November 07, 2006


Tragedy and Statistics

The more I read about a few cases occupying large amount of media space, the more I believe in the following quote - "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."

The Mattoo case is now closed with the court awarding capital punishment to the guilty. The outcry on acquittal of the accused in Jessica Lall case has resulted in to re-opening the case. Now the nation is debating about how ethical it is for the top lawyer like Ram Jethmalani to defend the accused. There is huge list of celebrities and politicians asking clemency for Afazal Guru, whom the court found guilty in Parliament Attack case.

I am little disturbed by the decibel levels of these cases in media.

The media has already pronounced Manu Sharma guilty, which I believe he is, and would accept nothing less than gallows for him. Should it be left to news channels to decide the fate of Manu Sharma through SMS voting just like they do for the dance competitions? Well, what is the duty of courts, then? This clearly shows the shallowness of the media. Everybody believes that the court acquitted Manu Sharma as the law and justice machinery was subverted at every step - right from tampering with evidence, shoddy investigation to witness turning hostile. Why is there such a dearth of focus on these aspects of the case? How about going after the law enforcement agency which got away with murder? Why not concentrate on disease rather than a patient?

Afzal Guru's defenders include who's who like the ever-vociferous Arundhati Roy, Gulam Nabi Azad, and other politicians. Arundhati finds a taker for her verbose article which is nothing more than a mud-slinging exercise on the judiciary. Her diatribe sounds more like a revenge for the earlier punishment for contempt of court. In her infinite wisdom, Roy declares, so do other defenders of Afzal, that he didn't receive "a fair trial" which clearly is a poor excuse as the same court has gave "not-guilty" verdict for other accused in the case. Farooq Abdullah goes a step further and says nation will go up in flames.

I don't have any problems as such with issues being debated. But, then are these the only issues where questions of life and justice rise?

In the days of media not losing a single opportunity of being self-righteous about human life, the gruesome killing of 35 hindus in Doda hardly gets any attention.
"Media reports indicated that militants had surrounded the two hamlets around 11 p.m. The men in the village were ordered to assemble at the home of Gopi Chand, a revenue official as well as the village headman. The militants then lined up the victims and fired on them with assault rifles from point-blank range. The militants continued to fire until their ammunition was exhausted."
Why do I always find NHRC standing up against police for meting out ill-treatment to criminals? Why not in this case? Of course, nothing new here. It has been happening for years. This event (not "news"as it's not "new") is just another part of the statistics to be collected over the years. This is not just terrorism. It is systematic ethnic cleansing. Need to be talked in the same breath as pogrom of Gujarat and '84 riots, the victims of which are yet to receive justice.

Take the example of Mumbai suburban local trains. In last four years, some 10,000 people died on the railway tracks.

Or Maharashtra's highways which has claimed more than than 10,000 lives last year. Just Maharashtra.

And more than 5,000 dowry deaths per year.

What about all those girls who are killed even before they are born?

And more than 1000 kids dying of Japanese encephalitis, for which vaccine is available in the market? Mulayam's negligence was criminal in nature.

And Naxal movement hitting one-third of the country, killing hundreds every year. People have taken the arms to defend right to life when toothless Govt couldn't do anything.

1000 farmers committing suicide in Vidarbha in last 18 months, which continued unabated proving PM's help utterly inadequate.

Sadly, all these are just statistics. To be quoted in erudite studies and TV talk shows. All they generate is sympathy and not outrage. May be we need pictures, however gory, of those blood-stained bodies to make us realize that it is blood, and not water, running in our veins. To unravel the truth behind all these numbers and put a face on it requires painstaking efforts which the media is not ready undertake.

Gallows for Afzal - Collective Conscience or Ignorance:

In the sensational 13 Dec 2001, Parliament of India attack case, the issue of death sentence for Mohammed Afzal Guru should be analyzed within the boundaries of the existing law and not on the basis of so called collective conscience.

The evidence of conspiracy against Afzal stands on his own testimony- he confessed that he brought one of the 5 men involved in the attack from Srinagar to Delhi and helped him buy a used car and on the recovery of explosives from his house, and most crucially, on records of cellphone calls to the five. But the evidence is open to doubt. The explosives recovery record is not watertight. The police couldn't explain why they broke into his house during his absence while he was in jail - when the landlord had the key.

The cellphone record traced several calls from the five men to number 98114-89429. The police allegedly impounded the instrument from Afzal while arresting him in Srinagar. The instrument had no SIM card. So the only identity mark was its IMEI number, unique to each instrument.

There are only two ways to find this tell-tale number: open the instrument, or dial a code and have the number displayed. But the officer who wrote the recovery memo said on oath that he neither opened nor operated the instrument. Besides, the testimonies regarding the date of purchase of the phone with a new SIM card ( December 4, 2001 ) and its first recorded operation ( November 6, 2001 ) don't match. The benefit of doubt heavily weighs in favor of Afzal.

Afzal's conviction and sentencing violates cardinal principles of natural justice on the following 3 grounds:

Firstly, the charge-sheet was against 12 persons. The masterminds were Azhar, Tariq Ahmed and Ghazi Baba. It is significant to note that they are Pakistanis. They have neither been arrested nor have they been tried. If Pakistan extradites them, then they shall escape the gallows. The Parliament was attacked de facto by 5 Pakistanis. They were responsible for the death of 9 members of the security forces. Afzal did not cause anyone's death, he did not injure anyone. He did not mastermind the attack. The Apex court of India has observed that there is no direct evidence of his involvement.

Secondly, all the courts, including the Apex Court have acquitted him of the charges under Prevention of Terrorism Act ( POTA ) of belonging to any terrorist organisation.

Thirdly, Afzal was denied a fair trial. The investigation was illegal. The courts noted that evidence was fabricated and he never had a lawyer who represented him. The Judge passed an order giving Afzal the right to cross-examine witnesses but it is a herculean task, even for a person with legal training but devoid of knowledge of criminal law. The provisions of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR ) have been grossly disregarded.

The Apex Court has held that, "the incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender."

Collective conscience of a society whose members are probably unaware of the fact that Afzal a former Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front ( JKLF ) man had surrendered and convinced others also to surrender.

Collective conscience of a society, some of whose members allegedly attacked Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani's office when he offered to defend Afzal. Its a pity that Afzal did not have the benefit of ace defence counsel Ram Jethmalani who would have torn the prosecution case apart and made the difference between life and death for Afzal.

Collective conscience of a society, more than half of whose members, still do not know that Afzal is acquitted of all charges under the POTA.

Collective conscience of a society which is still unaware of the fact that the dependents of victims of the attack have not yet been rehabilitated properly.

Which ever way you look at it, its not collective conscience but collective ignorance.
sadly it has never been more true... one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic!
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