The root of violence

The root of violence
Dr Sandeep Pandey

(Published in The Indian Express, 4 December 2007. To read click here)

"In the biggest terrorist incident of UP so far, with the active participation of the government of the day which had decided to abdicate its constitutional responsibility that day, the demolition of Babri Masjid, judgement is still awaited"

In a press release issued from the CM office a day after the serial blasts in Faizabad, Lucknow and Varanasi there is a mention of unconfirmed speculation among the people that the blasts targeted the advocates as they have refused within the last three years to defend individuals accused of terrorist actions in these three cities. Lawyers have assaulted five men in Faizabad arrested after the attack on disputed site of Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi in 2005, Maulana Waliullah in Varanasi arrested after the attack on Sankat Mochan temple in 2006 and the thee men arrested recently in Lucknow on charges of plotting an attack on Rahul Gandhi, when produced in local courts.

While no lawyer was willing to plead the case of accused in Faizabad and Varanasi and they had to be moved to distant courts, the hearing continues in Lucknow inside jail premises. In addition to these instances UP has been witness to unruly court room scenes where advocates raise slogans and manhandle people who they don't like.
Acharya Jugal Kishore Shashtri of Ayodhya and colleagues arrested in January 2006 from a programme of Shudra Mahasabha on Periyar's birthday, charged under section 153A for having caused disrespect to some Hindu religious symbols, spent 3.5 months in jail merely because the sessions court was stormed by `Jai Shree Ram' shouting lawyers' brigade every time the case for their bail would come up for hearing.

Similarly, in the case of Hindu-Muslim marriages the lawyers, in various instances, have not been very kind to the couples. The lawyers in UP are in the habit of conducting trials even before the court can give its verdict. The indiscipline of lawyers is not just limited to courts.
It is not long back when because of a minor traffic incident on a major crossing the lawyers brought the city to standstill. Although nobody would support the mindless violence unleashed on 23rd November, which also took the life of a 12 year old in Varanasi, and even considering these blasts have nothing to do with the behaviour of lawyers in and out of court rooms, it must serve as a grim warning to the community of lawyers that they cannot consider themselves to be above the law.

The question of terrorism is complicated. When I was asked by veteran socialist leader Surendra Mohan to join a citizen's defence committee for Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, projected by the Delhi police as mastermind behind the attack on parliament in Decemebr, 2001, and already pronounced guilty by the media, I agreed to become part of the committee, even though I did not know Geelani because I knew that a number of people in this country are falsely implicated. I trusted Surendra Mohan ji's judgement. Geelani, sentenced to death by a POTA court based on a flimsy piece of evidence, was acquitted by High Court and Supreme Court.

The High Court judgement said there was no evidence to even remotely link him to the attack on parliament. I was happy not because our stand was vindicated but because Geelani was able to go back to his young wife and two little children. If it was not for the hard work of people like Nandita Haksar and Geelani's lawyers he would have probably been facing the same destiny as Mohammad Afzal. Moreover, Geelani also got the support of the teaching community of Delhi University. Now, how do we know that people mentioned above arrested as suspected `terrorists,' already indicted by the lawyers, are not innocents like Geelani?

Most of them are young Muslims, probably not very educated and hence not likely to get the kind of support that Geelani got, and if they do not get proper legal support how do we ensure that justice will be done to them?
The lawyer friends in UP forget that it is their moral and professional responsibility that no innocent must get punished. In a landmark order passed on 26th November, 2007, by Hon'ble Judges Amar Saran and Vijay Kumar Verma, taking suo moto cognizance of the recent blasts, they have sought explanation from the government for security lapses as well as from the Bar Council of U.P. for professional misconduct by their errant members.

Somehow, unfortunately, only bomb blasts and Muslims have gotten associated with the notion of terrorism. In the biggest terrorist incident of UP so far, with the active participation of the government of the day which had decided to abdicate its constitutional responsibility that day, the demolition of Babri Masjid, judgement is still awaited.
Actually, all the terrorist attacks – of the bomb blast kind – post date the Babri Masjid demolition in UP. And we never consider large scale corruption, scuttling of law, illegal encounter killings by police and military, violence against children and women, forcing people to live in situations of malnutrition and hunger as anti-national and criminal activities.

The kind of intolerance that the lawyer community has exhibited in the past, although the disease is symptomatic of the state of mind of larger society, is resulting in more violence in society.
Mayawati may have ordered very strict security measures for court premises but it will not be sufficient for stopping future violence. We will have to introspect about the cause of this mindless violence. A society in which people are becoming intolerant of each other cannot be a secure place for anybody. We'll have to examine the politics which believes in spreading hatred based on religious and caste lines, socio-economic policies which ensure the divide between the rich and the poor and help it grow only bigger every day and the rampant corruption which denies people even the most basic rights like subsidized food grains as part of PDS or an old age or widow pension.

We'll also have to examine the philosophy of life in which relationships have ceased to matter less than the material things. In fact, material things have stated defining our relationships. A society which will not respect an individual as a human being cannot hope to exist as a peaceful society.

Dr Sandeep Pandey

(The author is a senior social activist, leader of National Alliance of People's Movements and recepient of Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002)

The Indian Express
4 December 2007