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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

In the cause of peace, Kulbhushan Jadhav must not die

His hanging will not serve any end of justice. But such an act will definitely mutilate the ends of peace

columns Updated: Feb 25, 2019 08:14 IST
Judges at the International Court of Justice during the final hearing in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case in the Hague, the Netherlands, February 18
Judges at the International Court of Justice during the final hearing in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case in the Hague, the Netherlands, February 18(REUTERS)

This is, of course, an anti-death sentence position.

But it is also more. It is a pro-normal life and pro-safe life proposition.

Let it be noted, for a start, that the charges against Kulbhushan Jadhav do not include murder. His alleged crime is espionage. Like reportage in journalism, espionage in international relations is not carried out only by persons appointed to do so. Ordinary people, regular folk who speak to media, are also in a sense reporters. The same goes for borderers, travellers, visitors. They speak about what they experience, not as spies, but as observers. And can very conveniently get picked up for doing what any traveller does, that is, to see , hear and share what has been seen, heard.

Jadhav was not even travelling in the wrong place. He was abducted from a third place, which makes the prototype many times more vulnerable. And if he does hang, tragically and unfairly, a most dangerous precedent, easy to replicate, would have been established.

What the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is examining is not just one man’s innocence or culpability but the vulnerability of completely ingenuous, unworldly, wide-eyed, naïve, trustful people to the brutality of suspicion — a phenomenon that haunts the Indian subcontinent. If Jadhav hangs, not only will someone whose crime is unproved have been hanged but uncountable Indians and Pakistanis, Kashmiris among them, and Bangladeshis, whose sole, so-called crime is being in the wrong place at a tragically unfortunate moment, will be at risk — the risk of being prosecuted for something of which they are totally innocent: espionage . This is not just about border people but Indians and Pakistanis travelling with valid visas or with visas that have got expired.

The enraged will advocate rope-for-rope. No responsible government may be expected to turn lawless but the atmospherics will be incendiary. And just as fireworks blaze at night, fiery demands sizzle across terror-traumatised skies.

On the other hand, if Jadhav does not hang, not only will someone whose crime was not proven be saved from death but a highly dangerous precedent will have been averted. And the prospect for safe justice to a huge number of undertrials, brightened.

We have two examples, contradictory and contrastive.

First, Sarabjit Singh’s heart-wrenching example of having been given the death sentence on charges of espionage and , despite demarches and appeals, kept in suspense for over 20 years only to be killed in what was called an attack by other inmates of the Lahore jail in 2013.

Second, Mumbai software engineer Hamid Ansari’s example of being released last December from the same Lahore jail, following interventions and appeals from India and elsewhere, and minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj’s unremitting perseverance.

If Jadhav were to hang, Hamid Ansari’s return will be completely lost in the outrage that India will feel, express and demand retribution for.

Post Pulwama, the urge for retribution animates our political imagination. Faith in peace talks, or any talks, has evaporated from the political discourse at least for the moment. And suspicion, hatred and vengeance have taken its place. And, yes, it is about politics, medieval politics. Not alleged espionage, not illegal strayings, not consular technicalities but the hard brutality of the subcontinent’s mutual suspicion is what is now playing out. The climate between the two countries is at such a low that Jadhav’s hanging will hang not just a person and tighten the noose around others who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It will fling oil of the most inflammatory kind on the smouldering fires of antagonism between India and Pakistan. And not just between India and Pakistan but , infinitely worse, but between the majority and minority communities in both countries.

Jadhav is, today, a human being who all those who believe the death penalty to be barbaric, misguided and futile in terms of penology, should not. He is also much more. He has become, unbeknownst to him, a tragic hostage to the subcontinent’s legacy of mutual antipathy, contention and discord. If hanged, he will turn those into an even greater swirl of enmity and will, to put it plainly, imperil peace. Not just between the countries concerned but between communities.

The ICJ will, doubtless, excavate the legal quotient of the case. But being born of the Charter of the United Nations , the ICJ must not forget the peace quotient of this case. I do not believe his hanging will serve any end of justice. But it will mutilate the ends of peace.

I will not appeal to the Prime Minister of Pakistan to show a cricketer’s gentlemanliness. But I will say to him: In the name of humanity, Jadhav must not die. In the cause of peace, yours and ours, he must live.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 24, 2019 18:40 IST