(No) Crime and Punishment

Ram Puniyani

The state of crime and punishment is very paradoxical in current times. The guilty of communal violence generally get away without any punishment, while the innocents are being punished in acts of terror, just if they happen to belong to a particular religion. In current scenario, the current policing and social system seems to operate on the assumption that Muslims are terrorists. Both communal violence and war against terror have demonized and targeted them in particular. While the society at large has come to believe in various myths about minorities; the large section of police force has acted in the most prejudicial and biased manner on the issues related to violence in the name of religion and in case of terrorist violence.

There have been innumerable cases of young Muslim youth being picked up in the aftermath of terror attacks, incarcerated in the jails and then let off as the legal protective mechanisms, though painfully slow, catch up to intervene and release some of these terror accused. While every such case of young man is a heart rending tale, while every such case of police action ruins the family and career of the accused, the one related to Mohammad Aamir Khan aged 32 today (March 2012) probably ranks amongst the most horrendous ones’. The other interesting aspect of this young man trying to restart his life all over again is that he is full of appreciation of the positive aspects of the system and acknowledges the good aspects of the system, which released him from dark dungeons after 14 long and tortuous years. The same system mercifully kept him connected to the outside world with the interlude in solitary confinement notwithstanding.

Aamir, a 10th standard student, aged 18 was abducted by the Delhi police and charged of being the master-mind of the acts of terror and other related crimes. The methods employed by the police need not be recounted as while the talk of police reforms etc. is on ‘on the paper’, the brutality of the many men in khakhi continues unabated. They also keep innovating newer and newer forms of torture. The illegal act of taking signatures on blank paper seems to be routine with the ‘guardians of law’. Those supposed to be protecting our law must be probably the biggest violators of law in the power dens where they are rarely answerable and generally get away with the most serious cruelties committed in the confines of their fiefdom, the police stations and jails. Aamir underwent all this. He tried to continue his study while in jail, through IGNOU center. But that was not to last long as one police officer in his zeal of punishing the lad belonging to the ‘wrong’ religion put him in solitary confinement and cut off his education which he was seriously pursuing. With 14 long years in the jail, how he maintained his sanity to look forward to the study of journalism or law must be amongst some of the mysteries which our society provides in abandon.

Coming back to Aamir, while in the prison he lost his father and his mother suffered paralytic stroke. His family property had to be sold to off to fight the infinite cases put against him by the police. The ‘leaders of the community’ did not have time to take up his case, and the label of ‘terrorist’ and that too, a Pakistani one warded off many other friends and relatives to come and help.

Today out from the jail, with two cases still hanging on his head, he is working with an NGO to make a living, taking care of his mother’s expensive treatment and tying to look forward to a life where he can become a professional of some sort. Who is responsible for the wreckage of the lives of Aamir and likes of him? While one can see the role of our biased police system, which regards that Muslim are criminals and terrorists in the main, one can also see the role of the prevalence of biases and misconceptions about the community, floating all around, duly promoted and deepened by the communal forces, our educational books and the slant of media reporting. Now what is the responsibility of community and state in rehabilitating these young boys? In Mecca Majid blast the accused after being arrested were let off and given the compensation of 3 lakhs each, Interestingly when they were arrested there were banner headlines of Muslims being arrested for the blast but when they came clean of it small hidden news is all that items welcomed them.

The situation during last couple of years seems to be slightly better, especially after Hemant Karkare’s path breaking investigation in Malegaon blast and Rajasthan ATS taking the issue forward and the whole saffron gang of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Dayanand Pandey, Swami Aseemanand and company coming under the scanner. Interestingly once this gang has been apprehended the acts of terror have also come down substantially; the right inference needs to be drawn here. It seems the major flaw of these investigations has been the prejudiced mind of the investigating authorities. While a proper rehabilitation and suitable compensation to these youth is imperative there is a dying need for police reforms and their torture techniques need to be questioned. The rights of the inmates, the rights of accused need to be honored. Police authorities are reckless when it comes to Muslim youth, and those officers violating the basic norms generally get away without any punishment. The Khaki seems to be giving them too much unrestrained power to wreck the lives of innocent youth. Is it not time that the case of Aamir and his likes acts a sort of mirror to our Policing system? It calls for an urgent need for putting the issues related to communal harmony, the falsity of prevalent myths on priority basis. Hope such introspection is on amongst those vested with lot of powers.

It is rare that an 18year old, after being tortured for 14 years for belonging to a particular religion, will come out with such positive sentiments, the system also needs to introspect in the context of this young man, help him out in Toto and ensure that such acts of brutality are not repeated by the system and by men in khaki in particular.

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