Not too many patriotic tears are being shed after the ‘encounter’ killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and the brutal murder of
his wife Kausar Bi in November 2005 have become public knowledge. Sheikh had a criminal record, while Kausar is being perceived as simply the wife of a man with a criminal record. And yet, the latest admission made by the Gujarat government that the two were indeed slain by the police is deeply worrying for a nation that prides itself on not being a banana republic. Matters relating to law and order cannot be left to extra-judicial methods not because of ‘jholawalla’ concerns but because such a Manichean approach can open up a Pandora’s box where the guilty and the innocent are decided by parameters outside the law. It seems that this Dirty Harry-style vigilantism has already become a default position with DIG D.G. Vanzara telling his subordinates in the Gujarat Police that bumping off Sheikh was part of “patriotic work”. What guarantee is there that innocents with no criminal links — like Kausar Bi — are not turned into statistics of success in the job of “fighting the enemies of the State”?
Jurisprudence is made to follow certain norms for one overwhelming reason: so that there is a trail of accountability ensuring that the law is not made to serve personal whims and biases. Take the case of the trial of the five Britons accused of having links with the suicide bombers who bombed trains in London on July 7, 2005, and had plotted other attacks. They were sentenced to life after a three-year-long trial that involved 33,800 hours of painstakingly collected evidence. The crime for which the London jehadis were sentenced was serious enough for a lynch mob to be let loose without the State worrying too much about a public outcry. But that would mean unleashing violence on anyone even suspected of harbouring terrorist intentions.
In India, the Gujarat case is just one of the many extra-judicial killings that we have come to know about. Sheikh and Kausar Bi were killed for being from a certain community. Whether in Kashmir or in Ansal Plaza in Delhi, the bodies of alleged ‘militants’ become trophies of success in a war against terrorism. The result of taking such an easy way out is that one does not need to be proved guilty any more to face the consequences of allegedly breaking the law. And this warped reasoning can apply to both a criminal like Sohrabuddin Sheikh as well as a law-abiding citizen like you. It won’t make a difference.