Thursday, May 9, 2013

Afzal Guru, Sarabjit Singh And Now Sanaullah: The Vicious Cycle Of “Justice”?

Three people have succumbed to the injuries of inhumanity intertwined with extreme nationalism. All three have been linked together to serve “justice”. But have they really served “justice”?

I will begin with the case of Sarabjit Singh. After about 20 years, Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner was attacked by fellow inmates in the Lahore jail. As he struggled for 6 days in the hospital, there was an exchange of dialog between the Indian and Pakistan Government. The Indian Government had requested the Pakistan Government to act on "humanitarian grounds" and release him (the prisoner). The Pakistan Government was claimed to have "positively considered it". However, this positive dialogs could not materialise as Sarabjit could not survive. And now, his death has once again started the vicious circle. Sarabjit has become a national hero in India. Pakistan Government has "again" "betrayed" us and once again, India has proved to be "weak", "powerless" and "submissive". "We" have again "lost".
This is the story that is known on the Indian side of the border. The story on the other side of the border is that Sarabjit Singh, an accused who had pleaded "guilty" in the Karachi bomb blast had been attacked by fellow inmates. He was an Indian "spy" who had been given the death sentence by the Supreme court. The Pakistan Government, however, did everything that they could to save him after the attack in the jail. But he could not be saved. Based on the comments in Pakistani newspapers, the popular reaction has been that "justice" has been served. People argued that "He" who had killed mercilessly was also bound to have a similar fate. They pray for the families of the 14 people who had died.

A third story presented by Sarabjit's kin and advocate Awais Sheikh was that he was not guilty. He was a farmer who had crossed the border in a drunk state. But was falsely implicated in the Karachi bomb blast that had occurred three days before he had crossed the border. He was mistaken to be "Manjit Singh", the accused in the bomb blast. He was "innocent". Sarabjit Singh was under trial.

These are the three versions of the same story and now we should attempt to search the "truth". But is there any? If yes, "who" will establish it? But more importantly, is it important now to establish it? A man has lost his life. A man who was under trial has been killed to serve "justice", as people of Pakistan believed or was made to believe. And now after his death, people of his home country has claimed him and declared him a "martyr".
To me, his story is an appeal as was the story of Afzal Guru. Besides the link that has been drawn by people surrounding “justice”, if we look closely, there are several other similarities in the cases of Sarabjit and Afzal Guru. Both were considered to be "national terrorist". For both, there were mercy pleas. While in the case of Sarabjit, the Indian Government had claimed to have appealed to the Pakistan Government, for Afzal Guru, there were public debates. However, in both the cases, the appeal proved ineffective because they were based on humanitarian grounds, rather than the claim and the evidence to prove that they were perhaps innocent and were falsely implicated. This is surprising as one of the biggest evidence in both the cases were also the "vague" court verdicts. For Sarabjit, the court declared that "whether Sarabjit Singh or Manjit Singh, the name does not matter" and for Afzal, it was even more vague that even though there was no strong evidence, he should be hanged "to satisfy the collective conscience". Both were cases that involved (as constructed) popular sentiments. Both were deprived of a fair and unbiased trial.

However, it is true that Sarabjit was definitely luckier than Afzal who was never declared a "martyr". The people of India are still unaware that to "satisfy" their "collective conscience", an innocent person was hanged to death.

But what is more painful for me is that both of them were perhaps the victims of nationalist politics. With Afzal Guru, democracy was also hanged to death. Afzal was not given a chance to present his petition in the world's largest democracy. In the case of Sarabjit, yet again, a person who may/may not be innocent (he was still under trial) was seen as more an Indian rather than as an accused. This is true not only for Pakistan but also for the Indian Government who kept "pleading" that for "20 years, an Indian has been away from his home country. He should be sent back". What kind of a petition is that? If he had really committed the horrendous crime which I feel that the Indian Government did buy or if he was really a spy, does he have the right to evade punishment just because he is an Indian? A criminal is a criminal, whether he is an Indian or Pakistani. Since it is unclear whether the attack on Sarabjit was planned by the Government, it is unethical to raise questions to them but it is valid to ask them about the security of prisoners, especially the ones whose trial is ongoing. Based on the statement of Awais Sheikh, his advocate, this attack was predictable as there were tensions in Pakistan after the death of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. Why didn't the Pakistan Government took the appropriate measures to ensure his safety?
Sarabjit Singh had succumbed to the injuries of inhumanity and extreme nationalism. Why was he killed? Because he was an accused in a bomb blast or because he was an Indian prisoner whose life had become a source of political and nationalist tension in Pakistan? What had killed him?

Another sad reality is that his death has also re-awakened nationalist sentiments in India. The people of India, the Government and the media has suddenly reclaimed Sarabjit. They have made him a "martyr" not of injustice and inhumanity but of their war against Pakistan. His death has become another opportunity, a "fresh breach", as some media have claimed, in the Indo-Pak relations. The people of India are outraged at this "inhumanity" of Pakistan Government and the competition to prove who is more "inhuman" has begun. The competition has already claimed another life, that of Sanaullah Ranjay, a Pakistani prisoner in the Jammu jail. While some have condemned it, there are others who take it as a “mere reaction” and justify it by arguing that now “justice” has been served.

But now that Afzal Guru, Sarabjit Singh and Sanaullah have died, has our "collective conscience" been satisfied? Has justice been served? Have we “responded” satisfactorily to the inhumanity caused? With them, the human has died.

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