Monday, October 02, 2006

You can't be good to evil (October 1, 2006)

Swapan Dasgupta

This is the time of the year when India celebrates the triumph of good over evil, of dharma over adharma. In the east, we commemorate the homecoming of the Goddess Durga, the personification of shakti and the divine force which was created to slay the demon Mahishasura. In other parts of India, the triumph of Ram over Ravana is observed with the ceremonial burning of effigies.

The celebrations assume different forms. In Gujarat, there is boisterous dancing through the night. In Bengal, there is feasting and revelry. In the North, the pre-Dussehra restraint is followed by an uninterrupted bout of over-indulgence culminating in Diwali - the day of Ram's triumphant return to Ayodhya.

It is, therefore, ironic that this should also be the time the country is confronted with a disagreeable demand aimed at puncturing our sense of dharma. Under the expedient guise of forgiveness and compassion, there is an insidious attempt to taunt India and the Indian way of life.

The reference is, of course, to the orchestrated outcry against the death sentence handed out to Afzal Guru, the jihadi from Sopore, convicted for his role in the attack on Parliament in 2001.
It would be understandable if the objections came from those who have ethical problems with capital punishment. The belief that no man has the right to take another man's life is grounded in the noblest standards of human conduct.

However, faith in ahimsa also constitutes an indictment of a jihad which is prefaced on the merciless killing of the enemy. Equating murder with judicial punishment implies that every belief should be treated on par.

Few of those who have taken up cudgels for the unrepentant Afzal are either Gandhians or pacifists. For the pragmatic Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the street demonstrations against Afzal's sentence are an additional headache he could do without.

For the CPI(M), the indulgence towards Afzal is an aspect of the emerging global alliance between Red and Green. And for the Congress, which has made moral relativism its new leitmotif, it is all a question of Muslim votes. In its ambivalence on Afzal, the party is nervously anticipating a similar furore if death sentences are handed out to any of those found guilty in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case.

To be fair, neither Ghulam Nabi Azad nor the one-man CPI(M) in Jammu and Kashmir are pro-active in demanding clemency for Afzal. They are at best responding to an issue that has been seized upon by all the separatist groups and their controllers across the border to hit the Indian State hard.

Why is the Afzal issue important to those who want Kashmir to be a part of our neighbouring Islamic republic? First, a Presidential order commuting Afzal's death sentence to life imprisonment will not be seen as the triumph of Gandhian values over judicial retribution.
It will be seen as the Indian state's capitulation before organised pressure. India, in other words, will be seen to lack the political and moral backbone to uphold its own laws.

Second, if one of the main conspirators in the attack on Parliament - an incident that nearly triggered an Indo-Pakistan war - is allowed to subvert the due process of law, it will be tantamount to suggesting that jihadi crimes will be judged by a different yardstick.
By passing a unanimous resolution calling for one of the main accused in the 1998 Coimbatore blasts case to be set free, the Kerala Assembly has trod a dangerous path and Afzal's reprieve is another step in the long march to capitulation.

It is not very pleasant to acquiesce in capital punishment. However, there are crimes which call for the severest punishment because the perpetrators are unwilling to subject themselves to the same moral codes that determine civilised existence.

The jihadis crossed the lakshman rekha long ago. A show of indulgence towards them is akin to suggesting that there are no boundaries which govern right and wrong. If that is so, why should we bother with Durga Puja and Dussehra?

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, October 1, 2006)

1 comment:

Moderator said...

Hi, we're a college reading group in Hawaii. We're finishing "Decolonising the Mind" and starting Guha's "History at the limit of World-History." I'd like to invite you to check out our blog and post comments, etc.

I like your blog and we seem to be interested in some of the same things.