I love India. I hate many things about it. I cannot stand its poverty, illiteracy, corruption, and often, impotence. But I think what makes me bristle is its celebration of death, when cloaked in the gaberdine of retribution. Ajmal Kasab, a labourer from Faridkot, was hanged on the morning of November 21 and India celebrated.
He was ‘jhatka’ meat. ‘Operation X’ (the evocative codename for the macabre process of getting him to the gallows with the least fuss) was clean, efficient and secretive. There were no sly YouTube videos, even the prime minister didn’t know. The judicial proceedings — I read them with interest — were almost flawlessly fair. Then, it came down to the mercy of the highest authority in the land on such matters — the president. And the heavy, invisible will of that strange entity called “the people”.
I do not like “the people”. There are many of them. They rejoiced, gloated, when news of the hanging came in. I report on a murder trial in India on a regular basis — one that has the possibility of a similar result. On my way to court, I heard the radio — a jockey cracked a joke about the hanging; a young reporter with a mock under-teen delivery asked the hangman “how he felt”. Television took the story forward: why not use the “momentum” (!) to also hang Afzal Guru for the parliament attack case?
The media is part of “the people” and the people are everywhere. In Pune, where Kasab was shifted for the specific purpose of his execution, diabetics gorged on distributed sweets. In south Mumbai, an effigy with a noose attached was installed with the kind of love and loathing only necrophiliacs can feel — a few realistic details might have been missing, like the fact that a man who is hanged usually shits his pants (Kasab’s post-mortem said he had defecated). But that’s a matter of detail.
Relatives of the 166 victims who this mindless villager helped kill, have the right to visceral emotions — nobody who isn’t their kin would understand their loss. The celebrations made it emphatically clear that “the people” didn’t.
A few days before Kasab met his maker, a Mumbai icon died a natural death. The mourning around Bal Thackeray’s passing had state ceremony written all over it, but the people reacted too. Close to two million turned up. Thackeray had overseen and fuelled the division of Bombay like no one before him. Along the way, as in the riots after the bomb blasts of 1993, several times more people died than on 26/11. But a few words protesting the shutdown of Bombay after a matter as certain as death at a ripe old age, incurred the wrath of “the people”, and, sadly, the state. A ‘Facebooker’ was arrested, her relatives terrorised. “The people” did this.
I love India. I do not like “the people”.
Why is it that I do not like them? I dislike them not as much for their penchant for “collective punishment” as my friend and fellow columnist Aakar Patel puts it; I dislike them for their collective ignorance and their lack of reason. Common people, for me, must first of all have common sense.
The notion that the death penalty deters fidayeen is absurd. These individuals are dreaming of Heaven. It is the place they want to be transported to. Before they hang, they say thank you — or laugh, as Kasab did. The suicide mission man takes the death penalty out of the equation — you may feel good about executing him, but he feels better.
Is it justice we are talking about when we discuss Kasab? Or is it retribution? I’d say neither. In the end, the process is a fairly cynical one. I didn’t use the word ‘jhatka’ loosely early on in this piece. Kasab — and hundreds of people like him — are no more than cattle for the jihad factories that operate out of our dangerous little neighbourhood. He is expendable, and as a bonus, actually sold for a good price for his masters. For those who executed him, he is a chip on the negotiating table. It could be that a possibly innocent, but completely disposable life like that of Sarabjeet Singh, the Indian against whom the accusations, if not the evidence, are similar to Kasab’s, has just been lost.
“The people” don’t think about these things. I do not like them.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2012.
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