Wednesday 21 November 2012

Hanging in the Balance

Four years ago, almost to the day, the city of Bombay was subject to invasion from the sea.

According to the official narrative, a ten-man terrorist squad belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba set sail from Karachi in Pakistan, hijacked an Indian trawler off the coast of the state of Gujarat, and murdered its crew (save the captain, whom they murdered later after forcing him to sail them to the seas off Bombay). They then transferred to a rubber dinghy, helpfully leaving the trawler full of Pakistani food and grocery items to aid in identification, and landed at a fisherman’s jetty.

That was the evening of 26 November 2008.

Spreading out through the town in twos and threes, the ten man terror cell virtually held the city hostage for three days, battling army and police commandos, killing precious Western tourists, taking hostages and openly communicating by satellite phone with their controllers in Pakistan. Finally, after prolonged fighting inside buildings while ranks of cameras brought the images live to the world’s TV screens, nine of the fidayeen attackers lay dead. The tenth, Ajmal Kasab, was captured alive.

I will not go here into a repetition of why I consider the official account less than honest with the facts – I have already written in detail on that point elsewhere[1]. This article will deal with that tenth man...Ajmal Amir Kasab[2].

The virtually illiterate son of a curd seller in Faridkot, Pakistan, Kasab was then 21 years old. A former petty criminal, he was an unlikely candidate for any kind of recognition, let alone the sort of attention he attracted worldwide, including books written on him and his own Wikipedia article. But strange things happen to people.

Captured early on – on the very first evening of the attack – Kasab played a relatively limited role in the events of those days, but became a living, breathing symbol of the attack, a sort of stand-in for the other nine, killed, terrorists. There was a famous photo of him splashed across the world’s TV and newspapers, walking along a platform of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Bombay’s main rail station, with a backpack slung over his shoulders and an AK series rifle in his hands. 

Subsequent photographs released after his wounding and capture showed him in a hospital bed, being interrogated, and later on sitting in a chair during one of his many later interrogations.

Before I go any further, let me state something clearly and absolutely: Ajmal Amir Kasab was not an innocent man. He was a murderer many times over, having been among the two-man fidayeen team which attacked the CST railway station. He was caught on closed circuit TV at the station and photographed close-up there with a gun in his hands, too. The fact that the people killed at the CST were all middle- or lower-class commuters (and not precious Western tourists or businesspeople, or Zionist rabbis or ultra-rich Indians as most of those killed elsewhere during those days) does not reduce his guilt one iota. He was guilty.

Now, as I said in an article[3] written on the three-year-anniversary of the attack, I am occasionally proud of some things this country does. Unlike a certain nation which mouths off on freedom and human rights while drone-bombing weddings, and locks people in cages for a decade or more without charge, let alone put on trial, India did not dispose of Kasab quietly. He was not waterboarded, placed in stress positions for days on end, deprived of his sleep or deemed too dangerous to be given a day in court. On the contrary, he was tried, and his appeals heard, all the way through the court system, quite openly and legally. While two Indian Muslims accused of aiding and abetting the attacks were acquitted and released, Kasab himself was sentenced to death, whereupon he appealed for clemency to the President of India.

Again, before I go any further, let me say something more: I am opposed to the death penalty in every case. I don’t care what the individual circumstances are, there are other punishments that can be inflicted, some of which are arguably worse than a death sentence. Hell, I wouldn’t even want Barack Obama executed for his war crimes, though I’ve joked about having him drone bombed, and that tells you something. I have written in detail[4] about my reasons for opposing the death penalty, and I’ll just quote a passage from that article:

1.     It selectively targets the poor;
2.     It puts a premium on the status of the victim as to what punishment is given;
3.     It leaves it entirely up to the (individual) judges to decide which case attracts the death penalty and which doesn’t;
4.     It’s carried out so many years later that all concept of “justice” can be thrown in the dustbin;
5.     It uses a cruel and unusual method, very prone to going wrong;
6.     It has no deterrent effect ...;
7.     It ends up as a political football to be kicked around by different parties; and
8.  It leaves the victims' own crimes unacknowledged, let alone unpunished.

Every death sentence has one or more of these features, and a lot of them have them all.

And so -

Very recently – different websites I have seen give different dates, from 5 November to 8 November to even 20 November –  the President, Pranab Mukherjee, rejected Kasab’s mercy petition. Two days ago, Kasab was shifted from the Bombay prison where he was being held (and which has no execution chamber) to a prison in Pune, where he was hanged this morning, 21 November, at 7.30am.[5]

The whole operation was conducted with the greatest secrecy, and the execution was only announced after the event. Since this kind of thing doesn’t happen on the spur of the moment, especially in a notoriously lax nation like India, it’s obvious that the prison and police officials concerned were aware that the mercy petition would be rejected, and when it would be rejected. Also, in a nation where the last hanging happened way back in 2004, hangmen aren’t exactly in plentiful supply; so one had to be found and alerted well in time, further evidence that the rejection of the mercy petition was foreordained and its timing very carefully orchestrated.

Now this is very interesting, you see, because there’s no law compelling the President to dispose of a mercy petition within a particular time period. In fact there are mercy petitions which successive presidents have been sitting on for years on end because they are potatoes simply too politically hot to handle, one way or other; such as the case of Afzal Guru, sentenced for aiding a fidayeen attack on the Indian parliament back in 2001. Even the Indian Supreme Court admitted the “evidence” against Guru was less than overwhelming, but asserted that the “collective conscience” of society demanded someone be punished for the crime. Presidents have come and gone, but Guru’s mercy petition is still pending, and he’s as far from the noose as he is from walking free.

But Guru is a Kashmiri Muslim, and the government of India at the time of the attack on the Indian Parliament was run by the Hindunazi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP demands that Guru be executed. The current government is led by the Congress, which has an electoral alliance with the Kashmiri political party, the National Conference. Also, except for the Hindu right, most people are well aware that Guru is less than provably guilty. Hanging him would therefore damage the Congress party’s relations with the National Conference, and give the BJP a propaganda victory.

Similar is the case of three Sri Lankan Tamils, members of the now defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terror group, one of whose female suicide bombers blew away former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Their mercy petitions have been hanging fire because they are Tamils, and the current government depends on support from Tamil parties which are vehemently against these three men’s execution. Hence they have not been executed.

Politics, as I said, is one of the deciders. As surely it was the case here.

Pranab Mukherjee, the President of the nation, is an old Congress functionary who owes his position as president entirely to the party of which he was a member. Like most (but not all) recent Presidents, he is a rubber stamp who obeys the orders of the party which put him in power. Putting Kasab’s mercy petition on the fast track to rejection was obviously a political move. Why was it done at this time?

With the passage of every day, the Congress-led government in Delhi finds itself more and more on the ropes. It’s in a minority and dependent on the support of fractious and unpredictable outside allies who can’t under any circumstances be taken for granted. Popular support has long since been lost – the Congress has managed the monumental feat of proving itself more corrupt than its BJP predecessors. And, when parliament convenes tomorrow, it will face a combined assault from the right and the left over various issues ranging from corruption to foreign direct investment in retail. Also, elections in the Hindunazi-controlled state of Gujarat are due soon, and the BJP government there would have made a poll point of the Congress “coddling” Muslim terrorists.

So, a high-profile anti-terrorist act was necessary, to scrape together what political capital was possible. And Kasab fit the bill. After all, unlike Guru or the Tamils, he had absolutely no political support. Nobody who can be called sane can have any doubt of his guilt. Hanging him wouldn’t alienate the Muslims either, because Kasab and his partner, Ismail Khan, killed many Muslims at CST. The very first person killed in the Bombay attack was also a Muslim taxi driver whose cab was hired by Kasab and Khan from the point of landing to CST; they put a time bomb in the cab before getting out. No, the Muslims wouldn’t vote against the Congress for hanging Kasab.

In Indian politics, where people are treated like voting blocs rather than individuals, such calculations matter. In fact, in the Indian version of “democracy”, such calculations – called electoral arithmetic – are all that matter.

At least Kasab’s hanging didn’t have the long media circus preceding it that India’s last execution, in 2004, did[4]. I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies.

And now for a basic question which anyone supporting the death penalty needs to answer:

Kasab and his band were sent over on a virtual suicide mission, am I right? They had no hope of getting back, and were going for Islamic martyrdom. According to India’s own official transcripts of the conversations between the fidayeen and their Pakistani handlers, they were ordered to die and become martyrs. So, by hanging him, aren’t you basically giving him what he wanted in the first place? Wouldn’t keeping him in jail for the rest of his life be a far more appropriate punishment?

Also, apparently, hanging Kasab brought “closure” to the families of the dead in the attack.

Yes, I’m sure a lot of dead people will come back to life tonight.

Or not.


 See also:

I may be arrested for this post.

In order to explain that possibly startling statement, let me tell you about a few things first.

There was a man named Bal Thackeray (who for the purpose of this article I will call Ball Quackeray). A former cartoonist and fan of Adolf Hitler, he became the unofficial king of the Indian city of Bombay, which he had renamed Mumbai. He ran an extreme right wing political party-cum-private army called the Shiv Sena (the army of Shivaji, an eighteenth century Marathi king who would have been repulsed by everything Quackeray stood for...and which will be known as Shit Sena here on) with the help of his nephew Raj and son Uddhav, not to speak of a daughter in law whose name I no longer recall and who is the widow of another son who died. He also had a right wing rag called Saamna which expressed nothing but his views.

Nothing official happened in Bombay without the Shit Sena’s – and ultimately Quackeray’s – approval. They have sabotaged cricket matches with Pakistan, and forced their own code on Bollywood, with former liberal and superstar Amitabh Bachchan (“Vomitup Bachpan”) in their pocket, along with many others. They have repeatedly carried out pogroms, not just against Muslims – the usual victims – but against Hindus from outside Maharashtra, the state of which Bombay (like most non-Maharashtrians, I prefer the old name). These victims were overwhelmingly from Bihar in Northern India, Bihar being a state which primarily exports workers to all other states to do the work nobody else wants to do. Biharis in Mumbai are taxi drivers, cobblers, barbers and so on; the economy couldn’t function without them. Quackeray decided they were “stealing jobs” from local Marathis and had them attacked, and even demanded they require a “passport” to visit Bombay,

Not that Quackeray’s dictatorship was anything like as brave as it pretended to be. When a tiny (officially ten-man) squad of Islamic terrorists from Pakistan (the essence of what the Shit Sena claims to hate) launched an amphibious assault on Bombay on 26 Nov 2008, virtually shutting down the city for three days, the Shit Sena was conspicuous by its complete and utter absence. Apart from Vomitup Bachpan (who is not officially a Shittite) announcing to general hilarity that he was sleeping with a revolver under his pillow, the Shit Sena vanished utterly from the scene until the fighting was over.

So, though Quackeray was a far right extremist loonie Nazi lover, he did not even have the courage that individual Nazis had in the face of danger. Basically, he was an ethnic Marathi chauvinist, Hindunazi goon with a private army at his beck and call. But he was so powerful that when a court ordered his arrest, the police visited him at his home (a mansion called Matoshree) and politely invited him to accompany them when he felt like it. But he wasn’t immortal, And when his nephew and son began squabbling over the succession, he chose the dynastic principle and put his son in charge of the party, while the far more able nephew left in a huff and set up his own Marathi chauvinist Hindunazi goon squad. Par for the course.

Ball Quackeray finally shuffled off this mortal coil recently. I say “recently” because though his death was announced on Saturday afternoon (17 November 2012), there were strong and highly credible rumours that he actually died a couple of days before and his death was announced at the weekend in order to minimise disorder.

Why disorder? Because it was expected that his Shit Sena goon squads would vent their rage on shops and businesses owned or operated by Muslims and non-Marathi Hindus, burn buses and the like. In the end, this was averted by a truly enormous security presence – his funeral procession was guarded by fifty thousand police according to the report I read, and I wonder how the Maharashtra government found that many. Did they stop all other policing functions? The city shut down entirely (a virtually unheard of thing for Bombay) and police advised residents to stay indoors.

This general shutdown didn’t go down too well with everyone. Among them was a young woman called Shaheen Dhadha, who wrote a Fakebook post saying what everyone knew – that the shutdown was out of fear and not because people loved Quackeray. A friend of hers, Rainu Shrinivasan, “liked” the post.

What happened next? Apparently, a Shit Sena member from Dhadha’s hometown read the post (do these people have nothing better to do than trawl the net to find things to be offended by?) and complained to the police, following which Dhadha and Shrinivasan were both arrested. So much for freedom of speech. If I were a Maharashtra resident instead of living three thousand kilometres away, I might be arrested too.

Meanwhile, a Shit Sena goon squad went to an orthopaedic hospital run by Dhadha’s uncle and smashed the place up in retaliation. Charming, isn’t it?

At the moment the two young women are out on bail and the police have most reluctantly arrested nine Shittites for smashing up the hospital, But that’s about all that is going to happen. They will be out faster than you can say Ball Quackeray. After all, though normal humans were outraged, the Shit Sena “justified” the police action against the young women.

I’m waiting though for the inevitable power struggle that will eat the Shit Sena up from within now. Quackeray’s son is a nonentity. The daughter in law I mentioned (also rumoured to have been Quackeray’s lover) is another player. Local warlords (the Shit Sena has established offices in many localities) will try and grab as much power for themselves as they can. And Raj Quackeray (the ousted nephew) is certain to try a hostile takeover bid.

For enemies of the Shit Sena, these will be interesting, not to say entertaining, times.

Tales of a Quack.

Monday 19 November 2012


Tell me why
I cannot see the sky for smoke
I cannot breathe the air.

Tell me why
The bombs fall around me
My children scream from their wounds
How they are guilty
Of whatever it is we are being punished for.

Tell me why
You who have stolen our land, pushed us into ghettoes, strangled our economy, starved and maltreated us,
Turned us into your prisoners from the time we are born to the time we die
Who have made life for us hell,

Why should we not fight back against you? Why should we not fight with sticks and stones, blood and tears
Against your metal monsters, your apartheid walls, your pretences and your lies?
You have all the power, we have nothing

Except right on our side.

Yes you can kill us, and we will lose
Each battle, but we will fight
Because we are human, and you have forgotten that
Just as your oppressors seventy years ago
Chose to forget that you are human.

Tell me, do we frighten you
With our powerlessness
With our lack of anything but our dignity
Our pride, which you have not shackled
Have not beaten down?

Do our sticks and stones frighten you so much
So much more than your bombs and your rockets frighten us?
After all, you can crush us easily
So why are you so afraid?

Tell me
Who is the prisoner, who is the free
If you are so chained by your fear
That you must wall us and oppress us
Steal everything from us
And you are still not satisfied?

You who have everything, 
Tell us, who have nothing
Because you have taken all from us -

Tell me why
I should not strike back
If I must crawl on my belly
And my children bleed and cry.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Yes - with this, I have officially begun writing again. It's more than time I did, anyway, though I will have to take it slow to start with. I don't know if I have any readers left. I suppose the response, if any, will let me know.

My First Ever Hitler Parody

Hitler learns about the bombardment of Gaza.