What Delhi & Dhaka taught us about democracy

What Delhi & Dhaka taught us about democracy

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Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013, 13:58 [IST]

Two recent incidents in the Indian sub-continent proved beyond doubt that no matter how much we claim ourselves as democracies, at the end of the day we are nothing but a poor people who vent their frustration through sadistic instincts. Democracy in this part of the world, is turning out into a festival of the mob where the freedom to execute is justified in the name of "collective conscience" and used abundantly and unregretfully.

While in India, the government executed a Kashmiri named Afzal Guru after convicting him in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and did not even allow a chance to the man's family to meet him before sending him to the gallows, in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, thousands of citizens protested after the war crime tribunal spared Abdul Quader Mollah, a right-wing Jamaat-i-Islami leader convicted of rape, torture and murder, was spared death penalty by the country's war crime tribunal. The general fear was that Mollah, who was seen flashing a victory sign while leaving the court, would walk free soon if people like them were not hanged.

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Democracy gives us licence to kill?

But why is this sudden clamour for death penalty? Why instead of looking forward, these post-colonial states are expressing an intent to turn back? Why can't the vocabulary of the state machinery be made free from words like revenge, retaliation and retributive justice? No criminal act can be supported but does that mean we continue to execute just a few men to apparently undo a shameful piece of history?

It is indeed encouraging to see that an entirely new generation is identifying itself with the sentiments of the liberation war fought over four decades ago but isn't reason being knocked out by passion there, something which doesn't augur well for law. The demand to ban Jamaat in the name of secular democracy is also incredible, particularly when both of the country's main political parties work on dynastic principles.

Similar expressions of hatred and revenge were also seen in India in the wake of the two recent executions carried out by the Indian state. Ajmal Kasab was a dreaded terrorist we all know but the way he was executed raises suspicion about the nature of justice the state opted for. It was not only an act of revenge but even more shockingly, the act was accomplished to feed political expediency.

Demonising and eliminating Afzal Guru: Retributive Justice

The case of Guru was even worse. His sudden execution and the subsequent imposition of curfew in Kashmir and gagging the local media gave a message to the local people that the Indian state still thinks about that part in rigid terms.

The far-right forces are celebrating the occasion and saying that the execution would have taken much earlier. Both the opportunist political establishment and sensationalist media demonised Guru and only circumstantial evidence was found to be enough for his elimination. The "collective conscience" preferred retributive justice over restorative justice and once again, Kashmir proved to be a security concern more for the Indian rulers than a political one. A police state didn't allow a chance to democracy.

Bangladeshi protesters preferred the easier, lesser way

The spontaneous protest in Bangladesh has a potential to look back at the 1971 war in a different way, by trying to bring the country back on its track towards achieving the goal that its founders had dreamt of. Issues like poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, food and health problems and social cohesion and just distribution of wealth can be addressed through such demonstrations. But as we all know, this is an age where the easier route is taken first, even though if it leads to hell.

Bangladesh is still to cover some distance to emerge into a strong democracy. Its neighbour, the largest in the world, has yet not learnt to take the tougher but appropriate way.

Story first published: Thursday, February 14, 2013, 13:05 [IST]