Justice A M Ahmadi's Inaugural Address
Acts of what are generally described as 'terror' were prevalent in various parts of the globe, more particularly in the middle-east but they went unnoticed until the 9/11 attacks on the Twin-towers and the Pentagon in USA. Greatly agonized and humiliated, the Bush administration declared, what is described as a war on terror, and identified and targeted certain countries and organizations as axis of evil. The search for a globally acceptable meaning on terrorism commenced which raised certain moot questions: what constitutes terrorism, who is a terrorist, what gives rise to terrorism, how would society be able to get rid of the scourge of this menace, etc. Unless law is able to define these expressions with precision, it may be difficult to formulate a globally acceptable definition because every violent act may not be an act of terrorism; it may just be a crime or retaliation to unjust oppression. Dictionaries have given different meanings and even the United Nations with the aid of big powers has struggled in vain to reach a consensus on defining terrorism and related expressions.
This unquestionably is the most controversial and challenging issue. In the field of political conflicts different groups adopt diverse means to fight perceived injustices. For example, the weak may use as means that the powerful may describe as an act of terror and on that pretext may justify use of brutal force against the weak to suppress the agitation. For example, the British described the Sepoy uprising as mutiny whereas the Indian nationalists described it as the beginning of the freedom movement. General Dyer's massacre at Jalianwala Bagh in 1919 was also sought to be brushed under the carpet by the British rulers. The weak may show their determination to struggle for a cause through non-violence as Gandhiji did on principle. Others may do so because they could not match the strength of the powerful. If they had any other means to fight they might have used it no matter how uneven was the fight. If they had such means to fight, would they be described as terrorist? Can you ever call Shahid Bhagat Singh or Subhas Chandra Bose a terrorist? Yes in the eyes of the British, no in the eyes of nationalist Indians. Can we forget those inspiring lines: This shows how difficult it is to define 'terrorists' or 'terrorism'. This is not to say that violence may be condoned, it may be punishable as a crime, but it may be difficult to brand it as an act of terrorism.
In the end it depends on how you perceive the action of the parties involved. From the above it can be understood why and how difficult it is to find precise definitions of 'terrorism' and related actions. Therefore, we often view an act in isolation and in ordinary parlance describe it as a terrorist attack; we do so without a specific definition.
Leonard Weinberg and Paul Davis described terrorism, as a weapon of the weak employed against the powerful not intended to conjure up to change the balance of power but an effort at being heard. In other words as a voice of the voiceless hoping to be heard by the powerful. According to Grant Wardlaw the use of terror in itself does not constitute terrorism because terror may be employed in the political arena as a weapon of psychological warfare. It can be just a strategy to secure certain legitimate demands that are denied unjustly. What can the weak do against the powerful that refuses to listen? Grievances, if unresolved for long, can result in violent responses. Terror violence can thus be the end product of the weaker sections of society whose rights have been trampled or suppressed and who is at their wits end to realize them.
It must be remembered that there comes a time when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, when they experience the bleakness of nagging despair, there comes a time when they get tired of being pushed around, there comes a time when they get tired of being lectured; there comes a time when they get tired of being patient after showing amazing patience, there comes a time when they realize they are left with no alternative but to protest; protest to save themselves from that which makes them patient; protest to save themselves from indignities that are heaped upon them and to ultimately raise their voice for justice. Tolerance gives way to retaliation in whatever form it may come and yet it may be sought to be branded as terrorism. In a democracy governed by the rule of law, it is all the more frustrating and agonizing if those in power turn a Nelson's eye and do not show the will to act and to resolve their grievances. Our governmental agencies have not shown the sensitivity and impartial professionalism expected of them in dealing with volatile communal conflicts. If problems are weighed not on merits and justification but in the scales of politics - I mean vote-bank politics- it leaves in the victims a deep feeling of inveterate rancour of injustice, which in turn generates despair, anger and bitterness.
I am reminded of a story of how strong is the desire for liberty even in sheep closeted in a dingy room. One sheep struggled to escape to freedom, succeeded to break loose, but was immediately devoured by the leopard hiding behind a bush. The others saw their colleague being devoured by the leopard but they kept up their struggle, one after another lost their lives in the pursuit for liberty but that did not deter them from fighting for freedom, even if it was momentary.
The discussion on terrorism can be divided into two parts, (i) domestic terrorism and (ii) global terrorism. Again domestic terrorism needs to be classified in two parts, namely (i) State sponsored terrorism and (ii) terrorism by private groups. It may incidentally include oppression of minorities. Although Article 22 of our Constitution offers protection against detention in custody clause (3) thereof exempts detention under any law providing for preventive detention. India has a long history of preventive detention laws right from the British rule and thereafter in post-independence era. To name a few, the MISA, TADA, 1987, POTA, 2002, besides State laws like MCOCA in Maharashtra. TADA and POTA have since been repealed because of the outcry of misuse but MCOCA is still in operation. The leader of the opposition in Parliament threatens to introduce a harsher law forgetting that harsher the law the lesser the convictions. However, the idea may be to keep people in custody through strict provisions against grant of bail.
We in India live under the umbrella of our Constitution that guarantees certain freedoms and promises the rule of law. Citizens are entitled to freedom of conscience and to freely profess, practise and propagate their religion and to manage their own affairs in matters of religion, preserve and conserve their language and culture. So far as minorities are concerned they have been promised the right to establish and administer educational institutions. If these rights are suppressed or trampled, voices of protest are bound to arise. Certain self-appointed groups, masquerading as guardians of so-called culture, sanguine in the belief that the party in power will not take any action against them, nay, will in fact extend protection from prosecution, violate the law of the land with impunity and unabashedly and commit violence against Christians, their priests and vandalize their churches particularly in States governed by parties well disposed to them. To-date the victims of the anti-sikh riots are fighting for justice, so are the victims of the Bombay riots and the 2002 Gujarat riots. They see a paradox, in that, while the perpetrators of the serial bomb blast case have been tried and convicted, those who indulged in wide-spread killings of Muslims are still at large even though the Sri-Krishna Commission have identified and named them. Even in Gujarat, but for the pro-active role of the Supreme Court, the State Government would not have taken effective action and if sensitive cases had not been transferred outside the State, they too would have ended in acquittals. It is this feeling of injustice, which still rancours in the hearts of victims and/or their family members, is not promptly addressed, patience may run out. These are grave human rights violations which no civilized country can afford to tolerate them.
Unfortunately, in the last few decades, the focus of Indian politics has deviated from principles and ideology to religious hate and expediency. Sadly, the utilitarian principle 'the end justifies the means' has sunk deeply into certain political group and so-called cultural outfits which has forced certain other political parties to counter them, thereby allowing the same colour to stick to them. The entire political environment of the country has been polluted. In the process principled/ideological politics has receded to the back burner. The Bhartiya Janata Party believed to be the rightist party and the Communist the leftist, stand ideologically at two ends, with the Indian National Congress sandwiched between them, its economic policy oscillating, shifting its focus on secularism to counter communal politics. On the other hand, the hate campaign unleashed by the communal forces, particularly the Sangh Parivar outfits, against the Muslims and the Christians, has been largely responsible for the lack of social harmony in the country. Those in power have not shown the required will to suppress such activities. In the ultimate human rights are violated with impunity.
And now a new type of parochial terrorism is raising its ugly face. Once again we saw the administration ineffective, not willing to take prompt stern action for fear of losing the vote-bank. If this disease spreads to other States we will soon be dividing the country. It is time that the Justice Misra Committee Report is placed on the table of the Parliament to stop speculative reports in the media.
The police take a partisan position during communal riots and are soft towards the perpetrators and brutal against the victims. This has been noticed by riot commissions and commissions set up to suggest police reforms. Command responsibility, both in administration and the police, has not been introduced despite pressing demands from victim groups. Experience has shown that those in power bank on public memory being short and hope everything will be forgotten with the passage of time. Thanks to the will of the courageous Sikh community to fight for justice and rights, the issue has not died down. The Christians and the Muslims too have to learn from them; to pursue a cause to its logical end. The media, in particular the television channels must evolve a code and assist the victim groups in their struggle for justice; they will by assisting them in fact assist in strengthening the ethos of the Constitution and the Rule of Law so that impunity does not prevail. The media needs to have its heart in the right place; some channels have in fact done excellent work; but in such sensitive matters there should be some consensus so that the right message goes out.
Soon after the unfortunate 9/11 incidents, the Bush administration, in declaring a war on terror, unwittingly gave the impression that it was a war against Islam, the ummah, and then followed the invasion of Iraq and indiscriminate arrests and detentions of people belonging to that faith. I need not to dwell on this aspect any longer except to say that efforts were later made to remove this impression and I read in the Indian Express of 26th April 2008 (page 12-International) that the Bush administration had issued an advisory to avoid using expressions, such as, Jehadist, Islamic facism, ummah, wahabis, Sofis, etc. dair aye durast aye. It is unfortunate that for the deeds of a few misguided members of the community, Islam and the whole community was blamed and looked upon with suspicion. Islam has had in the past also to weather such storms but, as the poet aptly says, it emerged stronger:
Yunan-o-misr-o-Roma sab mit gaye jehan se;
Baqi abhi talak hai nam-o-nishan hamara;
Kuch baat hai ke hasti mitti nahi hamari,
Sadio rahe hai dushman daur-e-zaman hamare
but the responsibility to protect Islam rests heavily on the shoulders of its true believers. It is our duty to protect our country, nay, the globe, from such misguided souls and to expose them. If we fail in this duty we will have failed Islam.
With these words I have great pleasure in inaugurating this Convention and wish your deliberations a fruitful outcome. I thank the organizers for the honour done to me by inviting me to inaugurate this convention.
Justice A M Ahmadi's Inaugural Address
Dr M Manzoor Alam's Keynote Address
Document on Terrorism and Justice