Judicial Imbalance: Qasab faces trial, others face guns

Even though it may take years, perhaps a decade or two before Ajmal Amir Qasab actually faces death, the punishment has been welcomed across the country. Ironically, the Indian judicial and legal system has not taken too long to pronounce Qasab as guilty. This raises questions as to why similar speed and alacrity is not displayed in declaring verdicts in other cases where lives of thousands - many times more than those affected in Mumbai blasts - have been lost and/or severely affected. Seventeen years have passed since the demolition of the Babari Masjid and the nationwide riots which erupted during the Mandir agitation. The final verdict is still awaited. Eight years have passed since the Gujarat carnage. In the Gujarat case, there is no dearth of evidence on camera as well as through accounts of surviving victims regarding the criminal behaviour of a section of society and state they faced during those ghastly months of 2002. Demand for fair and speedy trials in such cases has already lost its temporal relevance. Nevertheless, the question whether the guilty would ever face punishment or not assumes a more crucial nature, when compared with virtually little time taken in the Mumbai blasts case. Is there a judicial imbalance? Who is responsible for the same?

One is compelled to raise similar questions in case of innocent people, largely Muslims, having been killed in “fake encounters.” Despite questions having been repeatedly raised over these, among which Batla House fake encounter stands out starkly, practically no attention has been paid by the “concerned” authorities. Of course, this does not imply that the so-called authorities have remained unconcerned about practically all fake encounters. Yet, even in cases where the authorities - including police officials - are held guilty of killing innocent people, one question remains unanswered. Does this symbolize true and fair trial? Sohrabuddin Shaikh and his wife were killed in fake encounters in 2005. The police claimed for several years that they were linked with an external terrorist group and had conspired to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a revenge for the Gujarat carnage. Had Sohrabuddin’s relatives not pursued the case and had the Supreme Court not intervened, the matter may have been viewed exactly as some police officials earlier claimed. The fact that it is now viewed as a fake encounter is one side of the story. Considering the intricate and extensive operations carried out to murder Sohrabuddin and his wife, one remains doubtful whether all guilty of participating in this case face punishment or not? Also, what about the damages and compensation, which must be granted to the surviving members of their family? It is indeed intriguing that little attention has been given to this aspect. Perhaps, if this is also taken up seriously, it may play a major role in deterring certain people from arresting and/or even killing suspect Muslims (in fake encounters) without substantially proving charges against the same. This implies that some attention must be given to levying fines and also pronouncing punishment against those having planned and participated in such fake encounters.

Less than two years have been spent in holding Qasab as guilty and announcing the death punishment for him. Indeed, this is commendable. Undeniably, despite the people, media and also politicians having virtually in one voice hailed the death verdict pronounced against him, Qasab is least likely to face the death punishment in the immediate future. In his case, the legal-judicial process will be allowed to take its own course despite there being no dearth of evidence against him having played a major role in the Mumbai terrorist attack. This very fact prompts one to compare Qasab’s case with that of others who have been gunned down in fake encounters. Here, Qasab - the guilty party - still remains a long way off from the gallows. If he can be prosecuted legally, why wasn’t a similar system allowed to prevail in the case of Batla House “suspects?” Why weren’t they too given a chance to prove their innocence? Why didn’t the persons responsible for organizing the “encounter” file charges against the Batla House “suspects” and let the trial take its own course, as in the case of Qasab? In fact, with practically the entire country emotionally moved by the Mumbai attack and witness to pictures of Qasab as the “lone surviving gunman,” nobody would have probably questioned his being killed in the “encounter” then and there. The situation is different in the case of fake encounters - be it the Batla House, the Sohrabuddin case or quite a few known to have taken place in Kashmir. What crime, militant activity and/or violent operation were the persons killed (in fake encounters) were accused of having actually committed? Surely, a person cannot be gunned down simply because he is suspected of conspiring to target somebody. In this context, one is prompted to reiterate the questions raised earlier. Why are the ones responsible for the Gujarat carnage, demolition of Babari Masjid and the accompanying the riots still awaiting punishment? It is time, serious attention is paid to the judicial imbalance prevalent in guilty facing the prolonged trials and innocent being instantly gunned down in fake encounters!