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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 23, May 29, 2010

Some Questions around Kasab’s Case

Tuesday 1 June 2010, by Anand Teltumbde


There was expected jubilation on May 6 when Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, that little devil who felled 72 innocent people including 14 policemen jointly with his deceased partner, Abu Ismail, on 26/11, was awarded death sentence by the Special Judge, M.L. Tahaliyani. Three days earlier when he was held guilty of all the 86 charges, Mumbai had heaved a sigh of relief as though it had apprehended his acquittal. All the news channels were full of Ajmal Kasab and Ujjwal Nikam, the new public hero in our super public prosecutor. He was shown comically holding something resembling a book, Yes, You are Guilty, and appeared so pleased with himself that one had just to see it. And why not? After all, it was the case involving the mother of all terrorist attacks. This din, however, drowned many precious questions this episode has thrown up.

Theatre of the Absurd

Someone like Kasab belonging to the enemy nation captured in camera while shooting, thanks to The Times of India’s Sebastian and caught alive after killing 72 people, thanks to that really brave soul, Tukaram Ombale, deserved more punishment than one could imagine was undisputed even before the Special Court was constituted to try him. That India, as the constitutional state, should demonstrate due process of law to even such an alien devil is not disputed. But merely for this procedural demonstration, was it really necessary to set up a theatre of the absurd at huge public cost?

The day Kasab was shifted to the Arthur Road Jail, the entire area around it became a fortress with the blocking of three-fourths of the public road and erection of make-shift chowkies at both the ends with a posse of policemen ready to shoot and dozens of policemen loitering along the entire road, ostensibly for the security but one did not know whose. Was there really a security threat for or because of Kasab? What kind of threat could it be? Threat from whom? No one ever asked such questions. For the residents along the road it was a nightmare to cross the wall of policemen and for those petty business people a virtual starving. But who cares? Thousands of commuters through the road had a big diversion to take causing traffic jams and burning precious fuel. But who cares? Guess, these must be the most genuine people to rejoice at the end of the Kasab trial in the hope that their own trial would also end.

The state spent Rs 35 crores over this security drama. No one would anyway ask even if it had been Rs 350 crores or Rs 3500 crores! No matter, this is the most indebted state. No matter, this huge amount could be enough to save a few thousand of farmers from killing themselves or to save Mumbai from the unseemly sight of people using railway tracks as their toilet every morning! Such people’s issues have been effectively reduced to non-issues in the jingoistic noise about the security of one does not know whose.

The Heroes and Herogiri

There is no problem congratulating Ujjwal Nikam on his achievement of the stature of a public hero. It is indeed commendable for a person coming from a village far-off from Mumbai to make such a mark. But in terms of his professional performance, is there anything really noteworthy? Kasab’s was anyway an open-and-shut case. There was nothing to prove when the entire nation saw him killing and hated him as never before. Kasab’s conviction was not Nikam’s credit as projected in the media. Nikam had handled another high-profile case, the case of Khairlanji caste atrocity immediately before this case. He was similarly in the media blurting out whatever was happening and not happening. When the verdict came he was similarly overpleased with himself. Even Khairlanji was an open-and-shut case as far as the crucial questions were concerned: that it was a pure caste atrocity, that the modesty of two women whose dead bodies were found naked and semi-naked with bruises all over were sexually assaulted, and that the villagers had conspired and executed the attack. None of these crucial charges were held by the court. Khairlanji was reduced to a simple ordinary murder committed by someone in reaction to some petty provo-cation. One is aware that the police prosecutor does not produce evidence, he just marshals evidence gathered by the police investigation. But then that’s it!

Kasab was pronounced guilty simply because he was alive. As things stand, if he had not been caught alive, we would have been blissfully ignorant about the entire 26/11 operation like many such earlier attacks. The credit thus goes to only Tukaram Ombale, that humble Assistant Police Sub-Inspector, who dared the terrorists’ AK-47s and caught Kasab alive at the cost of his life. Even after this, the police has barely gone beyond what meets the bare eye. The crucial questions, like how these 10 boys could execute the task so efficiently, who provided them logistic support here, how good or bad the police and NSG response was?—all remain absolutely unanswered. While 26/11 was happening, as the television channels showed, one of the terrorists had asked his interlocutor to recall the slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat. What was the meaning of that? Didn’t we need to do something about it? If the plight of Muslims in India is indeed creating these terrorist attacks, it becomes the root cause. Should we do something about this root cause or just celebrate suppressing the symptoms every time they surface?

We perhaps have showed our insensitivity to it by projecting two innocent Indian Muslim youth—Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin—as the co-accused of Kasab. Here one has to remember the contribution of a talented young lawyer, Shahid Azmi, in saving these people from imminent miscarriage of justice. It was Shahid who completely demolished the concocted map story of the prosecution and proved their innocence. Jingoists may never acknowledge it but if anyone contributed most to India’s prestige in this episode apart from Judge Tahaliyani, it was him. Like Ombale, Shahid had paid its cost very dearly. As he himself knew it, the vile system brutally eliminated him.

Hanging the Dead?

Kasab’s case brings up the important debate about the efficacy of the death sentence. By Indian law indeed there cannot be an apt case—‘the rarest of the rare’—than this to be awarded death. Therefore, it was utterly meaningless to speculate over it as our media did. It served no purpose except for the jingoist agenda of raising patriotic passions in the people. The television channels had run a full campaign through public opinion that Kasab should be given death, not only death but he should be hanged at the earliest and some people even wanted him hanged in a public place. Judge Tahaliyani rightly awarded him death. In all probability, he would be made an exception to jump the queue of death convicts and hanged earlier. The issue is: what next? What purpose would the death of a brainwashed butcher really serve? Would it really deter the terrorists, the boys like Kasab from daring to step into the country?

Only the naïve could think so. There is a long established research that death penalty no more serves as deterrent apart from being morally unjustifiable. The developed world has therefore abolished it long back. India for some reason has not done so. Kasab’s is a special case. These fidayeens are supposed to be on suicidal missions and only their misfortune could get them captured alive in enemy hands. In that sense, Kasab has been unfortunate that he was caught alive. His misfortune, however, proved immensely valuable to India in understanding the attack. In his absence, going by our intelligence’s standard, we would have been merely speculating about it as in scores of other cases. If he is hanged, it just does not serve any purpose except for some people’s sense of vicarious vengeance. Does death mean anything to a person who is no more scared of it? These terrorists come prepared for death or are brainwashed to desire death because they believe they would be straight rewarded jannat. Would they be really afraid of India’s death sentence? On the contrary, to make such people live, surrounded by a sea of hatred, would be a far severe punishment. If he is alive, India could hope to get more information. But such a rationale would not fit in the jingoist project of the ruling classes.

Everything Adds to Jingoism

The terror attacks on 26/11 for the first time shook the citadel of the elites symbolised by the Taj and Oberoi hotels. Therefore, one felt it would create serious waves of introspection and a spate of real actions to prevent such incidents in future. The very first reaction it created belied this expectation. The ruling class parties indulged in the battle of billboards with an alibi to salute the martyrs. The media played a leading role in promoting jingoist fervour in the people. There was no trace of realisation that such mindless acts are actually the products of jingoism. It does not make a difference whether jingoism is ours or theirs. Jingoism begets jingoism and is mutually reinforcing. The ruling classes always used it to manufacture people’s consent to their interventionist militarism against the imagined enemy. The enemy then could include your own people as a threat to the internal security as the Indian Government has currently defined. Jingoism never lets people realise that such actions are not only used to maintain and reinforce the institutions of militarism, but that they are usually inimical to their own interests. History tells us that apart from religion, jingoism (patriotism and misplaced national pride) have probably been responsible for more mayhem and misery than any other cause in human history. And when patriotism and religion combine to fuel a conflict or a cause, the results are usually lethal.

The menace of terrorism warranted a cool-headed response at the national level-not knee, jerk reactions as we see by our police. Reduced to a petty security syndrome, 26/11 has only served the police to assume totalitarian powers over people to do whatever they want.

Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

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