Thursday, July 04, 2013

Human Rights and National Security

This is an issue existing for a long time and in particular in a vulnerable soft state like India, the popular view can easily lead to dangerous consequences. An overburdened inefficient criminal justice system, along with pliable unaccountable investigative agencies will often allow criminals and terrorists to escape, the clutches of law. So then many citizens believe that terrorists whose crimes are inhuman cannot expect to be recipients of human rights. When someone wages war against state in the name of religion or in retaliation for perceived injustice then that person risks getting killed like in a war situation. Is this acceptable for a democracy like India? Specifically where the political polarization on religion lines reaps rich electoral dividends and even national security becomes a victim of adversarial politics, should we accept encounter killings of suspected or confirmed terrorists as the price for national security.

While no state or political system is perfect, we have chosen to be a democracy pledged to upholding the rule of law and assuming every person to be innocent unless proved guilty. The debate about the 19 year old Ishrat Jahan throws up these questions and i will seek to answer them in as balanced a manner as possible.

The facts of the case is that a 19 year old Muslim girl disappeared 9 years back from her house in Mumbai and reached Gujarat. This raises suspicion and gives credence to the theory that she maybe having terrorist links. Her name being listed on LeT website and coming from David Headley's testimony can be motivated leaks, but do not establish her to be a terrorist, as both are unreliable motivated sources of information. The fact that the home ministry of india in an affidavit called Ishrat a terrorist and then retracted its affidavit also raises suspicion of political interference with investigative agencies to malign BJP and Modi in particular. On the other hand it can be IB trying to cover its tracks as they were scared that the blame for the encounter killing might reach them. CBI filing a charge sheet and alleging that they have evidence that the four persons killed were captured and murdered and weapons were procured from IB and planted on the bodies to make it out to be a fake encounter is a fact in this case too. Speculation is that in a state guilty of crimes against minorities there was a heightened security risk to the CM and HM Modi and Amit Shah safed and kali daadhi and it would reap political dividends to eliminate some hard core or if need be even imagined terrorists to reinforce the image of a tough leader capable of protecting himself and his state from any terrorist. The other issue is the role of IB. While some degree of freedom and autonomy for an agency involved in intelligence gathering is justified, even IB is accountable to someone and its participation in investigation, and active involvement in encounter killings is at best unacceptable and in fact criminal. IB has a lot to answer for in this saga. Can it become a hand maiden of the political establishment?

So how does one sift the facts from the speculation? Encounter killings occur when the leadership and people of the nation are insecure and there is tacit approval from the citizens for the same. In an atmosphere of assertive national identity based on majority appeasement, the political establishment uses this method, not as a necessary evil , but as a tool to reap electoral dividends, which is what the BJP is doing. However, the Congress by flip flopping on Ishrat's terrorist links is guilty too of trying to clip Modi's wings by legally entangling him. This is to cover up their inability to take him on politically for fear of losing votes. I feel that the rule of law places a responsibility on the state to efficiently create a safe and secure environment, by using legitimate fair means. Policing without political interference, by a trained sensitized police force with a zero tolerance for partiality or use of illegal encounters is really needed. Ishrat Jahan's case is not an isolated case but is symptomatic of a flawed democracy. We must condemn encounter killings as a police force allowed to get away with murder can run amuck and use this tool to cover up inefficiency and shoddy investigation. Terrorism grows in the fertile soil of minority persecution and arrest persecution and killing of innocent persons in the name of collateral damage. Bad policing and political masters, misuse of police for selfish ends creates situations, which can undermine Indian democracy. We must not allow this to happen at any cost.

The citizens of this country must understand that institutions of state consisting of lawmakers, investigators and judiciary must be strengthened, made accountable and allowed to function with freedom and autonomy, but at the same time be held accountable. Nobody is above the law and the high and mighty must pay a price for their misdeeds.
vispi jokhi

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