Asian Age, 28 November 2008

“There’s more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,” said the White Rabbit. “It’s a set of verses.”

“Are they in the prisoner’s handwriting?”

“No, they’re not,” said the White Rabbit.

“He must have imitated somebody else’s hand,” said the King.

“Please your Majesty,” said the Knave, “I didn’t write it, and they can’t prove I did: there’s no name signed at the end”.

“If you didn’t sign it,” said the King, “that only makes the matter worse. You must have meant some mischief, or else you’d have signed your name like an honest man”.

There was a general clapping of hands at this: it was the first really clever thing the King had said that day.

“That proves his guilt,” said the Queen.

“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.

“I won’t!” said Alice.

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

“Who cares for you?” said Alice. “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
— Mercilessly abridged excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Unlike Alice, we don’t always recognise nonsense when we encounter it. Like the present clamour over the arrest of some suspected terrorists in the Malegaon bomb blasts in September, who happen to be seriously Hindu: Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Amritanand and Lt. Col. Prasad S. Purohit. It got the Hindutva brigade foaming at the mouth.

“Hindus cannot be terrorists,” declared a brazen BJP president Rajnath Singh, who had been publicly seen and photographed with Sadhvi Pragya. “It is outrageous that this has happened in a country known to respect sadhus,” said BJP supremo L.K. Advani, who is running for Prime Minister. “They are committing a sin by calling a sadhvi a terrorist!” said VHP’s Praveen Togadia, promising a backlash.

Moving from religious outrage to outrageous biology, Tarun Vijay of the RSS announced that Hindus and terrorism don’t mix: “It’s not in our genes. Our blood group in this matter is different”. BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for Delhi V.K. Malhotra echoed the view: “Hindus cannot be terrorists because it is neither in their genes nor in their character”. And Sadhvi Ritambhra, once a virulent rabble-rouser, used the old formula. It was “a well thought-out conspiracy to target Hindu religion,” she said, and “an insult to each citizen of Bharat Mata!”

All this because the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had done precisely what they were expected to do: investigate suspects in terrorist attacks. And the party that has been clamouring for tougher terrorism laws was now screaming unfair. Just because the suspects were not Muslims, but Hindus.

Usually, the moment the police arrest someone, the saffron brigade swiftly labels him a terrorist. Once labelled, the suspect has no respite, not even if the courts acquit him. Like S.A.R. Geelani, Delhi University professor, who was wrongly charged in the Parliament attack, and exonerated by the court. He was recently attacked and spat upon publicly by the student’s wing of the BJP in Delhi, who called him a terrorist and declared: “The whole country should spit on him!”

The BJP’s eagerness in labelling a suspect a terrorist often prevents the suspect from getting legal aid. And anyone suspicious of the hugely discredited police is immediately branded an anti-national terrorist sympathiser.

In August, when the Gujarat police — notorious for extra-judicial deaths — arrested Mufti Abu Bashir as a “mastermind” of the Ahmedabad blasts, a couple of politicians had gone to meet his family. Instantly the BJP called them “cheerleaders of terrorism” who were “disgusting” because they visited the home of a “terrorist”. Reportedly, the BJP also demanded the immediate arrest of Shahi Imam Bukhari for not buying the Gujarat police version of Bashir’s guilt.

But in October, Kailash Vijay Vargava, BJP minister of Madhya Pradesh, visited the family of Shyam Sahu, an arrested Malegaon blast suspect and BJP member. Now the BJP is accusing the ATS of framing Hindus. Every discomfort and complaint of the Malegaon suspects is being announced to the whole nation, including the Prime Minister. They will also get the best legal aid.

Which is as it should be. Especially since they now seem to be involved in the blasts at Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif too. But it would have been excellent if the BJP had raised issues of torture and human rights when the suspects were Muslim. As they usually are. And they undergo the most horrific third degree that often leaves innocents picked up on a whim broken in body and mind, stigmatised and ruined for life.

Just this month, the Andhra Pradesh police have promised to pay compensation to 21 suspects (of over 100 Muslims) wrongly held for the Mecca Masjid blasts last year. Of them, Md Rayeesuddin has refused the money. It doesn’t compensate for what he has gone through. “Let them withdraw the false cases against me,” he says. For ordinary Muslims, being framed ruins chances of making an honest living. In contrast, the terror case against Sadhvi Pragya has actually launched her career, with the backing of the whole Hindutva parivar.

As bleeding hearts for terror suspects, the BJP is far more aggressive than any critic of human rights violations. Mr Advani has called the ATS unprofessional and politically motivated. These suspects cannot be terrorists, how dare you investigate! To think that just a couple of months ago these same people were labelling as “anti-national” anyone who suspected the police version of Delhi’s Batla House encounter that killed two Muslim boys and one “encounter specialist” officer, and landed several Muslims in custody without bail. Since a couple of suspects were students of Jamia Milia, the university wanted to arrange for their legal assistance, and the vice-chancellor was immediately attacked and accused of misusing government funds, even though the funds in question were private. There was no question of innocent till proven guilty, as required by law. Instead, they were guilty even if proven innocent, as required by majoritarian passion.

So this new infatuation with human rights of Hindutva’s iron-men — who root for draconian anti-terror laws like Pota and brag about killing terror suspects in encounters in Gujarat — would be welcome if it was not so Hindu-specific. We must recognise that double standards destroy the spirit of our Constitution. In India, might does not make right. Tailoring laws to fit a faith is absurd. “Stuff and nonsense!” we may wish to say, like Alice, and call their bluff. “You are nothing but a pack of cards!”

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