WHO ELSE NEEDS TO BE HANGED TO SATIFY THE COLLECTIVE CONSCIENCE?
The Supreme Court judgment awarding death sentence to Mohammad Afzal says, ‘The incident, which resulted in heavy casualities, has shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender. The challenge to the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India by these acts of terrorist and conspirators can only be compensated by giving the maximum punishment to the person who is proved to be a conspirator in this treacherous act. The appellant, who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon repeating the acts of treason against the nation, is a menace to the society should become extinct.’ The Supreme Court states that there is no evidence to show that Mohammad Afzal is a member of any banned organization. In fact, the Court acquitted Afzal of the charges under POTA. It further adds that even going by the confessional statement (which could possibly be the only basis to take any action against him) it is doubtful whether the membership of a terrorist gang or organization is established. None of the 80 prosecution witnesses alleged that Afzal was in anyway associated with any terrorist organization. Hence the grounds for awarding death sentence to Mohammad Afzal are really very very flimsy. Yet, most of the conscientious citizens of India seem to have made up their mind that Afzal should be hanged.
If Afzal is going to be hanged merely to satisfy the collective conscience of the society then there are a number of other cases where people will have to be hanged. Who will be held responsible for the farmers who have committed suicides and poor people who have died of starvation? The flawed policies of the State and the siphoning off of the resources meant for the poor have led to these deaths. People may not have died with a ‘bang’, but people nevertheless died! They died a slow, painful and humiliating death. It is a shame for the society that people who do hard labour to feed us have to commit suicides and die of starvation, inspite of no shortage of foodgrains. Who must face the death gallows for these heavy casualities which have also shaken the entire nation – the concerned District Magistrates, Chief Secretaries, Chief Ministers, Cabinet Secretary or the Prime Minister himself?
Then who will be held responsible for the various scams, especially those related to Defence, where the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India is compromised in no less harmful a way than was done by the conspirators who carried out the attack on the Parliament? Some of the people involved in these scams sit inside the very same Parliament. If one were to conduct a referendum, the people of this country will be of the opinion that their collective conscience will be satisfied the most when all the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats will be hanged together. Which court will translate this popular public opinion into a death sentence for some of the responsible, like in the case of Afzal? In fact, any case of corruption should be treated as an anti-national activity. How many people in this country have even been jailed for being involved in corruption, what to talk of being hanged? The unaccountable legislature and executive awards itself with hike in emoluments, whereas common people are being looted of their resources and pushed into more severe state of deprivation and poverty. Can this be considered anything less than treachery? The masters of democracy are being cheated in broad daylight by their servants and representatives. What would be the mechanism to hang some of these anti-democratic people involved in treason against the nation and its people? Who would not agree with the opinion that Members of Parliament exposed for accepting bribes for asking questions should be served the harshest sentence? Will not the collective conscience of society be satisfied if this was actually done?
The politicians and bureaucracy, in the era of new economic policy, are selling the assets created with public money at throw away prices to the private companies in the name of reforms and allowing multinational corporations to take over invaluable natural resources of this country, like the water, land and forests. This is obviously at the cost of the common population. The influential ruling class, for its own vested interest, is clearly hand in gloves with these private and foreign parties, whose only motive is profit. In less than 60 years, it seems, we’ve even forgotten that we have freed ourselves with great difficulty from an imperial force. We do not seem to mind being subject to such powers once again. None of the major economic decisions are being taken inside the Parliament of our country. They are being dictated by international monetary agencies, the US Government or the multinational corporations. We do not continue to enjoy the same sovereignty as we used to before these economic policies were implemented. It would be a matter of interesting debate whether a physical damage to the Parliament by a bomb from outside is more damaging than the subversion from within by our so called leaders? Who deserves a harsher punishment? The physical damage could be repaired but who’ll perform the more difficult task of resurrecting the autonomy of our supreme decision making body?
There are feudal, casteist and communal elements, who in collusion with the ruling class, subvert law, scuttle democracy and oppress poor people. They commit most heinous crimes and influence the police and judiciary so that no action is taken against them. They are responsible for the most gross human rights violations. For them the Constitution of this country has no meaning. They have evolved their own systems of operation, in which contractors-criminals-mafia nexus is at the centre. We see a plethora of them dominating and sometimes actually running our system. Who will hang these people who bring the Constitution into disrepute everyday?
It is unfortunate that only explosion of a bomb is considered a terrorist activity whereas a whole range of people are bent upon damaging our democracy and Constitution on an everyday basis, sometimes in ways more detrimental than a physical attack, and yet we choose not to consider them anti-national. On the other hand, the people at the receiving end of the slow bleeding of our system – the agricultural labourers who do not receive their due minimum wages, mostly dalits and tribals, most artisans who have to labour hard to make both ends meet, child labourers, women pushed into prostitution or who are open to exploitation because they have no other means to earn a livelihood, people who live in slums continuously facing the uncertainty of demolition, people displaced by wonderful projects of modernization, most citizens of Northeast and Kashmir - who do not share the same passionate but hollow version of nationalism with the minority mainstream educated elite of this country, do not feel quite agitated about the attack on the Parliament because they face such attacks everyday on their lives and livelihood.
Dr Sandeep Pandey
(About the author: Dr Pandey was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership (2002), did his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, U.C., Berkeley, 1992 before heading back to India to become a social activist. Took out a 1500 km Global Peace March for nuclear disarmament from the Indian nuclear testing site Pokaran to Sarnath, a place where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, beginning 11th May and ending on 6th August, 1999. Presently with Program on Science & Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University for 5 weeks. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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