Thursday, October 23, 2008

Terrorism: All are entitled to live

All are entitled to live
New Indian Express,
24 Oct 2008 12:36:00 AM IST

The ongoing debate over the police encounter in Batla in New Delhi on September 19 highlights the partisan nature of the Indian polity.

Not just political parties, even mainstream intelligentsia abandoned their responsibilities and took refuge under political correctness. It has become fashionable to treat terrorism as yet another form of violence and belittle its devastating consequences.

Lives are important, rights are important but only that of those accused of terrorism. Victims of terrorism die in vain for they have no such rights. At least that is how mainstream India behaves.

We need to take a second look at this kneejerk trade union mentality. Camaraderie is vital for a society but there are times thismy- member-right-or-wrong attitude needs to change. Rallying around the flag should not be taken to absurd limits.

People holding public offices need to recognise that their responsibility is much wider than their immediate jobs. Social responsibility is larger than their responsibility to a particular institution.

The ongoing debate over terrorism exposes the narrow mindset of the political parties in the country. Moving the goalpost is their mantra. They would demand the banning of Hindutva outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal but take a different stand when it comes to SIMI or vice versa. The Bharatiya Janata Party demands the dismissal of the government of Assam for its failure to curb communal violence but sings a different tune over Karnataka and Orissa.

Thus the demand of the BJP for the resignation of the Vice Chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia, Professor Mushirul Hasan, over his stand on the police encounter was accompanied by a deafening silence of its stalwarts over the spat of anti-minority violence that were taking place under their very noses.

But partisanship is not the prerogative of only the politicians. Same is true for a large number of the intelligentsia. Professor Mushirul Hasan, for example, explicitly condemned the New Delhi blasts only after, and not before, the BJP demanded his resignation. Similarly, those who vociferously argued against the ‘demonisation’ of Jamia would refer only to ‘events of 19th September’ and not of 13th September that rocked the streets of New Delhi. This leads to the next question: guilt by association.

No institution, organisation or group should be held responsible for the activities of all its members. Even members of the same family are not accountable for the activities of other members of the family.

By no cannons of law, logic or moral standards, can one hold Jamia responsible for the alleged crimes of three of its members.

Guilt by association will take us back to the Stone Age.

At the same time one cannot ignore a similar situation faced by Saudi Arabia following the September 11 terror attacks on the US. Riyadh could not escape the harsh reality: fifteen out of 19 hijackers who carried the terrorist acts were Saudi nationals.

Many used the terror attack to launch a diatribe against the Gulf state, vilified Saudi society and even sought to demonise Islam.

The Saudi state could not be held responsible for the actions of its citizens yet it could not escape from the negative consequences of their actions.

Despite its initial defences, eventually the House of Saud saw the episode as an opportunity for a serious introspection. It did not settle for ostrich-like self-denial. Much of the ongoing internal debate in Saudi Arabia over Islam, reforms in the education system and even dialogue with other religions initiated by King Abdullah have to be traced directly to the negative repercussion of the September 11 attacks. Likewise, if the Jamia were to escape from the consequences of the alleged actions of his students, it needs serious introspection.This leads to the next question: human rights.Yes, all citizens have equal rights. Those charged with terrorism have rights to a fair trial and to be treated as innocent unless proven otherwise. They have to be provided adequate legal defence and an opportunity to clear their name.Without this the idea of India would disintegrate.

But in their eagerness to defend the rights of those accused of terrorism, mainstream political parties and intelligentsia alike, ignore some larger issues.

While everyone is innocent unless otherwise proven, those who are charged with terrorist violence could not be placed on par with ordinary citizens. They face serious charges of involvement in the slaughter of innocent civilians. Let us not forget that serial blasts in New Delhi, for example, killed 24 ordinary civilians who were going about their daily routine.

Those charged with terrorism have legal defence, political support and even media limelight. But what happened to those whose lives were taken without any rhyme or reason.

Didn’t they have any rights? Let us not vacillate or look for an escape clause. Terrorism is not an impulsive road rage. Nor is it unintended manslaughter.

Terrorism is a cold-blooded, pre-mediated murder of innocent civilians. Just like the rights of the accused, one should also recognise the rights of the victims.We also need to go beyond parochial calculations in speaking out for everyone’s right to live: rights of victims, even if they happened to members of other caste, colour, race, religion and even nationality. One can be a critic of the Congress party and its dynastic politics. But one can still recognise late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s right to life.

His life was cut short by a well-planned, well-organised and well-executed political murder carried out by the LTTE. His children were orphaned for no fault of theirs.

Sadly, unlike the slain Indian leader, Nalini Sriharan enjoyed legal defence and was tried and convicted under due process of law. On ‘humanitarian considerations’ her original death sentence was commuted tolife imprisonment.Now even this is not sufficient, and she and her supporters demand early release. Nalini’s conviction was neither an act of vengeance nor retribution but merely her harvest for her role in the coldblooded murder. Did anyone give a second chance to Rajiv Gandhi? Rather than worrying about rights of terrorists and the need to protect them against draconian laws, responsible people have to recognise a higher value.Victims of terrorism also have rights. They had no opportunity to hear the charges against them. They enjoyed no legal defence. They are not agents of the state and nor are they linked to the supposed ‘injustice’ meted out to those indulging in terrorism.

This is not politically correct. The Indian society should first and foremost recognise the rights of the victims of terrorism.

They also have the right to live, something that the terrorists do not recognise. Yes, even as an ordinary individual, Rajiv Gandhi also had the right to live!

About the author:
Professor P R Kumaraswamy teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and his co-edited book South Asia: The Spectre of Terrorism is being published by Routledge

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