After the young Brazilian, J.C. de Menezes, was shot and killed at point-blank range by British plain clothes police in the London underground last month there was a widespread sense of revulsion and indignation at this most brutal manifestation of terrorism by state functionaries. It brought home how, in a country that calls itself democratic, the life of an individual could have so little value that it could be just snuffed out by the state, and then justified in the name of “fighting terrorism”.
Few, however, have drawn the parallel between what happened to de Menezes, and the experience undergone by Syed Geelani, a Delhi University lecturer recently acquitted by the Supreme Court on conspiracy charges in the Parliament attack case.
Geelani, a respected University lecturer, well-known to a wide circle of students and teachers as well as others, suddenly found his world turned upside down when he was picked up, jailed and tortured for being a co-conspirator in the Parliament attack case. In the hush-hush world of POTA cases, the public never got to know the exact charges and evidence against him. Instead, Geelani faced an ordeal by slander as choice bits of rumour and speculation about his alleged complicity were fed to the public by the police via an obliging media. All the time, death was staring him in the face. The POTA court went ahead and convicted and sentenced him to death.
By the time the High Court and then the Supreme Court were forced to acquit him for lack of evidence (the High Court even said there was not a shred of evidence against him), six long years had passed. Although he was released from custody after the High Court verdict, the sword of Damocles continued to hand over him as he tried to resume his normal life, pending the Supreme Court’s verdict on the police’s appeal. As if that was not enough, he was shadowed, mysteriously shot and very nearly killed one evening while he went to meet his lawyer. The police has no answer as to who could have attacked him, despite is being a high-profile figure with undoubtedly a police tail attached to him. And then, as if to make sure that he could enjoy no peace of mind, the Supreme Court, while upholding his acquittal by the High Court, went on record saying that still the “needle of suspicion” pointed to him.
For a person proclaimed innocent by two courts, Geelani underwent a prolonged ordeal to which no human being should be subjected. No state agency is answerable for what he and his family were put through. Everything is justified in the name of “fighting terrorism”, just as in the case of de Menezes. As Geelani himself has pointed out, he was targeted because he was a Kashmiri. Every day, Kashmiris like him, and various other individuals and groups of people across the country, are targeted for persecution, harassment and physical violence by the authorities, on no other grounds than “suspicion”, because they happen to belong to a certain community, a certain place, a certain social stratum. Through vague and unsubstantiated propaganda about “terrorism”, spread widely through the media, the public at large is being made to believe that such persecution is justified. All this is a mockery not only of democracy and human rights, but the concept of the equality of all citizens before the law.