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Mainstream, VOL L, No 49, November 24, 2012

Why Hanging Kasab Did Not Make Anyone Feel Any Safer

Saturday 1 December 2012, by Nandita Haksar

There was a time when I felt so proud to be an Indian. I was proud of India’s achievements, especially of our stand in the international field. We were the champions of the Non-Aligned Movement, we took a firm stand on the Palestinian problem in support of Palestinians and my passport had a stamp which forbade me from travelling to Zionist Israel and racist South Africa.

Now I feel deeply disturbed, sad and ashamed of nearly everything India says, does and stands for. Like today (November 21) the celebration on the hanging of a young Pakistani man. And within minutes of the news many Indians were baying like wolves for more hangings; this time of a Kashmiri man kept in the death cell for more than six years.

And this celebration is just after the national mourning over the death of Bal Thackeray, the Hindu fascist leader. Yes, even fascists can be witty, talented and nationalist.

What have we achieved by the hanging of Kasab? We have shown the terrorists that we are a strong nation and capable of taking decisive steps. Well, Pakistan can also show it is even stronger and they can hang Sarabjit Singh and then we can show our political will to fight terrorism by hanging Afzal Guru; then the Kashmiris will have another martyr. The Taliban has already reacted against the hanging Kasab and condemned the killing of a Muslim on Indian soil.

The question is surely not of showing who is stronger. The Americans have already shown their raw strength and they have lost all their battles: in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

If we had used the trial of Kasab to expose the politics of Salafist ideology and organisation; if we had used the trial of Afzal Guru to expose how Kashmiris feel led down by Pakistan which has betrayed them; if we could show our people that neither Afzal nor Kasab is the problem but just the reflection of how the youth is used by these organisations, we would have won international (remember the USA and the West is only a tiny part of the world) and national applause for being a truly just and humane country.

Since the 1990s the media has built a portrait of the Muslims, especially those from Pakistan, as demons. The Bollywood has played a major role and has never apologised for its contribution to demonising 150 million citizens of India. The most prominent of the Bollywood actors showed his political affiliations at the funeral of Bal Thackeray and his open support for his fascist party.

The electronic media has also played a similar role from time to time. They do not allow alternative voices to speak and when they do it is only to insult or humiliate them on national television.

I had not realised how terribly intolerant India had become till I published my book, Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in Time of Terrorism. No bookshop would keep the book; even our corner bookshop said they could not keep it because some people threatened them. Major newspapers would not review but in Pakistan Dawn voted it as the best book of the year. In London, a Kashmiri writer was warned by the Pakistan intelligence not to praise the book.

All I was saying in the book was that we have to understand why 150 million Muslim citizens of India, and especially the Kashmiris, feel unsafe in their country. I said we need to understand the growing Islamophobia in a country which celebrates its composite culture and freedom of religions. All I said was that by not providing justice to people accused of terrorist acts, our judicial process and the investigating agencies get corrupted.

No one noticed that in one of the first debates over hanging Afzal over Headlines Today, both Mr B. Raman and I said he should not be hanged because of the political consequences for India.

And now those predictions have come true. Two girls are arrested for tweeting and those who vandalise a medical clinic are not arrested till there is a hue and cry.
Earlier when some Muslim organisations held a rally in Mumbai to protest against the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, those who were involved in making inflammatory speeches and arson were not arrested even though they had been caught on the CCTVs; but ordinary Muslims who were not even at the rally were arrested and jailed.

Our human rights movement has itself has been divided along communal lines with Muslim human rights groups taking up Muslim issues: whether it is a protest against Aung San Suu Kyi or documenting cases of injustice against Muslim undertrial prisoners or demonstrating outside the Israeli Embassy against the bombing of Gaza.

The fight for justice for Afzal and mercy for Kasab is not about Muslims but about demo-cracy in India. We have achieved very little by hanging Kasab; and lost a lot more. We have lost a chance to have an understanding of why young men from India and Pakistan are joining the Salafist armed groups, what are the factors that are driving young Muslim men into taking up arms even in democratic countries, and why many of these men are from educated and well-off families.

Even the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attack said that although Kasab was dead, they did not feel safe against future attacks.

Americans are not going to save us from our neighbours and our own fellow citizens who are feeling increasingly angry and disturbed by the way the Indian state and even the civil society is turning slowly but surely into a Hindu fascist state.

Will the victims of the Mumbai attack and all the other bomb blasts feel safe only in fascist India? I doubt it. So, once again I ask: when are we going to have a national debate on a vision for a future India where death penalty and armed violence are not the only ways to express our patriotism? Is this a ridiculous dream of a ridiculous old woman?

The author is a human rights lawyer and writer.

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