Archive for the ‘26/11’ Category

Ajmal Kasab’s hanging: death of an ignorant foot soldier

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Mint, 21 November 2012

So Ajmal Kasab is dead. Hanged by the neck till death at 7:30am on Wednesday at Yerawada jail, almost four years to the day that he burst into Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, guns blazing. By Indian standards, justice has been swift.
Tickers of spontaneous public reactions running at the bottom of the screen on TV news channels, one supposes, reflect the general reaction to the execution. A few of them would surely strike some people as macabre. “Hurrah!” read one. “At last!” “He should have been hanged the next day!” said another.
So were some of the responses from 26/11 survivors, when they were asked if they felt a sense of closure now.”This should have happened years ago,” said a doctor. “I had in fact offered to your channel that you bring Kasab to your studio and I’ll demonstrate how he can be killed instantly by lethal injection.” “Closure?” said a lady. “I am jumping up and down in joy! The fear that I went through that night has never left me. Especially since it was also my birthday. This year I can again celebrate my birthday with complete happiness!”
Others were more circumspect. “A foot-soldier has been hanged, but has justice been achieved? No,” said a gentleman. “We have executed merely a pawn in this terrorism game, while the chief planners and perpetrators of terrorism are roaming free and every day saying terrible things about India. There is no reason why we Indians should celebrate like the Americans did when they got Osama bin Laden. If the government wants us to believe that justice has been accomplished, that’s far from the truth.”
The government had obviously worked out the timing carefully. Hanging Kasab on the anniversary (if that is the right word) of the attack would have been stupid and barbaric. But getting it done five days before 26/11/12 is a clever communication attempt. Both the Union and Maharashtra governments can even hope that the usual discussions that take place around this time every year about the massive bungling by senior Mumbai police officials that could have saved many lives, and the entirely inadequate response of the then-Home Minister would be muted. Even the callous reference to the tragedy by the state home minister, that “accidents happen in big cities” may be forgotten. Though it was the same man who made the official announcement of the execution on behalf of the Maharashtra government.
Above all, the execution comes just as the winter session of Parliament is beginning, and this session promises to be tumultuous. Also, let’s not forget the coming election in Gujarat. Reminds one a bit about the case of Yakub Memon, co-conspirator in the 1993 Mumbai blasts, who was arrested by the CBI under mysterious circumstances just before Independence Day in 1994. Mysterious, because Yakub was most probably arrested by the Kathmandu police in July and then brought to India and produced by the CBI as their catch just before then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao addressed the nation from the Red Fort).
Thus, one can’t help get the feeling that Kasab, the deluded terrorist, has lived and died as a pawn—first of evil and crazed men like Hafeez Saeed, and finally of Indian political plotters (though their interest was only in the ‘when’ of his death). His body will, of course, remain unclaimed (India has sent the customary request to Pakistan to take the body back, but that request will be ignored), and he will be buried in an undisclosed location like his nine other companions on that night.
This does not in any way mean that I do not support Kasab’s death sentence. If anyone ever deserved it, it was Ajmal Kasab. But 11 years after the Mumbai blasts, four years after 26/11, we are no closer to striking a decisive blow to the medieval fanatics and criminals who mastermninded the deaths of hundreds of innocent Indians. I mean no disrespect at all to the men and women who died in these attacks, and their families and loved ones. But rejoicing over any hanging is morbid. And rejoicing over this particular one also displays naïvety, something that we can hardly afford in our fight against terrorism, which is not going to end very soon.

Reading terror’s mind

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Dec 14, 2008

The Mumbai attacks are behind us, and they will never be behind us. For many years now, no one will be able to walk past the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal and the Taj and the Oberoi without remembering. I have never seen Nariman House and I am not a terrorism tourist, so I doubt if I will ever see it, except by accident, but the name of that one innocuous building will stay with us for ever, as will the image of little Moshe crying outside his home. Day before yesterday a paper carried a photo of Moshe in Israel, still in his nanny’s arms, laughing, and that photo would have made any Indian who spotted it smile, from deep inside the heart.

It is very difficult for a normal person (assuming you are “normal”, and I am too) to understand what drove these ten young men to do what they did, to kill men, women and children they had never known or met, who had never hurt them in any way, and never even dreamt of doing so. Common everyday people who were taking the train home after a Wednesday spent earning an honest living, people who were celebrating a birthday or a wedding, people who were just walking their familiar streets. The Mumbai attacks were not about the banality of evil, of clerks and accountants dispassionately auditing the Holocaust. They were about a primal, primeval, pre-human hatred that feeds on the far side of insanity. If there is any such thing called insanity.

It was Graham Greene, I think, who wrote that hatred is finally about a breakdown of communication. Cruelty, Ian McEwan has said, is a failure of imagination. “Novels,” McEwan said, “are not about teaching people how to live, but about showing the possibility of what it’s like to be someone else. It’s the basis of all sympathy, empathy and compassion. Other people are as alive as you are. Cruelty is a failure of imagination.” It may seem banal to invoke literature to make sense of a tragedy and an outrage of such magnitude, but what tools do we have at hand? Given the preposterous size of what we have witnessed, reason seems a weak instrument, applicable only to the essential examinations of the how and the when and the what. This too is more paperwork really, than reason; data, not knowledge. Great tragedies generate a lot of paperwork. Great tragedies cut down a lot of forests.

The police can never get to the why. The terrorists thought they had a why, but they were deluded by visions of both impossible injustice and improbable pleasures. The men who branded these visions into their skulls thought they knew a why, but they were deluded too, by their misreadings of a what: a universal truth and an objective reality. Or they knew the exact why that could be planted in the heads of ten fools. Whatever really transpired inside those fevered minds, we have to perhaps conclude that it is about communication and imagination. And these are two qualities that distinguish humans from animals.

The “theory of mind” is the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others. Being able to attribute mental states to others and understanding them as causes of behaviour means that one must be able to understand that others’ mental representations of the world do not necessarily reflect reality and can be different from one’s own. While we are trying to figure out what the terrorists’ representation of the world was, it is also important to know firmly that they made no effort—or were deskilled explicitly in that respect—to understand ours. They were without—or robbed of—key attributes that we assume, rightly or wrongly, as givens in a human being.

They were not men. Yet, as far as I know, animals never kill anyone without a reason. They kill on threat perceptions, or when they are hungry. They take lives only when they need to. The Mumbai terrorists did not think they need to massacre innocents, they felt they should. “Should” is what we come to finally. A dangerous word, tyrannical in its demands, blatantly armoured against scepticism, a hammer that is its own anvil. A word which involves both a negation of dialogue and a refusal to imagine. Perhaps this word is what we should zero in on, what it does to our lives and in our world. Just a word? A word? But what other tools do we have at hand?