Oklahoma killings found few voices that claimed that they could not be terrorists because they were white and Christian-born. Certainly, no TV channel spoke for them.
India is a different matter altogether: do we not hear from honourable right-wing leaders who aspire to lead the governance of the Republic that Hindus cannot be terrorists, because, being Hindus they must ipso facto be regarded as "nationalists"?
The sort of reason, after all, why no mention of the Malegaon accused—all Hindus—came up at all in the programme I have alluded to.
Or why the killers of the Bombay pogrom of 1992-93 or of Gujarat, 2002 are sought to be viewed through glasses of another make.
Imagine that even after the Special Investigation Team (SIT) mandated by the Supreme Court of India to reinvestigate some of the more unconscionably gruesome episodes of the Gujarat pogrom has reported on affidavit how the state machinery upto its eyebrows was complicit in the pogrom, how a senior minister of Modi's cabinet, one thought especially close to him, was on the scene of the carnage, distributing swords to the mob and firing from her own pistol, how two of the most upright police officers swore to being asked by Modi personally to lay off the Hindu leaders of the pogrom, none of India's premier channels has squeaked even to ask for the concerned minister to resign, not to speak of Modi to be indicted! Do recall that during the Gujarat pogrom, among the rapes and hackings, a woman's womb was cut up and the foetus flung from the point of a sword.
To this day, no one, least of all Modi, has expressed regret, not to speak of owning up responsibility. Even as the chief perpetrators continue to roam free, the state has sought at every step to subvert the procedures and reach of the law—all that testified to by the SIT.
If anything, don't you know, the same Modi is the cynosure today of some of India's leading industrialists, and of TV channels busily projecting him as the most desirable candidate to be India's Prime Minister.
Let it be said that even under the Bush regime, this would never have happened in America.
The Hindu-elite-Indian's take on the regime of laws and jurisprudence is illustrated literally everyday, of course, in one circumstance or the other But here is another notable instance, also pertaining to Gujarat.
Some months ago, the POTA Review Committee examining the cases of some 135 Muslims who have been rotting in Gujarat's jails for seven long years as persons allegedly culpable in the Godhra train-burning episode under provisions of that draconian Act (since repealed by the current Indian government), determined that the Act did not apply to these persons, since the train-burning event did not qualify as a "terrorist" Act in the first place! The Committee held that the violence ensued as a consequence of an altercation between the karsevaks (the goons who were returning home after demolishing the Babri mosque, and traveling ticketless as well), and the vendors on the railway station at Godhra.
A finding that has since been upheld first by the Gujarat High Court, and now by the Supreme Court.
Any Gujarat heads rolled for this perfidy? Not a one. Any TV channel ask for such a head or two to roll? Forget it. They are all Muslims, after all! And Modi is the engine of a projected Hindu Rashtra (Theocratic Hindu State), one that promises much to billionaire fat-cats out to make further killings in socially neutered conditions.
Futile to recount what screams go up among the channels here when some elite suspect is held by the police just overnight in confinement, provided of course he is not Muslim.
India thus, in truth, is a democracy-in-the-making. Thankfully, a vast enough civil society remains fully engaged in ensuring that in addition to voting every five years, this democracy learns to recognize and accept that unless Indian democracy is also to descend to the arbitrary cronyisms of those that it fatuously derides, it must learn to embrace without question the tenets of citizenship, of universal human rights, and the dispassionate and egalitarian principles of equality before the laws, regardless of caste, creed, gender, language, or class which the Constitution mandates.
All this while many well-to-do Indians who have milked Indian democracy to the hilt thus far seem hell-bent to make of it a handmaiden to hate-filled, sectarian agendas, in addition to the interests of the class they represent and speak for.
Consider that everyday some right-winger or other is heard to scream why Afzal Guru, sentenced to death in the Parliament attack case, is still alive; but never asks the same question about Murugan, sentenced to death for the Rajiv Gandhi murder several years prior to the Parliament attack!
Simple enough reason: the one raises the possibility of causing an electorally fruitful sectarian divide among the polity, the other does not. So much for justice. And so much also for the corporate channels who never mention Murugan, even as Afzal is pressed into the service of talk shows and such-like intended to favour the communalists.
That the NDA government, led by the Hindu right-wind BJP (1998-2004) never did anything to carry out the Afzal or the Murugan sentences is of course another matter that concerns the media but scantily.
The fact is that even some Rajas and Mughal Kings of old had a more non-partisan devotion to the dispensation of justice than many of those who fulminate on behalf of Indian democracy in our day. Who more memorable than Jehangir as a dispenser of impartial justice?