AN Indian court in Gujarat has awarded capital punishment to 38 men for serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad that killed 57 in July 2008. It is the highest number of death sentences handed in a single trial in India. The convicts were accused of seeking to avenge the mass murder of Muslims in the 2002 Gujarat pogroms. They were accused of having links with a shadowy group of extremists — the Indian Mujahideen, with alleged cross-border links. An appeal is due in the high court and the matter could eventually find its way to the supreme court. It cannot but be noticed that the Gujarat court’s bloodlust in handing down the death sentence to over three dozen men in one go has come at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is desperately canvassing for support along communal lines in tough elections underway in five states, including the prized state of Uttar Pradesh. That Indian law courts of late are being tweaked to accord with the right-wing majoritarian politics of the day rather than securing secular justice for the harassed and hounded masses is not lost on the world. Four supreme court justices had to go public to express their fears for the independence of the judiciary in an increasingly corrosive political climate.
The Gujarat verdict appears to be a new normal in a self-induced climate of blood and mayhem that India is going through — and a significant departure from the time when the family of Rajiv Gandhi would appeal for clemency to the convicts on death row in the former prime minister’s brutal murder. In the new normal, politically chuffed sadhus and their powerful patrons can be seen calling for genocide of the Muslims without any agency mandated to keep law and order looking one bit concerned. In the new normal, a daily barrage of mindlessly conjured symbols of hatred mainly targeting Muslims, Christians, Dalits and even Sikhs are served up to a people who have barely recovered from their trauma of lost livelihoods and of far too many family members dead, including those abandoned on river banks or succumbing on footpaths for want of oxygen cylinders, falling prey equally to the deadly pandemic and to official apathy. India started out as a promising democracy that proudly flaunted its cultural mix and its formidable religious mosaic. The right-wing lurch has singed its core institutions, among them, sadly, its judiciary.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2022