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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2613

‘Liberals’ Vs Judiciary

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

All it takes to establish one’s ‘liberal’ credentials is denouncing the death sentence passed on a ‘high profile’ defendant (‘criminal’ for many). At leas that is the impression one gathers after listening to the rising crescendo of criticism against the death penalty for Afzal Guru who masterminded the attack on Parliament in December 2001, and advocate Santosh Yadav, who was found guilty of first stalking and eventually killing a young woman, Priyadarshini Mattoo.

Even events outside India are good enough for a testimonial of liberalism: decry with all the ‘liberal’ rhetoric and slogans the death sentence on Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator who was ousted by American forces. That, presumably, is the natural corollary to the denunciation of US invasion of Iraq.

That the death sentence looks like an anachronism to great many people in today’s world is a separate issue. What we see in most ‘high profile’ criminal cases is that the ‘liberals’ launch a veiled, some might say a direct, assault on the verdict given by the judiciary appointed under the due process of law, and a clear contempt for those who might concur with the judicial verdict.

Take the Afzal Guru case. Those who want him set free include well-known public figures—politicians, lawyers, social activists and so on. What irks this class is that in its opinion the trial was unfair and Guru does not deserve to be hanged because he never pulled the trigger on any of the security staff who had laid down their lives in defence of Parliament house that symbolises India’s democracy. The unfairness of the trial, it would appear, stems from the fact that Guru did not have someone like, say, Ram Jethmalani defending him. The competence of the lower court that tried him first is also questionable in the opinion of the ‘liberals’.

Anyone who knows anything about the Pakistan-backed terrorists operating in Kashmir and elsewhere in India will know very well that shortage of cash is not a problem with them at all. If the quality of defence in Guru’s case was poor the blame must go to Guru and his friends in India and outside who are now rushing to save him from the gallows but were not ready to spend on hiring an ‘expensive’ lawyer. Any story about Guru’s family facing penury because of his sentence is just a lot of hogwash because a particular agency across the border is known to take good care of those who participate in ‘freedom struggle’ in Kashmir.

As for the competence of the judges, who had tried Guru, is it the contention of the ‘liberals’ that even the Supreme Court judges in India are not competent because they failed to upturn the trial court’s verdict? Agreed the law as also the government policies should not be dictated by popular opinion. But before that yardstick is used specifically in the case of the judgement against Guru, certain matters have also to be weighed in.

First of all, according to media reports Guru has never and is not willing to express any remorse for acts of terrorism in Kashmir or the attack on parliament; nor does he commiserate with the family of those killed by the Pakistani assassins who had stormed the parliament building as planned by him. If anything, he seems to exult in acts of killings, justifying them as necessary for attaining ‘freedom’. Does it not suggest very clearly that should he be freed he will have no hesitation in planning another attack of the type India witnessed nearly three years ago? Mind you, the attack on parliament had nearly brought India and Pakistan on the brink of a (nuclear?) war.

To defend those who laid down their lives in fighting the terrorists attack on parliament is perhaps seen by the ‘liberals’ as nothing but a dated notion about patriotism. And, of course, the ‘liberals’ scoff at the classic definition of patriotism. If the virus of this kind of ‘liberalism’ infects the security forces, the consequences would be disastrous for all, including the pusillanimous five-star ‘liberals’ in this country of one billion plus.

The Priyadarshini Mattoo case has gone through amazing twists and turns—as is another famous case relating to the murder of model Jessica Lal. The magistrate in the lower court was sure about the murder of Priyadarshini but did not give him any punishment for lack of sufficient evidence! If the higher court does so on the basis of the same evidence it is denounced as travesty of judgement; that is after the media has been berated heartily for public trial of the accused and also for trying to influence the judiciary. These arguments have begun to sound a little stale, having been touted constantly and vociferously after the Guru case verdict.

The media is damned if it does not take up such cases and also damned when it does. The media will be grossly failing in its duty if it decided to ignore the tide of public opinion on certain issues. The argument that there are thousands of issues that greatly agitate large sections but the media is able to highlight only a few of them cannot be used to shut out media coverage of a particular event.

The reaction to the Saddam Hussein verdict has come from the expected sections. While many Muslims have taken a sectarian view of the death sentence—one section hailing it while the other running it down, the reaction of some of the political classes has been strange, to say the least. Some opposition parties, for instance, want India not only to criticise the death sentence on Saddam Hussein in clear terms but have also asked the government to take steps to ‘undo’ the punishment awarded to the former Iraqi strongman. They have conveniently overlooked the fact that such a thing would amount to interference in the internal affairs of another country. How can India tell Baghdad about how to constitute a court for Saddam Hussein trial or whether he should be or should not be punished?

The court that tried Saddam Hussein might be flawed as also the entire prosecution, but rejection of the verdict against him at this stage smacks of a move in the direction of exonerating him for his horrendous crimes against his own people—and neighbours. If it has been established that there were large-scale murders in the name of revenge acts against certain Iraqis suspected of supporting those who allegedly tried to assassinate the Iraqi president then surely Saddam Hussein deserves a serious punishment. Had he been given the same (death) sentence by an international court there is no doubt that the charge then would have been that Saddam Hussein did not get ‘justice’ as he was tried by foreigners and on foreign soil. A case of heads I win tail you lose.

Ultimately, the question in all of the three cases mentioned above boils down to this: Was nobody responsible for these crimes; what should be the fate of a person when it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt or admitted by the accused himself that he had committed a serious offence like masterminding or participating in acts of terrorism or murdered a woman after raping her or ordered genocide? Should he (or she) be allowed to walk free as that alone would be in consonance with the spirit of freedom and democracy?

- Syndicate Features -

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