Before Mumbai terror attack accused, Qasab was put on trial, a portal held an opinion poll. Do terrorists like Qasab deserve a fair trial? The question evoked massive response. Thousands of persons participated in the poll. But shockingly only 38% held that Qasab had a right to a free and fair trial. This is how people in the largest democracy think in the age of internet. If this is what the people want; why not close down the courts? But can democracy flourish without a vibrant judiciary?
A comment posted by one Adesh reads: “Kasab was directly involved in attacks, unlike other terrorists. We have enough proofs against him. If we have finished with interrogations, we should hang him before another plane hijacking happens and we would have to release him and our politicians cannot use him for their dirty politics as it is happening with Afzal Guru.” (SIC)
Another comment by one Philip is equally important. He also suggests Qasab’s execution.
Yet another comment by Kapil makes an interesting read. “Not Kasab but all terrorists don’t deserve any trial. Once they are caught, they should be asked to run and they are to be killed by hitting stones and bullets. They also should know what life is.” (SIC)
Most of the participants do not recognize the universally accepted right to a free and fair trial. On the contrary they want the law enforcing agencies to execute the culprits without putting them on trial. Fascist mindset indeed. Fake encounters have become a phenomenon in Jammu and Kashmir. A carpenter from a south Kashmir village is picked up and eliminated in a fake encounter. A perfume dealer is taken into custody from Lal Chowk and executed near Ganderbal. A militant-turned-politician is picked up from his Rajbagh office and killed near Baba Demb area of down town Srinagar at midnight. A journalist working for a reputed international news agency is arrested and killed by the law enforcing agency. A lawyer of international repute is arrested and after a fortnight his body is fished out from river Jehlum. The list of victims is endless.
This is what has been happening in Kashmir. But fake encounters and custodial killings are not Greek to India. Panna Lal Yadav, a resident of Village Daulatiya, District in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, first by means of a telegram dated 19 October 1998, then through a longer complaint, alleged that his son Om Prakash and three others had been killed by the police in a fake encounter on 17th of October, 1998. The government ordered an enquiry and found 34 police men guilty. The Uttar Pradesh CID has sought sanction to prosecute the erring police men.
Not surprisingly, the victims in this case were not terrorists. They were ordinary citizens with no criminal record. The police, however, executed all of them for reward and promotions.
According to a report carried by a news portal, TwoCircles.net, the Delhi police killed two youth in a fake encounter for their alleged involvement with the Indian Mujahideen at Jamia Nagar. The police version reads: “It was around 10:30 am when the police reached House No. L-18, near Khalilullah Masjid in Batala House area under Jamia Nagar Police Station. They cordoned the house and the adjoining area and asked the residents of a flat on the fourth floor of the building. But in response firing started from the flat and the police responded in the same coin and two persons were killed.” However, the people in the neighbourhood have a different story to tell. “The operation started in the wee hours of Thursday and around 10 the encounter took place. They deny that there was any crossfire. They also deny there was any announcement by the police.”
The locals also refute the police claim that two suspects fled from the scene. They say it is impossible to escape from the fourth floor flat as it is attached with other buildings and the police had cordoned off the entire area.
And what happened at Ansal Plaza? A Delhi doctor, who witnessed the orchestrated encounter, had to go into hiding. He did not trust the police men who had been deputed to protect him at the instance of the National Human Rights Commission. Dr Krishna had claimed that he was in the underground parking lot of Ansal Plaza when the "unarmed" and "crippled" terrorists were gunned down by sleuths in civvies.
Noted columnist and veteran human rights defender, Kuldip Nayar, responded to the Ansal Plaza encounter in the following words. “In the fifties there was a poet in communist-ruled Hungary, who said: `We are living in cannibal times’. I was reminded of the observation the other day when an eyewitness said the Ansal Plaza shootout in Delhi was no encounter, but a straight murder of the two ill-fed men without arms. In one sense it is a sad commentary on the environs where people can be bumped off without trial”.
He further says: “I have come to be skeptical about encounters after reports from Kashmir and Punjab where innocent people have been bumped off by the hundred. Many cases, challenging the veracity of encounters, are pending before the courts and the National Human Rights Commission. In the name of eliminating the Naxalites, the Andhra Pradesh police have committed atrocities beyond words. In Guwahati, two people were recently killed outside the chief minister’s residence, and the story given out was that they were terrorists. In Ahmedabad, a person in police custody was killed. In Punjab, a person by the name of Kalra has not been produced in the Supreme Court even though a judge ordered his presence some eight years ago.”
The prosecution story cannot be and should not be accepted on the face of it. It has to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. The accused is presumed innocent unless the prosecution proves its case. India achieved freedom in 1947, but the vestiges of British colonialism are still there. In a free country especially when it claims to be the largest democracy, dissent should not be curbed. But the fascist legislators have been framing draconian legislations to crush dissent. These legislations shift the burden of proof on the accused. The poor accused is presumed guilty and has to prove his innocence. The results are obvious. Slowly, but surely the mindset also underwent a change. People, by and large, started thinking like fascists. However, the saner elements have always risen to the occasion. They have suggested measures like:
A. When the police officer in-charge of a police station receives information about the deaths in an encounter between the police party and others, he shall enter that information in the appropriate register.
B. The information as received shall be regarded as sufficient to suspect the commission of a cognizable offence and immediate steps should be taken to investigate the facts and circumstances leading to death to ascertain what, if any, offence was committed and by whom.
C. As the police officers belonging to the same police station are members of the encounter party, it is appropriate that the cases are made over for investigation to some other independent investigative agency, such as the State CID.
Guide lines have also been laid down by Supreme Court in DK Basu V/S State of West Bengal in 1997. This land mark ruling also reflects the concern of the apex court over growing fascism in India. Qasab is facing serious charges but nobody can deny him the right to free and fair hearing.
Author is a senior journalist and can be mailed at email@example.com