On Campus

Whose collective conscience?

Suraj Kanna | Updated on March 20, 2013

Ever since the news of Afzal Guru’s execution broke out, our society has descended into a state of chaos. Was it a case of ‘hard justice’ or was it a ‘travesty of justice’? Have we become pawns in a game of ugly political power, waiting to be sacrificed at the altar at the ‘opportune moment’? Was Guru a victim of ‘competitive nationalism’? What is our concept of Justice? Is it exclusive to people who are victims or does it apply just as mush to the person committing the crime? Do our definitions of justice cross boundaries of crime, hate and wrongdoings or are they limited to superficial good behaviour? A lot of questions have been left unanswered. Even our learned, opinionated leaders are in a limbo.

As a nationalist, my feelings are strongly in support of what happened to Guru. An ‘enemy of the state’ or any person involved in an attempt to shake the very core of our democracy must be sent to the gallows. Guru was one such man. Although convicted only based on circumstantial evidence and not fully involved in the 2001 Parliament attacks, the judgment against Guru has set a painful example for all those who think they can hold a country to ransom.

But if you consider this from a broader and more rational perspective, you will find the truth is blurry. Irrespective of the crime committed, every accused has a fundamental right to seek legal counsel. Guru was not even given the opportunity to seek the lawyer he wanted. When a petition is rejected, a judicial review can be filed, but Guru was denied that as well. Guru’s family wasn’t even informed that the mercy petition had been rejected and that he was to be hanged. They got to know of what happened through news channels and a Speed Post message the following day.

Two important pieces of evidence convicting Guru were a cell phone and laptop which were recovered from him at the time of arrest. The laptop and cell phone were not sealed. This was a violation of law in itself. It ‘seemed’ Guru deleted all the documents from his cell phone except the images of the fake Home Ministry passes and the fake identity cards. It was found later that the laptop had been accessed after the arrest. The other evidence against Guru was his SIM card. But the prosecution’s call records showed that the SIM had become operational from November 6, 2001, while the mobile shop owner told the court that he sold the SIM to Guru only on the December 4, 2001. Guru was taken into custody on December 15. It seems that evidences has been fabricated.

The hanging of Guru to satisfy the ‘collective conscience’ of society may set a dangerous example for a democracy like ours. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Sikhs could have been massacred in the 1984 riots to satisfy the same collective conscience. Godhra could have a justification in the collective conscience of Hindus. The RSS could come up with the same reason for the Babri Masjid and Ram Temple case. Likewise, Kashmiris could claim freedom to satisfy their own collective conscience.

If judgments will be taken not to deliver justice but to satisfy the collective conscience of the society then what is the use of a legal system? What about courts and judges? Does a Constitution even exist? If the collective conscience of Indian society can be left responsible to make decisions, let there be a poll on every major issue and let us do what the collective conscience society demands.

Hanged and buried in secrecy, Guru died like a prey of communal and corrupt politics, as a victim of extreme and blinding nationalism, His death is another scar on the ‘secular’, ‘democratic’ credentials of the Indian republic.

(Suraj studies at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.)

Published on March 20, 2013

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