Italy’s refusal to send its marines to India to stand trial smacks of racial arrogance.

The Italian marines facing trial for the murder of Indian fishermen won’t return to India, thanks to Italy’s nasty somersault. The Italian ambassador, who stood personal guarantee to the Supreme Court for bringing them back, himself informed the Indian Government that the marines “will not return at the end of their home leave”. This crucial decision was taken by Italy’s defence and justice ministries after consulting the Prime Minister’s office.What could probably lie beneath the hard-lined ‘skyjacking’ of the marines by means of slimy diplomacy from the Italian side?

From the very beginning to the very end, the Italian Government has shown an exceptional political will in protecting the marines. The underpinnings behind this overzealous state involvement can be unravelled by digging into Italy’s social fabric.

SOPHISTICATED RACISM

During a visit to Italy a short while after the fishermen were shot dead, one of the authors was surprised to see the indifference of the Italian media and ordinary people towards the loss of two Indian lives. They exclaimed “why should two fishermen matter so much in a country where thousands of children are dying of starvation?”

Italy being a country with a relatively loose immigration rules, many legal and illegal immigrants find their way into it. Strangely enough, it is nearly impossible for an immigrant to climb up the ladder of power and success in Italy compared with other Western countries. Favouritism and under-the-table deals deter immigrants from succeeding beyond a certain limit.

A Lakshmi Mittal or an Anshuman Jain is very unlikely to emerge out of Italy. A stereotypical South Asian to most Italians is an Indian or a Bangladeshi immigrant selling flowers in the streets of Rome.

For the Italian state, releasing their marines from a “third world country” was, in fact, a matter of national pride rather than a political obligation.

Italy is not just another Western country where the citizens are valued so highly that the Government will stretch itself to protect them by any means.

MASSACRE OF CERMIS

In a tragic incident in 1998, what the Italian media called “Massacre of Cermis”, 20 people lost their lives to the misadventure of two American fighter pilots.

The American pilots flying over the Italian ski resort in Cermis Mountain decided to test their skills by manoeuvring the fighter jet under the cable car carrying skiers. The misadventure inadvertently cut the cable, which led to the disaster.

The required minimum flying height was 2000 ft; the cable was cut at a height of 360 ft.

The extraordinary aspect of the whole tragedy was how the Italian Government dealt with it. .

There was no political will in bringing the accused to justice. The Government was so submissive to the ‘big brother’ that the loss of its citizens was of no serious concern.

The pilots were later acquitted of the crime in a shoddy trial conducted in the US.

The main pilot of that military jet, Captain Richard J. Ashby, was only found guilty of “obstruction of justice” and “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” for having destroyed a videotape recorded from the plane.

A country with such a poor track record in valuing its citizenry has now succeeded in an endeavour to lift the killer marines out of India!

CORRUPTED JUSTICE

What makes the whole incident ironic is the common corruption culture that made the skyjacking possible.

Corruption in Italy in many ways resembles that of India — it affects the whole society, from petty deals to the Berlusconian scale.

In the 2012 country-wise corruption index, prepared by Transparency International, Italy ranks at a poor 72nd (India at 94th).

Ever since the beginning of the case, the Indian Government showed negligence at multiple levels in pursuing justice for the victims. While allowing the marines to travel to Italy on February 22, the Supreme Court criticised the Central government for the delay in setting up a special trial court.

The Italian shooting in the Arabian Sea is perhaps the first incident since Independence in which two Indian civilians were murdered within the country’s territory at the hands of European soldiers. Even in such a case, the Indian Government proved itself to be inept.

(Sajan is a social anthropologist at University of Bergen, Norway. Idicula is a consultant neurologist and researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.)

(This article was published on March 13, 2013)
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