Monday, December 15, 2008

Mob justice is not justice

I recently came across a news item, where a lawyer was forced to give a written statement that he would not represent Kasab, the lone arrested terrorist of the Mumbai attacks, by activists of the Shiv Sena. A blogger asks why we must not skin him alive, because the public is baying for blood. He is outraged that we are actually talking legal action against someone who was seen massacring people on camera. Now, there are two things to consider in this issue. The first is firmness in dealing with terror. The second is respect for the rule of law.

Rohit, in his blog on Nationalinterest clearly argues that this is not the way to fight terror. I agree.
The first of the concepts is firmness in handling terror. India can show the world it is firm by bringing the culprits to justice. And bringing them to justice through the due process of law. Lynching, skinning him alive, killing him in a fake encounter or throwing him to hungry lions will not do the job. After all, there must be something distinguishing India from the terrorists. That something is its justice system. I am not saying that India's criminal justice system is infallible. I am just saying saying, let's save what we have. It is easy to get carried away and demand an eye for an eye when we are angry. But an eye for an eye is not bring back our lost eye. Of course Kasab must be brought to justice. But, this time the evidence is watertight. The judgement will surely be favourable to the victims. He will be punished. But, to argue that we must not contemplate legal action but hand him to wild dogs is unacceptable in any democracy. If there is one thing we must pride ourselves on, it is our democratic system. To behave in such a barbaric fashion would amount to compromising the basic principles that India represents. On that note, read this excellent article by Salil Tripathi.

If philosophy and justice do not appeal to the likes of Roshan (the blogger who calls for blood), I think one simple technical detail will. Our criminal justice system is founded on the British Common Law principle. If an accused is not represented in a trial, and if he refuses to defend himself, he can be released and walk scot-free. Indian jurisprudence speaks of such a situation. The course before us is now clear. We allow our best lawyers to defend Kasab, but still mete out the sternest punishment to the man who massacred before our very eyes. After all, that is only fair. Kasab will be punished, but not by throwing him to hungry lions. The courts will still be the supreme deciding authorities. The rule of law will still prevail. After all, that is what we fought long and hard for. And that, to me, is what distinguishes us from Pakistan.

Edit: Dr. Roshan, whose blog I linked to in the first paragraph, has changed his mind. He accepts he was frustrated and that his was a knee-jerk reaction. I will only say this. Thanks for understanding Dr. Roshan. :-)

5 comments:

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

Hello Amrutha,

The piece is timely and apt. The outrage Bombay terror strike created has been unprecedented. It’s quite natural since it was the first time the country faced this kind of an attack. It instills a sense of insecurity in the people of the country. (Remember the ‘No Security, No Tax’ slogan). If someone is arguing that Kasab be lynched or thrown to hungry lions it’s just a case of emotional outburst. We are living in a democratic country in a modern era and not during the time of Hammuarabi whose code sets the dictum “an eye for an eye”. It reminds me of another incident in which questions were raised whether the State had the right to distribute weapons to its citizens which is for use against their fellow humans? It’s argued that ‘Salwa Judhum’ the anti-naxalite people’s army in Jharkand is indulged in gross human rights violation. And the weaponry and training has been provided by the government itself. The other day I read about the death of three youths in an ‘encounter’ in Andhra Pradesh. My immediate response was that it’s OK. It was one of the most heinous of crimes one can do against women, acid attack. I just thought about the victim and I couldn’t think of otherwise. But now when I think about it and as I saw today’s ‘The Hindu’s Letter Space flooded with letters stating that it could be a fake encounter, I had a rethinking about it. What the conclusion I can reach from all these is that if people demand or hails even ‘fake encounters’ it’s a result of their disbelief in the system. A disbelief which is the result of previous experiences in which they might’ve seen culprits go scot-free. We have human rights activists (see I’ve nothing against them and I believe they must be an integral part of the system to ensure human rights to all including fair trial) who are so damn bothered about all those murderers and perpetrators of heinous crimes but don’t give a hoot about the thousands of innocent people killed in the dastardly acts. Yes, Kasab needs to get a trial and he needs to be punished with the maximum, but in a way a democratic system allows. As you might’ve read, the other day an Advocate has come to the front willing to appear for him.

I’ve a doubt regarding this: If an accused is not represented in a trial, and if he refuses to defend himself, he can be released and walk scot-free.

Is it possible? Please clarify

Amrutha said...

Arun: Yes, he really could get away if he refuses to defend himself. And what is worse is that he gets away on a mere technicality. It's ridiculous to refuse representation because it could destroy all the sympathy India has managed to garner so far. Also, there must be something distinguishing India from Pakistan. I would like to believe it is this. Let them try him and hang him (without hesitation as they have for Afzal Guru. That's the only way the government can regain the people's confidence.

IHT Report said...

I accept the discussion, except Amrutha's saying "there must be something distinguishing India from Pakistan". Why ? Does India have to have a monopoly on moral one-upmanship ? India should simply do what is best for the security of its own citizens. And for God's sake, don't neglect the foreigners killed, they also trusted to travel to India. The Singaporean hostage who was the killed was the first Singaporean in history to be killed by terrorism and it is a lady. Her only mistake is, she travelled to Mumbai.

If the Indian court lets Kasab walk free, maybe that is ok if it is justified through your laws. After all he (Kasab) seems like he was misguided. But it is India's duty to punish the sponsors of the attack who intentionally sponsored, trained and directed the attacks. The systematic killings of the hostages is chilling. Each hostage's name and nationality was reported to the handler in Pakistan and killing was individually ordered, as you can read in the International Herald Tribune Report:
....the gunmen forced a Singaporean hostage at the Oberoi hotel, Lo Hwei Yen, to call her husband in Singapore. She told him that the hostages were demanding that Singaporean officials tell India not to try a rescue operation. The next day, Lo was killed, the foundation's report said.

Investigators found that after the gunmen killed her, they used the phone she had called her husband with, the report said.

"The worrying scenario is that Muzammil may have ordered her execution along with two other hostages that were found murdered in the same room," the report said.

Of course it is India's duty to prevent Muzammil from ordering any more killings like this. It is Pakistan's duty to hand over Muzammil to India.

India should cut off terrorism at root, not just catch a Kasab here and there. Do it, as any other self- respecting nation would. Indian can learn a lot of things from Singapore on terrorism preparedness even though India had lot more attacks already.

I hope India government becomes serious now at least after this type of brazen attacks. You don't get many chances to fix it. There is no need to talk a lot but just do the right thing and show to the world.

Amrutha said...

Anon: I suppose you have not really got the point. There is no question of moral one-upmanship. But, that said, I am proud to be an Indian for many reasons. One of them is the fact that we, unlike Pakistan, are still a fully-functional democracy and the rule of law still holds. If that sounds like moral one-upmanship to you, too bad. Also, the Indian government, or its people do not think of forgetting the foreigners killed. It is our duty, as citizens to ensure the security of our visitors too.

But, does denying Kasab representation and a fair trial make India any more secure? The answer is no. By denying representation, by demanding an eye for an eye, we are just stooping to the level of the terrorist, whatever might be their origin. I, as a thinking individual cannot accept it. Period.

Also, I refuse to accept any comparison with any other country, least of all Singapore. India is not, and cannot ever be a police state (albeit de facto) like Singapore. Here, we must respect basic constitutional rights. Like the one to constitutional remedy. Kasab, like any other criminal, must be given the right to defend himself and appeal to a higher court if he deems fit. That is what our constitution stands for.

Finally, could you please identify yourself? It leaves a better impact, even if it is only through a pseudonym.

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