Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hang his Body, Not your Conscience.

Faridkot, a small, nondescript, sleepy village is located near Depalpur. It neither boasts of agriculture, nor industry, as its primary occupation. Being considerably impoverished, most people are either forced to find jobs in faraway towns or are indulged in local vending activities. One such vendor, Amir, has been living in consistent poverty for generations. He begins his day by preparing his cart for selling dahi-puri, travels miles in search of customers and comes back home with whatever meager amount he can manage. Within the bounds of this money, he has to cater to an ailing wife, arrange for the education of a young son and yet save enough to get his daughter married. Food, in this family, is a welcome exception. Whenever the father can get hold of vegetables, he fetches them home. Otherwise, onion or tomato coupled with Roti serve as the sole nourishing meals.
It was the Eid of 2005. Despite the auspiciousness of the occasion, Amir ,this time, could not make both ends meet. His 17-year old son, however, demanded better food and clothes. In a fit of anger, Amir slapped him and asked him to get these luxuries by earning money himself. The son left home and Amir never saw him again. That, until a fateful morning in 2008. A group of press reporters landed outside his mud house and showed him a TV grab of a young man. Amir instantly recognized his son. Three years had not changed him much. He still had the same baby-face, though he had become a little taller and muscular. However, this was not the son Amir remembered. His shy, quiet and gentle son was brandishing a rifle in this picture, carrying grenades in his backpack. The reporters told him that his son, had been responsible for killing over 170 people mercilessly. Amir could not believe his eyes. Yet, the truth poked him. It stared him in the face.

Ajmal Amir Kasab, his son, was now a Terrorist.

Now consider an alternative situation.

Amir, despite his poverty, was able to successfully establish an entrepreneurial enterprise with the state's help. It was a small business, yet, it was sufficient to cater to his everyday needs. His son was admitted to a decent school and was provided a proper education. He grew up to assist his father in his business and with the passage of time became an influential corporate honcho. This could have been a different Ajmal Amir Kasab. A Kasab we didn't know. A Kasab we didn't give an opportunity to be. A Kasab, who was not a Terrorist.

None of what I have said or am about to say is in defense of Kasab. The war he waged was as baseless as merciless. His deeds were totally condemnable and extreme. But were they worthy of the punishment that he finally received? I certainly have my doubts about that. To analyze the issue in its entirety, here are a few questions worth consideration-

Q1. Was he REALLY the culprit?

A1. Yes and No. If a hunter shoots a tiger with a gun, you blame the hunter- not the gun. That's exactly what Kasab was. A weapon. With lucrative offers of everyday food and provisions of money for his family, a poor man would probably have had no option. During his Narco-analysis test, he admitted to have been approached by a 'Chacha' who promised him money and food. He was then enrolled into a terror camp at Muzzafarabad where he underwent psychological, combat and commando training. This is where he was made aware of the 'Indian atrocities' and was asked to embark on a mission to seek revenge. His fault? He got manipulated. He let himself be used. He chose the wrong direction. But honestly, can you blame a 21 year old youth for taking an incorrect step? Sorry. I blame the state. And in my eyes, the culprit is entirely our neighborhood dispensation. Had they provided what 'Chacha' did, Kasab might have turned out to be a completely different character. The reason why Pakistan is a hotbed for terrorism is not clandestine. It escapes me as to how a country can be completely unaware of the terror-mongers it harbors. They strike before the state can, ultimately, taking away millions of innocent lives and nipping many in the bud. Unless the masterminds are caught, booked and brought to justice, the blame can not squarely be laid on the shoulders of Kasab.

Q2. Is Death penalty the answer?

A2. Yes and No. I am not one of those who would rant about how taking life away is in the hands of 'God' and thus capital punishment is unjustified. As provided for by the Supreme Court of India, in 'rarest of rare' cases, death penalty is absolutely justified. What alternative system of deterrence do we have? If tomorrow, we get hold of the instructors of 26/11, can we afford to let them live forever in Indian jails? Can we afford to waste away the taxpayer's money in feeding, clothing and securing them? The answer is a straight no. However, weapons like Kasab could be treated differently. This is where the system of restorative justice comes in. Every criminal harbors an ideology of community disruption. What could be better than having the criminal morally, financially and physically compensate for community healing? Here is what we need to understand about this concept-

There has to be a gradual shift from retributive to restorative justice while trying to strike an effective balance between the two. Death penalty may not be abolished altogether but its use must be guided by specifically defined principles of 'rarity'. Kasab came to India on a suicide mission. With a 4 year delay, we served it to him on a golden platter.

Q3. Was our response apt?

A3. Yes and No. Apart from the media coverage that quite literally helped the attackers and the shoddy response by the Maharashtra police, the retaliation of the Aam Aadmi has gone from bad to worse. Unfortunately, Indian citizens failed to show maturity. The media objectified Kasab and we pegged all our hopes of ending terror on him. He became a political-cum-moral football, liable to be kicked at every post. Only the public lynching didn't happen (which was vociferously suggested by a self-proclaimed Gandhian). While the agencies were interrogating him about his possible trans-border links, the Indian citizenry was busy cribbing about the food he ate and the clothes he wore. While the law was taking its course, our fellow citizens wanted to hear no defense and hang him ASAP. This call was further flamed by opposition parties who have made popular emotions a game of chess. Light the flame, get the fire going and then blame the Government. When he was finally hanged, appreciation flew in selectively. Questions were raised about when would the next hanging take place! Gosh! What are we? The death penalty capital of the world? Strangely, I understand the feeling. But I don't understand the hurry. I understand the resentment. But I don't understand the hatred.

With Kasab a life has gone. He was not a Mahatama. He was not a Gandhi. He was a killer. A man who murdered in cold blood. Yet, he was human and he ought to have been treated like one. On the contrary, we made a monster out of him, completely forgetting those, within our country, who have been responsible for bigger massacres which have permanently wounded this nation's psyche. I believe Maya Kodnani's crime was way bigger than Kasab's. He killed because he was asked to. She killed because she wanted to. However, we weigh them on different scales. Isn't this hypocrisy in the name of patriotism?

If we are to claim the greatness of religion, spirituality and democracy that India has always stood for, we can NOT hang our conscience along with Kasab's body.

P.S.- I still am a proud patriot and I still feel the horror of 26/11.