Sarabjit, Sanaullah, you and me


I met Sarabjit Singh’s brave lawyer Awais Sheikh in Delhi some months ago, where his book was released. He was very confident Sarabjit wouldn’t be hanged. As was Justice (Retd.) Katju, who launched the book. Justice Katju said there was no point campaigning for Sarabjit’s release until the Pakistan elections were over. I got a similar impression of optimism from people who had been following the Sarabjit case.

Well, they were right. Sarabjit wasn’t hanged. But hanging is only one way of killing.

Call it conspiracy theory if you will, but I think Sarabjit’s fate was decided by New Delhi, by hanging Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. The latter ignited more passions in Pakistan because Guru, a Kashmiri, he was seen by many as having been framed. Many in Pakistan asked if India could hang its terrorists, why was Pakistan letting Sarabjit Singh live? Whoever was responsible for Sarabjit Singh’s murder, answered this question.

As one of a small number of people who signed a petition asking the President of India to grant mercy to Ajmal Kasab, I have been at the receiving end of a lot of right-wing online abuse in India. They don’t even care to listen why I didn’t want Kasab hanged: I am opposed to capital punishment in principle. For everybody. My reasons are not only moral (I don’t think the state has the right to kill except in defending the people) and philosophical (Killing actually ends the suffering, it is not a punishment) but also political. Judicial executions create martyrs, excite passions, are used as a political tool, making a mockery of justice.

Kasab and Afzal were hanged in secrecy, lawyers and families not informed in advance, for political reasons. They were hanged, each before a Parliament session, because the incredibly unpopular Manmohan Singh government in India wanted to appear ‘strong’ and ‘in control’, and also divert attention from its scandals. How long did these executions help the Congress government? One week each. The scandals are back, newer ones, and the Manmohan government actually wants to hang many more people. The budget for every Parliament session should include the hangman’s fee.

The others that India wants to hang have, however, been informed in advance,giving them time to file review petitions against the rejection of mercy petitions by the President of India. In other words, there was a last resort to justice which Kasab and Afzal were denied. So much for the much-touted “due process”.

Many right-wing voices didn’t want Indian tax-payer money wasted in keeping Kasab alive. The money spent on putting him in high security and feeding him. Hang him right away, they argued, why the wait? When Sarabjit was beaten to death, many Indians were seen taking the moral high-ground on Twitter. See! Do you realise the importance of due process! The high-ground was short-lived as Sanaullah Ranjay, a convicted Pakistani prisoner in a Jammu jail, was given the Sarabjit treatment.The Indian Supreme Court has asked the government to explain why Sanaullah wasn’t protected from threats that should have been foreseen.

He wasn’t protected because we needed tit for tat. The high-ground turned out to be shift desert sand. Fehmida Riaz could recite to us, as she has often done in Delhi, these words: Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle / ab tak kahaa`n chhupe thay bhai? / Wo ghaamadpan, wo jaahilpan jisme humney sadi ga`nwaaee — / ab pahonchi hai dwaar tumharey? / Aray badhaee, bahot badhaee.

A report in the Hindustan Times newspaper quotes an unnamed Indian intelligence source as saying that Sarabjit had indeed been an operative of the R&AW. It is not clear if he was merely an intelligence gatherer or, as convicted, a militant. Or was this report put out to assuage public anger? You can never tell truth from fantasy in the world of espionage. Like Manjit Singh, who Awais Sheikh writes in his book is the man Pakistan was looking for. Manjit Singh was a colourful character produced by the Khalistan militancy, appearing today in Jalandhar and tomorrow in Lahore and day after in London, changing religion, wives and passports with ease. Awais Sheikh says that Pakistan convicted Sarabjit Singh thinking he is Manjit Singh. Which makes Sarabjit Singh’s case the saddest of all: at worst a small-time border spy, convicted of someone else’s crimes, his death decided by his country’s executions of a Pakistani and a Kashmiri.

In the India-Pakistan hall of mirrors, we compete to sacrifice humanity at the altar of nationalism, forgiveness in exchange of winning childish brownie points over each other. We look at the mirror and smash it thinking we’re smashing the enemy. We kill a Pakistani and an Indian dies. We make someone a martyr and then complain he’s being called a martyr.We disown a spy and complain the other isn’t sending him back home. We treat human beings as pawns, we see prisoners in numbers. Woh intzaar the jiska, eh woh seher tou nahi.

(First published in The News, Pakistan.)

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10 thoughts on “Sarabjit, Sanaullah, you and me”

  1. As usual, an honest and well argued article by Shivam Vij. I would only quibble with one point – I don’t agree that “Sarabjit’s fate was decided by New Delhi,” even though I understand the point Vij is making here. I think each country must take responsibility for its own wrong-doing, otherwise the tit for tat will never cease, whether it’s flawed court decisions, lynchings, beheadings or nuclear weapons. Indians must look at themselves honestly and condemn torture and murder by their government or sections of their public; and Pakistanis must do the same for the wrong-doing in their country. We must learn to make choices and take action based on what’s right in each case instead of blaming the “other” for “having started it first.” In fact we must take right action – if I may put it that way – within our own countries as well, rejecting that same “who started it” argument to justify rape and murder.


  2. Western concept of a Nation-state based on and supported by a manipulative election system breeds religion- propped ultra-nationalism in Asian countries including India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan are housing distinct and historically evolved sub-nationalities. And, these sub-nationalities make frequent assertions in shape of political dissent against the hegemonic and nationalistic trappings of these so-called nation-states. Then ,the ruling elites of these two countries invoke ultra-nationalism in their respective areas which, among other things, result in stage-managed killings of prisoner citizens of each other. It is patent formula of diverting people’s attention from other pressing needs. And, media in both countries help in whipping jingoism and hate required for the purpose. Pakistan is a declared theocratic Islamic state when but India donning Hindutva attempts to outsmarts in the game, then secularism and democratic values go to winds and minorities begin to quiver.


    1. This is the most apt comment on Shivam Vij’s post. I just wish the media you refer to reads this. Public opinion can be manipulated by a few in our emerging democracies and half baked journos then lap it up and regurgitate it on a hapless audience.
      It is time a regulator hauls these upstarts over the coals, because they are a disgrace to the profession.


  3. As the land of Buddha and Mahavira, I just cannot see how we have become a blood-thirsty nation. The death sntence whether by hanging or any other means is abhorrent. If we call ourselves a civilized nation, there is no place for it.
    Coming to the jingoism following the attack on Sarabjit and his subsequent death, we had tv channels trying to outdo each other in outrage. Even newspapers got the virus. Times of India included. When Sanaullah died in almost similar circumstances in India, there was just a whimper.What happened to our humanity then ? Our hypocrisy was exposed !
    The right wings have become raucous in this country and they have begun demanding blood. You can see it every day on tv, and taking that for public opinion, our tv anchors pander to these sentiments, misplaced and devious as they are.
    l know you stand for a unfettered social and virtual media , but if you see the abuse directed at selected groups and individuals on these media, you will realise that this poison slowly enters the nation’s vitals and destroys it. We need to take a hard look at this and find remedies. Yes, Shivam, you and i and everyone else who is concerned.


  4. Its worth appreciating, the last paragraph gives the true governace of our India. Everything is fine but who will come up to change the stubborn mind set of our represntatives. Do we youth consider it as a social obligation or a responsibility.


  5. I went through the article with an unexpected ease in reading and grasping. Because, most of the articles published here, even while discussing serious issues and are presented in cohesive manner, can only be read with the help of a dictionary opened with a new tab; such are the jargon they contain.

    The writer was bold enough to reveal that he did sign a mercy petition for Kasab – that was bold indeed. However, I feel that the writer may feel relieved that he only received abuses, and escaped persecution and sedition charges (at least unofficial and societal ), which would, a non-Hindu Indian, have instantly alleged with. I am not trying to add any religious color to the points, but that is actually what we observe every day.

    Two points written in the first sentence of last Para should be catching. a) Political – nationalism Vs humanity. b) Moral – forgiveness. JS Sindu, in her comments, answered role of nationalism, which is developed and maintained by a wholesome manipulation. The question of forgiveness or non-forgiveness can be attributed to the psychological factors – material greed and selfishness, combined with group pressures of loyalty. But,

    1. Nationalism as a political institution might have developed to aid governance and community organization. A precise hierarchical structure of executive and bureaucratic system is a must to run any vast territory with conflicting interests.
    2. Forgiveness is indeed a human attribute as also violence, at some points of time, if not always. But again a punishment system was developed to control human society, and to lessen the crimes.

    Both the systems seem to be thoughtful creations of our forefathers. Inadequacy and inconsistencies are bound to appear. However, we can’t abolish those unless we find a more spectacular replacement. Or, then, the answer is gradual improvement.
    So, both of your points would be philosophically and morally correct. But, what ……..


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