When protectors turn predators
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of India has found that Ishrat Jahan, the 19-year-old woman killed in an ‘encounter’ in 2004, was not a terrorist. It also found the involvement of senior officers of Gujarat police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
Rest assured, no other case of ‘encounter’ involving the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Gujarat police will be heard of in the near future. Everyone learns from past mistakes – institutions learn even faster to cover up tracks. However, the exposé or ‘investigation’ of the IB by the CBI has more to do with a breach of trust – that sacred compact of looking the other way. Though I inhabit that cool vantage on an iceberg, Ishrat’s murder is a rare peek into that world in the submerged part of the iceberg, icy and ruthless. And what I see scares the hell out of me.
Those involved in Ishrat Jahan’s murder are not small fries. They include quite a few higher ups entrusted with enforcing the law. Why are those people who are more likely to murder and torture than ordinary citizens so thoroughly over-represented among the ranks of certain state-funded institutions? Why are they almost always ‘protectors of law’? What is this ‘law’ that it protects? What are its contours? Is this law to be read in between the lines of the constitution? Is this law to be found in the umbra and penumbra of the constitutional guarantee to life? And still they talk, fashionably, gracefully – like Pythia, the oracle at Delphi. If there was one person who knew that Apollo did not speak, it was Pythia. Unbelievers always have a way of becoming priests.
Only if one eavesdrops on the players at the top, then the code in which they talk to each other, codes that are not to be found in the formal rulebook. In an interview aired by the BBC, journalist Andrew Marr asked Noam Chomsky during an exchange on Chomsky’s views on media distortion of truth, how could Chomsky know for sure that he, a journalist, was self-censoring? Chomsky replied, ‘I don’t say you’re self-censoring – I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.’ And it is the production of this believer-citizen that is essential for ‘encounter’ murders to go unlamented for very few enjoy the spoils of being an cynical insider. The insiders may come in different colours, shapes, sizes, tongues and even faiths, but unless they shared a contempt for habeas corpus and veneration for this ‘other’ rule-book, they would not be sitting where they are sitting.
Similar to what Michael Moore said, I have never been slapped by a Pakistani army man for I was walking too briskly on Srinagar streets, never been murdered in broad daylight in the streets of Imphal by special forces from Pakistan, never been kidnapped in Gujarat by the Inter Services Intelligence, never been tortured for days together in jails by Sindh police, never been detained, blindfolded and then shot through the head by a Pakistani army man. But there is no opportunity for competitive gloating to be done here by Pakistanis either.
For the near-daily murder and torture of pro-independence Baloch youth are now too numerous to deny. For Ishrat Jahan of Gujarat and Chongkham Sanjit of Manipur share just too many things with Sarfaraz Shah, gunned down in Karachi in broad daylight by the Pakistan Rangers. Sarfaraz’s howls, his pleadings, the utter helplessness in front of the law enforcement agencies, that moment when the gun fires, that look on the face of Sarfaraz a moment before he is shot – a look that shouts out ‘please’ in a way that would make the Himalayas crumble if the gods were as benevolent as they are said to be – these are all too familiar on the other side of the Radcliffe. Something else is also familiar – that the Rangers will not pay for their crime. There is far too much that is common between the subcontinental badlands – commonalities that make a mockery of the exclusive pride that some seem to possess.
Every time we ignore an extrajudicial murder, it brings us that much closer to being a cold reptile. We have a stake in this. ‘The freedom of others extends mine infinitely’ said a famous graffiti from Paris 1968. And when this ‘other’ is the one where all our collective prejudices and hate converge, ensuring that ‘other’s’ freedom has ripples everywhere. The flood of empathy needs such ripples now. We owe it to us and to the Ishrat Jahans and the Sarfaraz Shahs of the subcontinent. We must never forget what Avtar Singh ‘Paash’ had articulated so poignantly years ago.
Jey desh di surakhya eho hondee hai?key be-zameeree zindagi lei shart ban javey,?akh di putli vich han ton bina koi bhi shabd ashleel howe,?tey man badkaar ghadiyan de samne?dandaut’t jhukiya rahe, tey saanu desh di surakhya ton khatra hai (If a life without conscience is a pre-condition of the country’s security, if anything other than saying ‘yes’ in agreement is obscene, and the mind submits before the greedy times, then the security of the country is a danger to us.) IPA