Many a slip between neck and noose

It is not often that the law takes its course in India. Even if it does, it is so painfully slow that justice delayed becomes justice denied. But today we have a case where the law has not just taken its due course but has acted in godspeed. And yet, it is all set to be derailed, thanks to the efforts not just of the self appointed super judges in the media, human rights activists and various pressure groups, who all seem to posses a divine right to overrule the SC itself, but also by a Chief Minister, sworn to uphold the Constitution and the sanctity of Law.

The air is again thick with the familiar debates about the morality and efficacy of the death penalty. While even the long dead Auto Shankar to the most recent Dhanonjoy Chatterjee were receipients of such sympathies despite their homicidal exploits, Mohammad Afzal Guru, the mastermind behind the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, is by all reckoning a cut above the rest. His was no ordinary crime, rather a war against the State with his targets being the symbol as well as the representatives of that State. Those killed were not ordinary civilians but Jawans, drafted to defend the nation.

Again Afzal Guru was also answering a higher calling unlike the impulsive bloodthirst of run-of-the-mill killers. Thus given the ‘exalted status’ of Afzal Guru, he does seem to befit special treatment. But alas, death penalty is all the law has to offer, though it does depreciate him a bit to the levels of his predecessors and peers at the gallows. But so what? The super-judges are there to undo the injustice. Hence this unprecedented high voltage clamour for clemency with the chorus reaching a crescendo after the scene of action moved from the SC precincts to the Rashtrapathi’s. And no less a person than the Chief Minister of J&K himself has lent his weight. Everything official about it.

This sinister show of solidarity with a die-hard –well, it sure seems hard to have him dead — terrorist has several facets. First, many of those crying for mercy are not apologetic about what Afzal had done. Particularly, the Kashmiri separatist groups which are backing Afzal, want him to be let off because ‘he had done nothing wrong’! Afzal’s own kin and friends say he has not got a fair trial thus questioning the very judicial process. Then there are those high-profile five-star activists, mostly left-wing, who often lecture to the world about the rule of law now openly questioning the wisdom of the SC judges in awarding the death penalty. For politicians like Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad, hanging Afzal would be an undiplomatic and politically incorrect thing to do as the Valley would burn. Occupying the last rung are the pundits of prime-time and print, who see a profound fallout if Afzal is hanged: the peace process with Pakistan would be in jeopardy! And Pakistan says it is watching the situation!

Indeed, the arguments range from the emotional to polemical, hard-core reasoning to blatant blackmail and from the serious to the comical. And every argument, be it downright ridiculous or even if deemed reasonable, can be countered. But the moot point is should the intelligensia of the nation be so obsessively debating the issue, without regard to the gravity of the crime and particularly after the highest court of the land has given its verdict? To quote the SC ‘Afzal is a menace to society …whose life should become extinct to satisfy the collective conscience of society’. Period! But look at the way the ‘collective conscience’ is sought to be side-tracked and subverted by vested interests and anti-national groups! Really, the image of Afzal as a wronged man is being so unabashedly articulated and effectively promoted that the collective conscience of the nation would be reeling with guilt if Afzal were to be hanged!

What should the nation’s unanimous and unequivocal reaction on this issue be? To know that one has to duck the barrage of brainy rhetoric emerging from the press and prime time and listen to another voice: The voice of Jyoti, the older daughter of Kamlesh Kumari, the CRPF jawan posted at the gate of Parliament on that fateful day and who was the first to attempt to stop the terrorists. She was shot dead by the terrorists, but it was her alarm that saved the day for the nation. Over to Jyoti:

‘If Afzal Guru is granted amnesty by the President, we will return the Ashok Chakra awarded to our mother. There is no point in keeping the award if those responsible for her death are shown mercy.

But for my mother, the terrorists would have entered Parliament. Can anyone imagine the consequences if the terrorists had managed to get inside? Would these people still be clamouring for mercy for Afzal Guru?

Would J&K CM Ghulam Nabi Azad have pardoned these offenders if one of his own family members had been killed in a terrorist attack? Are these people demanding pardon for the convict only because it is politically right for their own state?’

But is this the voice that is being heard? Today more people know Afzal than they do Kamlesh Kumari and the others who died with her. And Afzal’s fate is made out to be of paramount concern, not the memories of those jawans. So is the death of Afzal the best tribute to those martyrs, goes the refrain of the human rights champions. Let bygones be bygones, they say. Really? So sparing Afzal will stop the bloodshed in Kashmir, bring peace with Pakistan and most important, make the jihadis give up their guns and bombs, not to speak of their hatred towards kafir India? But of course, we are not supposed to ask such ‘intelligent’ questions. But can’t we at least have some intelligent fears and doubts? Like for instance, if Afzal’s sentence is commuted to a life term, which is fourteen years, will he cease to be a jihadi after that? Or if he stands a chance of being released in advance, say, for ‘good conduct’, probably on a Gandhi Jayanthi day or if he would be let out as a ‘confidence building measure’ or goodwill gesture towards Pakistan? But if we may submit, will it not be a better course to allow him, in due secular deference to his own wishes as a true Jihadi, to go to paradise to collect his dues?

The nation has two choices: Hang Afzal Guru and keep its head high or spare his neck from the noose and hang its head down!

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Jawahar T R