Wednesday belonged to the judiciary. Two excellent judgments, well argued, and sober in their tone came from the Supreme Court and a special court in Gujarat that had been briefly buffeted by the high voltage politics around it.
The apex court upheld the death sentence for Ajmal Kasab for ‘waging war’ against India. This was to be expected, and it is a reflection of a judicial system that works slowly and patiently to review, and re-review petitions with justice in mind. And even allows prisoners like Kasab to appeal for such reviews, although he has never really denied his guilt in the ghastly terror attack on Mumbai.
The trial court in Ahmedabad created history of sorts by convicting a senior BJP leader and former minister in the Narendra Modi government, Mayaben Kodnani, and a former Bajrang Dal convener Babu Bajrangi along with 30 others for the massacre of innocent Muslims in Naroda Patiya. This is the first case in which political leaders, if one can call them that, have been found guilty. The tears streaming down the faces of the survivors of this terrible terrible massacre was indication of the suffering and trauma they have gone through in all these years.
But underneath the hope revived through these judgments, of an impartial judiciary and a system that does work at times, there is another tale that seems to have missed media attention. The Supreme Court, while convicting Kasab, acquitted two Indian Muslims, Farheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, who had been accused by the Mumbai investigators of being co-conspirators. The lower courts had acquitted them, but clearly the authorities had gone in appeal to the apex court that has upheld the acquittal. Significantly, except for a few newspapers no one even bothered to speak of this important acquittal, and even the sections of the media that reported the facts did not dwell on the trauma that the two men and their families must have gone through.
Who is going to compensate them? Rehabilitate them and their families? There isn’t even a hint of an apology from the state government and all those responsible for keeping two innocent men in jail for a crime they clearly had no part in. In fact more and more reports from Maharashtra suggest that such arrests have become a common practice with the police and the politicians totally unaccountable for the numbers of innocent people they arrest, torture and jail without any proof whatsoever. So while the nation exults over the death sentence for Kasab, it should also pause to pay some thought to the two innocent men whose lives have been ruined in the process.
The second case of Naroda Patiya also has an untold story, of the 97 victims who were brutally raped and killed by a 5,000 strong mob on February 28,2002 of whom 32 have been convicted by the courts. But what about the rest? Where are they? Why have they not been arrested? This along with the trauma and the suffering of the victims is a story that needs to be tracked down, and told. For, while justice has been dispensed, the country needs to assess whether it has been enough, whether there are several loose ends that need to be tied so that the secular and just foundations of India are not just strengthened, but protected against future assault.
The investigating authorities seem to be falling short in more ways than one. Innocent persons are arrested, tortured, jailed and released only after the court’s intervene. Guilty persons are able to evade the investigators and walk free as the investigating agencies fail to collect sufficient proof, or at times, even find the accused even though they are giving interviews to the media. The point here is that while the higher judiciary at least is trying to do its job with a modicum of responsibility and honesty, politicization and corruption has hit the police and the investigating agencies to a point where fiction often replaces facts.
It all begins at the stage of the recruitment itself, particularly in the police where lakhs are paid by the freshers to get a place in the force. The first lesson is of corruption, and this becomes the hallmark of a service that should have been exemplary in its honesty and professionalism. The second lesson is of politicization, when the recruit sees his seniors being transferred in or out of positions on the whims of a political leader. The two — corruption and politicization — are the death knell of professionalism and from then on investigators always keep an eye on the money bags and/or on the politician for their blessings. This is at one level a simplistic version of a policeman’s life in the field, but unfortunately it is the truth.
Files are opened on instructions, closed on instructions with the odd police officer who stands in the way of the political will — be it the local MLA or a senior minister — being shunted off into oblivion. In that he is given a posting where he can do little to interfere with the well-oiled system, or conversely is denied promotion, with the harassment continuing until he gives in or retires. Those who help oil the system, never retire.
Hence, it is important for the media never to forget the so called side stories as very often these are as important and significant as the main text. The stories of the two acquitted after years of harassment, the many not even tried despite the brutality of the massacre, are important in their own right and need to be highlighted. The judiciary has helped focus on justice but to ensure that it is meaningful and complete, it is imperative for the investigating agencies to be held accountable by the media for the acts of omission and commission. Kasab ceased to be a story the day he was caught, in that he was so obviously guilty for the heinous massacre in Mumbai that it was going to be just a matter of time he was convicted once and for all to death. But this was clearly not the case of the two Indian Muslims apprehended along with him, and their journey into hell and out needs to be told. As does that of the others in the 5000 strong mob who have not seen the inside of a jail till yet.
The writer is a senior New Delhi-based commentator