//Law Before Magnanimity

Law Before Magnanimity


2 july 2011|

What was the home minister thinking of when he pressed the delete button and removed the names of 142 Sikhs from the “blacklist”? If these terrorists were killers once, they are killers now. None of them have shown contrition, and some even live in Pakistan. Why then, all this magnanimity? Or, did the home ministry make a mistake in entering their names in the blacklist? In which case, the government should apologise instead of seeking credit. There is enough evidence of administrative gaffes already. Jagjit Singh Chauhan appears among those removed from the blacklist, but he has been dead for years. As for Jafarwal and Barapind, they have been in India for all this time without a cloud over their heads.

Or, does P Chidambaram think that the terrorists represent the ordinary Sikhs? Wrong again! Minorities are not hurt because the state is prosecuting a few monsters who happen to be from their community. What upsets Sikhs and Muslims the most is that those who led attacks against them are walking about freely, even holding positions of office. As long as they are roaming in the wild, minorities will find it hard to forget the past and get on with their lives.

Sikhs do not really care if Paramjit Singh Panjwar and Ganga Singh Dhillon and 140 others are blacklisted in stone. Nor would the entry of the likes of Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel or David Headley to India warm the hearts of Muslims. Terrorists have never represented minorities, either Muslim or Sikh. Why then should they rejoice because the state is looking the other way and opening up the cage?

If anything, minorities are more conscious of the law than perhaps the majority community is. They too want to forget, but amnesia is not on their side. The only way they can release their pain is if those who brutalised them are punished by the courts. That is the peacemaking gesture they are looking for and not the release of alleged terrorists. Time and time again, often against tremendous odds, minorities in this country have given evidence of their democratic intentions.

Not only was the Muslim turnout in Gujarat’s recent panchayat elections impressive, it was also difficult to figure out whether they voted for, or against, Narendra Modi. On several occasions in Punjab, Sikhs defied the terrorists and came out in large numbers to cast their ballots. The Muslims too disregarded the Shahi Imam’s appeal to abstain from Republic Day celebrations after the Babri masjid episode. Even in normal times, neither Muslims nor Sikhs have succumbed to admonitions from religious heads, granthis or mullahs, and elected whoever they wished.

After the 2002 carnage, many felt that the situation in Gujarat was just what the terrorists would have ordered. Notwithstanding the hardships Muslims faced, subsequent years have shown that there has been no fundamentalist surge in that state. If anything, madrassa education has few takers there. This has encouraged Anjuman-run establishments in Ahmedabad, and elsewhere, to teach a secular curriculum in Gujarati medium. Their Republic Day celebrations are often the most elaborate among all the schools in the neighbourhood.

At times, even clerics of different Islamic organisations faced the displeasure of Muslims in Ahmedabad. One can hear loud complaints against them in refugee colonies like Ramola and Citizen Nagar, set up by the Jamiat-i-Ulema or the Jamaat-i-Islami. Angry though they may be, yet these Muslims are afraid to return to their earlier homes. Such is the magnitude of their fear, and this is what should be addressed. If Chidambaram were now to pardon a few Muslim terrorists, it would hardly help the situation.

Whether Mangolpuri in Delhi or Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, the survivors of 1984 and 2002 respectively continue to weep with their eyes dry and wide open. Why should they rejoice in the return of Bhindranwale’s nephew Lakhbir Singh Rode or Wadhwa Singh Chachi of the Babbar Khalsa? As long as the guilty of 1984 and 2002 are still at large, the past will haunt their future.

Looking behind your shoulder is not the recommended way to lead a normal life, but that is the best minorities can do. When the next political turmoil happens, will there be a target on their backs again? History, after all, has a way of repeating itself. No wonder, fear is a constant fixture at their door.

Democracy functions on the principles of law, not on charity or noblesse oblige. It would have made Sikhs and Muslims happier if the home minister had worked a little harder and sentenced those guilty of minority bashing. This is the healing balm that the affected communities are looking for. It makes no difference to them if the blacklisted lot is kept in a safari park or a zoo.

When Sonia Gandhi visited the Golden Temple in 1999, the Jathedars were courteous, but withheld gifting her the saropa. She apologised for 1984, but did nothing to bring in the killers. Later, Manmohan Singh’s apology in Parliament in 2005 struck a hopeful note, but that soon faded away. The Sikhs that had tuned in then, slowly began to tune out.

Chidamabaram’s grand gesture in pruning the Sikh blacklist was like singing to the choir. It was an impressive show orchestrated by Tarvinder Singh Marwah, a Congress legislator. But as it played to an in-house audience, it left the ordinary Sikh out and as tone deaf as before.

Jul 1, 2011The Times of India (The writer is former professor, JNU.)