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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