Sunday 25 November 2012

Time to set up tribunals for mass terror attacks (Sunday Guardian)

MNS members celebrate the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, near CST station in Mumbai on 21 November. PTI.
resident Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde have done what their immediate predecessors failed to do, which was to implement the death sentence awarded to Amir Ajmal Kasab, an auxiliary of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This columnist is in favour of the repeal of the death penalty, except in cases of mass terror attacks. Those perpetrating such deeds need to have their lives extinguished before they can take away dozens more innocents. Thanks to Tukaram Omble, it was possible to capture alive one of the ISI's men as he swept across south Mumbai spraying bullets at passers-by. Given the certainty of guilt in Kasab's case, it is a reflection of the glacial pace of the legal system in India that it took four years before his life was taken away in retaliation for the mass terror deaths caused by him. Of course, four years constitutes lightning speed in India, a country where lawyers pass on cases to their children and grandchildren while clients limp towards insolvency.
After news of the hanging broke, an army of voices gasped their dismay on television screens. Delhi is a city of embassies, and for several of the well-known faces within India's own Beltway (or Raisina way), there can be nothing more satisfying than to be lionised at such gatherings by those whose job it is to mouth insincere remarks for the sake of their country and its interests. In the 1990s, those most welcome in embassies, which were known for excellent wine and company, were people who professed to be aghast at India's effrontery in not handing over Kashmir to the jihadi groups seeking to convert it into another Talibanised state. Those who saw the preservation of territorial integrity as important earned the displeasure of diplomats from the European Union, the United States, China, the Gulf Co-operation Council and Japan (all of whom opined that India should make sacrifices that they would be horrified were their own governments to follow). BBC, CNN and other channels competed with each other to lionise the "freedom fighters" of Kashmir, an affectation that 9/11 did much to cure them off. Those saying that Kasab should have been spared, perhaps be given citizenship in recognition of his presumed repentance, are the ones feted at embassy parties these days.
The “no to the death penalty” crowd would carry more conviction if they expressed a similar concern about the dozens of lives being lost each month in cities across India because of dengue.
The "no to the death penalty" crowd would carry more conviction if they expressed a similar concern about the dozens of lives being lost each month in cities across India because of dengue. Or of the millions of infants who die without seeing their first birthday, because of the abysmal condition of ante-natal care in a country so professedly dedicated to the welfare of the "Aam Aadmi". However, on such deaths they are silent, for mentioning them does not get an attractive tinkle of appreciative attention from the charming young things who attach themselves to ageing editors and politicians at such get-togethers. While talking of the Kasab hanging makes a balding, middle-aged official the object of "huggy puggy" SMS darts from pert beauties, brooding over malaria fails to excite a similar response.
However, even for the overwhelming majority of citizens happy at the Kasab hanging, rather than wallow in self-satisfaction, what is needed is for some Anna Hazare clone to come forward and demand the setting up of Special Tribunals to try cases where mass terror attacks are involved. These ought to be manned not only by judges but by security experts as well as a sprinkling of the general public. They ought to be given time-bound procedures, without the right of appeal to the broader judicial system. After all, surely the prevention of terror attacks is as important as boosting tax collections. If there can be tax tribunals, why not terror tribunals?

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