is touted as a cathartic closure for ‘India’.
The last time I checked, there was curfew in Kashmir and thousands of other justice-loving people were deeply unhappy at the secretive execution, and at the use of the death penalty to fulfil some atavistic blood lust. How else to read the judges’ pronouncement — even as they noted discrepancies in the police version of his guilt — that the hanging was required to satisfy the ‘collective conscience’? In fact, Durkheim’s phrase ‘collective consciousness’ conceals the manufacture of consent through the media, the courts and other institutions. And contrary to his prediction that in an interdependent and complex society we would see a growth in reparative justice, in India, what we see is the growth of a vulgar retributive justice, where primal passions are deliberately inflamed to create a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
‘Us’ in the context of contemporary India means the Bajrang Dal who distributed sweets to celebrate the hanging and blackened the faces of people with opposite views; it means the rightwing goons who groped and sexually abused female protesters outside a Delhi college last week with full police connivance.
But ‘us’ also includes the cynical coterie of Congress politicians who periodically decide to join the BJP bandwagon for electoral purposes. If opening the locks of the Babri Masjid and legislating against the Shah Bano judgement were permanent blots on Rajiv Gandhi’s claim to be secular, his son’s installation in the formal pecking order of the Congress has been accompanied by the opportunistic hanging of Afzal Guru.
Sonia Gandhi may have pleaded against the death penalty for Rajiv’s killers, but unless her party takes a principled position against the death penalty for all, this will seem like the rest of her liberal outreach programme, designed to ensure her own good name.
‘Them’ includes all the ordinary people of India — who have had their lands forcibly acquired, their homes burnt, their relatives killed — in riots and pogroms. ‘Them’ are the seditious fisher folks of Kudankulam, the grave security threats who inhabit the mineral rich villages of Dantewada, the Naga elder and the Kashmiri woman.
And then there are some whose status as ‘us’ or ‘them’ depends on the political calculations of the day. Balwant Singh Rajoana, on death row for the assassination of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, may not be hanged because the Akali lobby is important to ‘us’. But clearly it is not important enough for the victims of 1984 to get justice, in which case they fall into the ‘them’ category.
We are told that the ‘Law’ has taken its course, the ‘Law has come full circle’. Where is this law when the widows of Delhi 1984 are still waiting for justice — and people like HKL Bhagat have died before they could be hung (not that this was ever a worry for him); when the murderers of Gujarat 2002 are still roaming free, and having the EU and others cosy up to their government? Did the law come full circle when the murderers of Bathani Tola were acquitted? Where was the law when thousands of mass graves were uncovered in Kashmir and thousands ‘disappeared’; where is this law when women are raped and their rapist officers or jawans get full protection under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA)?
Deponents at the Verma Commission provided a number of cases in Kashmir where the courts had prima facie indicted army personnel, but the central government refused to give permission to prosecute. The Upendra Commission clearly found that Thangjam Manorama was raped and murdered by personnel of the Assam Rifles in Manipur, but not one person has been punished. In Chhattisgarh, young bravehearts who filed rape cases against special police forces with great difficulty — resulting in arrest warrants against the accused — are being coerced to take their statements back. But then, I forgot, Kashmiris, Manipuris, the adivasis of central India — are not ‘us’, they are not ‘Indian’.
When asked why the AFSPA is needed to protect armed personnel — since rape can never be done in the line of duty — high-ranking officers come on television to say that 99% of the charges against the army are false, and the women are put up to it by Maoists and militants. So shall we assume then, that the women of the North-east, of Kashmir and adivasi India are congenital liars? Or that the law is designed to ensure they are fair game, a welcome pastime in the ‘course of duty’? Or perhaps, more simply, these women are not ‘Indians’.
If to be Indian is to accept the death penalty, if to be Indian is to accept the unjust hanging of a tortured man born of a tortured and alienated people, if to be Indian is to accept the rapes of my sisters and the impunity of its officers, let me say in the words of the Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet, “Yes, I am a traitor, if you are a patriot, if you are a defender of our homeland, I am a traitor to my homeland; I am a traitor to my country… if patriotism is the claws of your village lords, … if patriotism is the police club, if your allocations and your salaries are patriotism,… if patriotism is not escaping from our stinking black-minded ignorance, then I am a traitor.”
Nandini Sundar teaches sociology at Delhi University. The views expressed by the author are personal.