Marginalia: Blood Thirsting Vindictive Zeal

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Truth will always be a casualty. Ajmal Kasab’s hanging did not simply demonstrate to what extent the blood thirsty nation we have become, celebrating the death of a man who was caught on camera with a gun and killing several people during the shocking 26/11 Mumbai attack. It also demonstrates how gullible we are as a nation and how easily euphoria seizes us, numbing our zeal to know the truth. Kasab’s guilt was proved beyond a shadow of doubt but he was simply one of the many foot soldiers sent out for the task of attacking Mumbai on the fateful day, and happened to be the only one caught alive. His death neither brings back the lives that were lost on that day, nor does it amount to justice and closure. It also does not make us any wiser in how to prevent such attacks, improve our intelligence and security apparatus to save precious innocent lives and it certainly does not give us the consolation that young men and boys like Kasab would no more be indoctrinated and brainwashed into conducting such orgies of death. Death penalties, based on the principle of revenge, are never a deterrent. There is no empirical evidence to prove that crime rates have come down if capital punishments are awarded.

It was a folly to kill Kasab whatever his guilt for the simple reason that capital punishment, giving the state the legitimate right to take someone’s life, does not fit into the fabric of civilised societies. It was an even bigger folly to celebrate his death with so much frolic for the simple reason that keeping him alive was more important for our pursuit of truth, in adding to our knowledge of 26/11 attacks. He could have been a vital clue and link in finding out who were the masterminds and main perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. While debating about his execution, we as a nation and as humans need to ask ourselves certain questions. Are we happy that a man responsible for several killings was sent to the gallows and satisfied that justice has been delivered? Do we celebrate the fact that we still don’t know whose brainchild the attack was, who brain washes young directionless men like Kasab to killing innocent people? Do we rejoice the fact that we still don’t know how our intelligence failed and how security lapses allowed such a shocking bloodbath including killings of top cops like Hemant Karkare, the latter’s death remains mired in mystery with no clue of who gunned him down and with what weapon?

Our zeal to know the truth is far weaker than our collective desire to seek revenge. There is something much more problematic with this fact than the simple notion that revenge seems barbaric and uncivilized. The problem is also that we wish to seek revenge on anybody who can be nailed down for the act not anyone who ought to have been nailed, fulfilling our childlike ego much like the act of entertaining a toddler hit with a chair by slapping the chair itself. Who does one avenge for any happening that is deemed to hurt the national conscious? And who decides when the national conscious has been hurt enough to legtimise revenge? Is the national conscious hurt more with the killing of 35 innocent people by gunmen who come from across the borders than with an organized and state sponsored violence that kills and brutalizes more than 1000 people as happened in anti-Sikh and anti-Muslims pogroms of 1984 and 2002? Does Kasab, a foot-soldier, become a bigger demon than Maya Kodnani, who was the main perpetrator of Gujarat violence? Does our blood not boil at the killers of 1984 in and around Delhi that 28 years on, we feel that it may as well be a closure even as no one has been brought to book in one of the most violent phases of post-partition India? Why is it that we are again selectively enraged and provoked when it comes to avenging, and not necessarily seeking justice, in the December 13 parliament attack?

The passion to see Kasab dead is similar to wishing death for Afzal Guru, even though the two cases cannot be compared. The difference lies not only in the fact that Guru’s hanging, unlike Kasab’s, is an emotive issue and would create a major upheaval in Kashmir. Unlike Kasab, Guru’s guilt was never proved; he having been sacrificed only because there was circumstantial evidence against him, not of having killed and attacked the parliament but of having been party to the conspiracy. In fact, Guru, who never got a lawyer to defend himself was not even heard.
Whatever he forwarded as part of the statement, revealing that he was a surrendered militant and was working at the behest of some officers of the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir police, was not even admitted by the court while deciding the case. Guru may have been lying through his hat but his statement was never verified or interrogated, not only amounting to injustice against him but also injustice with the public who had a right to know whether indeed their law keepers can manipulate the existence of lesser mortals like Afzal Guru, co-opt them into doing the dirty job of perpetuating violence and then sacrificing them at the altar of what would be construed as justice from a very State-ist point of view.

The court verdict against Guru rightly echoed what his death penalty amounts to, that he should be hanged “to satisfy the collective conscience of the society.” What does that tell us about us as a society, as a nation? That, we prefer to forsake truth at the altar of our blood-thirsting vindictive zeal. It is tragic indeed for a nation, grappling with the dilemmas of democracy and sheer barbarity.