October 18, 2006

Settle for less

What, after all, should our response be to an egregious outrage like the attack on Parliament? To me, this is the fundamental question in the whole uproar about the death sentence awarded to Mohammed Afzal: just what should our response be?

Should it be vengeance? Or should it be an attempt to thoroughly investigate the crime and punish all the guilty, so it won't happen again?

There is one statement the Supreme Court made that, to me, speaks of some perceived public desire for vengeance: "The [attack on Parliament] had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to [Afzal]."

Satisfying the collective conscience of the country is one thing. But I wonder what it achieves. The man will be hung and buried, and our collective consciences will be satisfied, and we will be nowhere closer to understanding what really happened that December day, to knowing who was responsible for the deaths of several brave men and women, to ensuring that their colleagues will not die in a future attack.

Yet somehow, that does not satisfy my conscience.

By putting Afzal to death, I believe we are letting the really guilty go free, in much the same way as earlier judgements in the Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases let the really guilty go free. (And remember it took seven years, and sustained public outrage after the Lall case, to deliver some justice in the Mattoo case).

This is not an argument against the death penalty. I do not claim that Afzal is innocent of the charges against him, or that he did not receive a fair trial. I am simply saying: Afzal alive is our only chance to find out the truth about the attack on Parliament.

I cannot imagine why we would settle for any less.


Anonymous said...

matto's killer convicted and awaits judgement which is either life imprisonment or the gallows. everyone's hoping jessica lall and nitesh kataria cases convict the alleged accused as well. sentence in both cases will most probably amount to the same.

in afzal's case: the supreme court actually passed a statement that said what was the point in having them pass judgement if it was going to be revoked.

an eye for an eye.

Sidhusaaheb said...

I believe that life imprisonment is, in fact, a far stronger punishment than the death penalty.

It is far more difficult for a human being to live while being in, say, solitary confinement, than being hanged to death.

The former lasts for more than half a lifetime and the latter is over in less than a minute.

I do believe that if the man is subjected to solitary confinement for an extended period of time, there is a strong possibility that he might actually volunteer more information than he has already provided the police with.

km said...

Very astute post, Dilip.

That they are invoking words like "collective conscience of the society" is sickening.

And wtf, is Judge Dredd on the case?

The Tobacconist said...

I've only got to the hear about this case when the judgment was passed and like most others didn't quite follow it during the trial phase. Do you know if there is credence to the claim that he didn't receive a fair trial? They did arrest that professor and falsely accuse him of being involved. Did they really have a watertight case against this chap?

And don't you think they already have from him what there is to know. And isn't part of his claim to being innocent, involve him not knowing anything about the "real" criminals. The question that I feel that remains to be addressed is, did he receive a fair trial, and is he being made a scapegoat?

Kunal said...

I'm sorry, didnt quite get what you were trying to say there. Are you saying that the authorities could get Mohammed Afzal to give up his buddies who were involved in the conspiracy to attack Parliament if they had more time to question him?

Anonymous said...

The questions raised regarding the role of the various accused in the attack by Nirmalangshu Mukherji and others

and (http://www.sacw.net/hrights/NM17Oct06.html)

deserve to be answered for the sake of own civil society. If the answers support the prosecution's case, so be it. On the other hand if they reveal a bigger underlying game, the people of the country deserve to know about it. The other accused in the case have been acquitted by the courts, raising doubts about the prosecution's case. Afzal Guru's information about the events will have value in unearthing the truth.

Countries are taken to war on the basis of hysteria engineered among the people by their leaders. It is the people of the country and its subsequent generations which bear the costs.

Anonymous said...

1. I feel the authorities have had long enough time to get at the truth in the Parliamnent case.

Hardened terrorists may not crack under sustained interrogation in prison. This may be due to indoctrination/belief or due to fear of retribution by their comrades on their family etc.

2. There is a qualitative difference between Jessica/Mattoo where higher ups colluded to cover up guilt and the Parliament attack case where there would have been pressure to solve the case, not cover up.

3. Chittisinghpora is a better example in this regard. But unlike Chitti., I believe Afzal has received due process. No fresh evidence is being offered by the defenders- only specious stuff like "Kashmir will burn".

4. We should ensure there is no incentive to get, say Gujarat to "burn" when the riot perpetrators are sentenced in the future. If some of them deserve the death penalty they should be executed, not kept in prison to get at the roots of terror in Bajrang Dal etc.

5. Regrettably terrorists do sometimes get a chance to get away free (IC-814) and then repay with more violence and killing (Masood Azhar etc). Not for a nanosecond do they think that they are alive today only because the Indian State has let them. Since there is no remorse/ rethink there is no incentive from that angle either to let them off.


Anonymous said...

Ha...i wrote the same stuff...and now mine will be plagiarism :(

btw i got here thru a pretty detrimental reference to you - errand boy of cong party or something like that - but i'm impressed :) literally

linkin you to my space..will be back

nicely done dude :)

Vivek Kumar said...

"I am simply saying: Afzal alive is our only chance to find out the truth about the attack on Parliament."

I am sorry if I sound a little dense, but I would like to know what exactly is meant by this statement. It seems some other people (some of those who commented) are also not clear about its meaning. Could you please elaborate?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Vivek, good question.

Let me quote from just one of various writings on this theme: "Attack on Parliament" by Nimalangshu Mukherji (EPW, Oct 7 06).

"Who attacked Parliament and what was the conspiracy?"

"What we learn from the [Afzal] judgement is that five persons ... attacked the Parliament, killed some people, and died. And Mohammed Afzal aided these attackers. Period."

"Afzal ... was a surrendered militant in regular contact with the State Task Force (STF) in Kashmir. ... If a person under the watchful eye of the STF could be part of a conspiracy to wage war against the state, how can anything less than a public inquiry do? For this is not about the guilt or innocence of one man, but about how a system works and what it means, to democracy, sovereignty and the security of the state."

etc. (there's more).

Here are two excerpts from one of Nandita Haksar's articles about the case:

"[T]he charge sheet was against 12 persons: three
Pakistanis ... who were said to have master-minded the attack (none of the three were arrested or brought to trial) ...; five Pakistanis who actually attacked Parliament and were responsible for the death of nine members of our security forces; and the four people who actually stood trial. ... The Supreme Court has noted that there is no direct evidence of [Afzal's] involvement."

"[T]hree courts, including the Supreme Court, have acquitted him of the charges under POTA of belonging to either a terrorist organisation or a
terrorist gang."

Note that Nandita Haksar also says:

"It is important to remember that we are not discussing whether Afzal was or was not a part of the conspiracy to attack the Parliament. He has already been found guilty of the crime and convicted."

What I meant by that statement of mine are the questions all this raises.

Vivek Kumar said...

Thanks for the clarification Dilip.

Some observations on the quotations:

1. To my mind, the judgement (or any judgement in a criminal case) is in fact exactly about the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Things like "how a system works and what it means, to democracy, sovereignty and the security of the state", IMO, do not hinge upon the verdict in a single criminal case. These are wider questions and if someone wants to find the answers, they would need much more than clemency to a convict. So, what is this 'much more'? I can understand that you want clemency for this man. But what is the course of action that you suggest after that? If that course of action is not suggested, we have no way of figuring out the basis for the demand for clemency.

2. IMO, crimes that a person has been acquitted of, or indeed has never been charged with, have little significance for the question of clemency.

3. I note what NH "also" says. Correct me if my interpretation is wrong but that implies an endorsement of the judgement from a legal/technical point of view. Which is what you also did, before adding "Afzal alive is our only chance..".

Suggestion: May be you can make a new post about the course of action to be taken if, and when, the clemency is granted.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Vivek, here's the point. If this man is executed, I think we'll think the whole Parliament attack case is finished and done with. It happened, we found the guilty guy, he's been punished, let's move on.

But from the original chargesheet alone (taking just one example), there are questions about whether Afzal is the end of the story. I still don't believe we know who carried this out and how; who were the accomplices (witting or not); how Afzal managed to be part of this conspiracy despite being under STF surveillance, etc. (For example, in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts case, the judge has tried and convicted police officers who aided and abetted the movement of RDX). Where's the investigation into those things?

I endorse the judgement in this sense: I'm not interested in a debate on the merits of the judgement, because the point I'm trying to raise is (I think) independent of the judgement.

I'm saying: with the man dead, I think we lose the chance to find out all we need to find out about this crime.

Finally, yes, actually there is one thing the SC said that does disturb me: the mention of the "collective conscience of the society".

Vivek Kumar said...


Your "I think we'll think" is not really an argument. It is your opinion, and of course, I respect it even as I disagree with it. Which means, I do not think that we'll think any such thing.

Anyway, here is the crux of what I am really interested in:

You say: "with the man dead, I think we lose the chance to find out all we need to find out about this crime."

I ask: with the man alive, how do you propose to go ahead about finding out all we need to find out about this crime?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Vivek, as we have before, we'll have to disagree on some things (and thanks for being civil about it). It is indeed an opinion.

On keeping Afzal alive: let's say you have the man in prison for life. There's ample opportunity, in all kinds of ways (formally and informally) to mine him for information. The prospect of life behind bars can be a powerful incentive to hand over such information.

I don't believe we know the truth about all that happened that day. I believe it is vital that we do make every attempt to know the full truth, answer the questions that may raise.

For example, the judgement itself talks of terrorists and "conspirators" -- who are these conspirators and what will we do about them?

Anonymous said...

One of the sadder moments of my DDS experience when I caught this while trawling other blogs:

On Reality Checks blog commentspace, DDS comes out swinging against even a fairly moderate position on Md.Afzal, (with RC stating that clemency can be considered if Afzal requests for it and it can be used to discredit the jihadis).

Catch the debate at: http://realitycheck.wordpress.com/2006/10/08/an-unsophisticated-state-vs-mohd-afzal/#comments

Oh well DDS can always choose where he wants to spend his capital.


PS- I dont know if there is any history between the bloggers dueling there, I did see a provocative entree from RC on how DDS and Shivam pick their sides/ opinions.