Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rajiv's Assassins : Justice Delayed, Justice Served and Justice Forgotten.

It is unconscionable that a death row convict has to wait for a decade, with his life hanging by a thread, to learn whether or not he would die or live. That is barbarism. The convict may be guilty of a barbarous crime but it does not behoove any nation that seeks to think of itself as a land with laws and humanitarianism. Even the most despicable death row convict is deserves to have a 'clean' death. Not a tortured death. Nothing is greater torture than to keep in suspense a convict's fate. India's Supreme Court, the one remaining institution of some semblance of competence in India, has delivered a landmark judgment in telling India's government that they owe it to death row convicts to ensure a speedy response for mercy petitions. Kudos to Justice Sathasivam and team.

Bringing Rajiv's assassins to justice is less important than justice being done for all and for all time to come. The Indian state is very cavalier in its attitudes towards human lives and the Supreme court has now ensured that this pernicious and barbarian attitude of sleeping over mercy petitions will come to an end.

Indian laws do not envisage life imprisonment as 'true life imprisonment' unlike, say, US laws where convicts can be sent to jail with no hope of parole or getting out alive. Some deserve that punishment. I do not subscribe to characterizing judicial punishments exclusively as 'opportunities for reform'. Sure such an opportunity should exist but there are crimes where judgments can only be punishments.   It is not my wish to see Rajiv's killers, especially Murugan, who was intrinsic to the heinous plot, to be freed but the paramountcy of law and legal precedence is far more important. The three killers along with the other four should be released post-haste. This humiliating episode should make the Indian state realize thus far and no further.

However, I do not subscribe to cheering the convicts as 'innocents'. They've been pronounced guilty, repeatedly, by all courts including the now much loved Supreme Court. The officer who recorded Perarivalan's confession statement gave a bombshell interview saying that he left out a key sentence in recording the confession. The officer said he omitted recording that Perarivalan did not know that Rajiv was the intended target of the bomb attack for which he had procured the batteries for. Yes, his ignorance of intended target may have indeed spared him the gallows. That said it is sheer propaganda to claim that the officer exonerated Perarivalan.

Photo Courtesy: The Hindu. From L to R - Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan.
Alongwith Rajiv several others died. Several were policemen of very low ranks. Son of one such policemen had posted a comment, in a vernacular magazine, recounting how his family ran from one hospital to another looking for his father only to find him later as a mangled corpse riddled with projectiles and torn apart. In the melee that ensued everyone was only worried about Rajiv and the aftermath of his assassination. Congressmen who today lament about the other victims did not bother about them until today when such victims are convenient bogies for sympathy.

Mrs Arputham, now many call her venerably Arputhammal, as mother waged an unrelenting struggle against the mammoth and inhuman state. That Perarivalan is today spared from the gallows is greatly due to her herculean efforts. In her own interview while claiming that her son was innocent she does concede that their family, like many other Tamil families she says, helped LTTE. Thats a partial truth with dangerous self-blindness. Out of the millions of families maybe a few hundred families actively involved themselves with the LTTE. Their family, thanks to its association with DK, was actively involved with helping LTTE. Nalini's brother, Mrs Arputham says, accosted her son. Even if one were to agree that Perarivalan did not know about Rajiv as target the 19 year old adult should've realized that he is being accomplice to a possible murder. As such, it is shameful to make a mother's grief as witness to a son's ignorance.

Another pornography of grief is propagandizing a pleading letter by the daughter of Nalini and Murugan. I feel sorry for her. I do. But sorry does not put Humpty Dumpty back. Her parents were part of an assassination plot that, incidentally, murdered 14 others. Many of the other victims were sole breadwinners for their families and their families were plunged into penury where as a sympathetic Sri Lankan diaspora sheltered Nalini's daughter and brought her up in London. I've written before that India should not have bothered about the dilemma of the state creating an orphan by executing Nalini and Murugan. The state would not have orphaned their child. Nalini and Murugan orphaned their daughter by indulging in a crime as a couple. The case of US executing Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is pertinent to recall here.

A very perverted argument in this discussion of Rajiv's killing is the angle of IPKF. Mrs Arputham talking to Hindu said "How can we justify Rajiv's approach to Eelam. How many Tamils were killed by IPKF? How many women were raped by IPKF?". I've heard many say "well Rajiv deserved it". Nothing is more vulgar and unjust. Such people make it appear as if Rajiv Gandhi sent the Indian army with an express mission to kill and rape Tamils. Rajiv, with all his faults, was no Pol Pot. Jeyawardane ensnared, amateur politician and overnight PM, Rajiv, in a civil war. Prabhakaran, as he would time and again, broke the truce launching a war against the Indian army.

Yes, there were incidents of IPKF raping women. Even today Indian army has that stigma in peace keeping forces in Africa. However Mrs Arputham and millions of Tamils conveniently forget that IPKF too suffered heavily due to guerrilla tactics of LTTE. When a military officer visited my school in 1988 several of us asked about this rape incident. He, by what appears in hindsight now as nonchalantly, said "there are biological reasons". But he added a less spoken truth too. He said IPKF would avoid frisking young girls, many children actually, but the same girls would cross a checkpoint and pull out a grenade from within their skirts and toss it. IPKF was also not given a free hand in crushing the enemy. They had to fight with one hand tied behind their back. Indian army suffered large casualties due to muddled policy making in Delhi.

In media we do not often hear from two sides. Tamil media in a jingoistic overdrive is giving a megaphone only to Mrs Arputham. We seldom hear from the then investigating officers or army leaders of IPKF.

North Indians are aghast that Tamils might be celebrating the release of three assassins. Thats unfair and short on memory. Gandhi's assassins are worshipped by quite a number of people. Indira's assassins were mourned and celebrated in Gurdwara's across Punjab. It is despicable but thats the reality. And lets not forget that murderers of thousands of Sikhs sat in ministries. One man's terrorist is, sadly, another man's freedom fighter.

Tamils who accuse the rest of India of not caring for their concerns are being unfair. How many Tamils cared for Simranjit Singh Mann who was held in prison for 4 years in connection with Indira's assassination and later acquitted. How many Tamils even know about the case of the 'Jodhpur Detenus'. After Operation Bluestar nearly 365 Punjabis were arrested and were collectively referred to as 'Jodhpur detenus'. Many, without any justification, were incarcerated for nearly 4 years. How many Tamils even know that K.P.S. Gill became the fabled Super Cop thanks to the mass graves that he helped populate? Interestingly S.S.Mann told Rediff in a 1999 interview that Rajiv's assassins should be pardoned. India is a land of 'million mutinies' with communities rarely being emotionally unified on an pan-Indian level.

As always the ever irrepressible Jeyamohan waded into the this issue with a lengthy blog at the end of which he facetiously professed ignorance about state craft and political science. He need not have added that disclaimer the blog was evidence of his near total lack of knowledge in the topic.

Jeyamohan glorifies the LTTE assassination as if it was some ideological political reaction to the prevailing ideology, albeit, a violent one. Then he attribute to Nehru what was originally a Jeffersonian thought, that a truly democratic form of government should allow subversive protests even if it meant overthrow of an existing governing system. This is wrong on two levels.

First, Nehru, shaped by Gandhian freedom movement with pan-Indian nationalism as its bedrock, was dismissive of separatist movements. Nehru was extremely intolerant of any separatism, including non-violent ones. He would ridicule the Dravidian party clamor for separatism, with some justification but not wholly, as 'nonsense'. He would not hesitate to not just arrest his friend Sheikh Abdullah but exile him to far away Tamil Nadu too. Nehru, incidentally, was an admirer of Stalin and Lenin. The Indian state has always crushed with an iron hand any and every separatist movements. From Naxalbari to Punjab to Kashmir India has time and again showed that it is not a soft state.

Second, Prabhakaran was not espousing any alternate ideology or form of government. Rajiv's killing was a politically motivated targeted assassination with no qualms of conscience about collateral damage. The suicide bomber was clothed in deadly bombs enough to kill more than one. Prabhakaran wanted to ensure that Rajiv was killed no matter how many others were killed along with him. Prabhakaran would repeat the Rajiv style assassination two years later to kill Ranasinghe Premadasa. To honor acts of cold blooded murder as quest for alternate ideology only shows that Jeyamohan needs to stick with what he knows best and refrain from topics he knows nothing of.

I support the death penalty because some crimes are so heinous that the perpetrators, by committing those, forfeit their right to live. The Delhi rapists, Timothy McVeigh, Ajmal Kasab, all deserved to die. It is silly, as Jeyamohan does, to tie necessity of death sentence to lack of adequate police. In fact if the police-population ratio is very low it is all the more reason to scrap death sentence because the crime may not have been investigated properly.

Amidst the Modi wave thats sweeping the country a word thats often tossed is 'pseudo-sceularism'. Coined by Advani it refers to what Hindus call as preferential treatment of Muslims in the name of secularism. Muslims like Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru have been executed without much delay unlike Hindu killers like the Rajiv assassins or Naxal leaders (as listed by Jeyamohan himself).

Jeyamohan bares his Hindutva self when he argues that Islamic terrorism, which has international support, should not be spared. He even calls for expedited justice so that no fantastic attempts, like a flight hijacking, take place to trade hostages. By citing an exceptional one time fact Jeyamohan calls for tribal justice against Muslims. India executed Afzal Guru without even intimating his family despite an entire state being on the edge of violence. How many flight hijackings took place to release him. The Muslim terrorists at least only hijacked a flight Khalistan terrorists blew up an entire aircraft killing hundreds of Indians and today we have a Sikh Prime Minister. Some pseudo secularism this. Lets not forest brigand and murderer Veerappan taking an erstwhile matinee idol as hostage and demanding the release of his acolytes in prison who were accused of murdering a police official. In fact many Muslims have been arrested without any shred of evidence and held in prisons. What can Jeyamohan tell them? By the way Punjab separatism too had its supporters from outside. What about LTTE that had a robust international network to lobby and raise funds? Save your outrage Jeyamohan.

I've an overriding concern with the Supreme Court judgment though. Now I don't want subsequent mercy petitions to be disposed of hastily and petitioners executed hurriedly to avoid being seen as lethargic. The Supreme Court should lay down rules for transparency in the mercy petition process and hold subsequent governments to account.

The one part of Mrs Arputham's crusade to free to her son that is really honorable and a signal service for families of other convicts is the attention she has brought to how inhuman the Indian prison system is. Mrs Arputham was subject to cruel humiliation, including, once, being asked to use a toilet without closing the door, for her attempts to see her son in prison. The Supreme Court should duo motto take up that issue and put an end to such travails. The mark of a civilized society is one in which even a murder convict can claim human rights.

A bitter mother who is few steps away from complete victory Mrs Arputham minced no words about Karunanidhi and Veeramani, two of Tamil Nadu's most duplicitous self styled custodians of Tamil interests. She labeled them aptly as turncoats. Poor Mrs Arputham had to undergo such himalayan personal travails to know their true colors.

The seven convicts may see justice served, though delayed. But, with a heavy heart, we need to remember that Rajiv and the remaining victims will not get their justice.

My earlier blogs on this issue:

1. The Rajiv Killers and the Death Penalty Debate http://contrarianworld.blogspot.com/2011/08/rajiv-killers-and-death-penalty-debate.html

2. Jethmalani's Travesty and Hypocrisies Galore in Tamil Nadu http://contrarianworld.blogspot.com/2011/08/jethmalanis-travesty-and-hypocrisies.html

Other References.

1. Mrs Arputham's interview to Tamil Hindu - http://tamil.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/ராஜீவ்-கொலை-பெரிய-தப்பு-அற்புதம்-அம்மாள்-நேர்காணல்/article5723757.ece
2. 40 of Jodhpur Detenus release - Article from India Today - http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/while-40-jodhpur-detenus-are-released-long-wait-continues-for-the-rest/1/329192.html
3. Jodhpur Detenus and withdrawal of draconian laws - Article in India Today - http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/release-of-jodhpur-detenus-withdrawal-of-draconian-laws-step-in-the-right-direction-taken-in-punjab/1/323257.html
4. S.S. Mann's interview in Rediff - Mentions clemency for Rajiv's assassins - http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/release-of-jodhpur-detenus-withdrawal-of-draconian-laws-step-in-the-right-direction-taken-in-punjab/1/323257.html
4. Jeyamohan's article on 7 assassins http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=46899

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