Retrofit: What is the cost of a human life in India?


Opinion, Op Ed

India’s war on terror in Kashmir is costing the nation.

A case has been registered against four people including the accused, his 2 friends and owner of banquet hall under IPC section 302. (Photo: Video grab)

Can we put a cost to human life? The incident in Bathinda the other day where a 20-something pregnant dancer was shot in a nanosecond after she refused and repulsed the advances of an inebriated man in the audience... The video shows him grabbing a rifle and shooting the woman in the stomach, the guest and his cronies are still believed to be absconding. Worse still, not only was the woman’s life snuffed out, but the two-month-old foetus too died with her. Cut to the fidayeen attack on the 16 Corps headquarters in Nagrota where several of our jawans and two majors were killed in the first flush of the dawn attack which carried on for hours till the entire place was sanitised. India’s war on terror in Kashmir is costing the nation. The bodybags are mounting as the frequency of suicide attacks is also being ramped up. Soldiers from distant parts of India who believe in the idea, ideal and idiom of this great nation are succumbing to fidayeen attacks with increasing regularity.

Are we following standard operating procedures (SOPs)? Does the textbook need to evolve to deal with the asymmetrical war unleashed on India? Of course it does, boilerplates have to shift, it is an evolutionary process, guerrilla wars need a different kind of approach and tactics. And sharper vigil, for it’s clear that the handlers of the fidayeen have rewritten the code of warfare. There is a quantum surge in the threat analysis and for the pawns in this moral chess game, how does one deal with a man who is unafraid to die? Since the beginning of this year, Pakistan has been targeting military installations where terrorists have surreptitiously and unobtrusively managed to breach our defences at Grade-A bases repeatedly, pointing to a malaise and slackness on our part. The security apparatus has seen innumerable violations, which is a telling reminder on wilful neglect. This point to a serious problem, one that requires a tactical response from our Army commanders. Let us also consider fatigue as a factor, in a 24x7 heightened vigil environment, it cannot be ignored. In fact, since the much-hyped surgical strike, more than that 25 jawans and officers of the security forces have died.

As a continuum, let us look at the price of liberty. What is the price of liberty in India? For a rich man, it could be as much as Rs 200 crores as prognosticated by the Supreme Court in Subrata Roy’s case. For a poor man wrongly accused, languishing in jail for years with no one to fight his case, the price of liberty is zero. And out of mind is out of sight in India. In the curious case of Sahara’s Roy, he has to cough up Rs 200 crores for every month that he stays out of Tihar, this is after spending two years incarcerated. In late November, reading the riot act to Sahara boss Subrata Roy, the Supreme Court asked him to deposit Rs 600 crores more by February 6 next year in the Sebi-Sahara refund account to remain out of jail, and if he fails to do, he would have to return to prison. A bench comprising Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and A.K. Sikri also said it may consider appointing a receiver of properties if the group finds itself unable to sell them to pay back dues to investors. So, I guess, Rs 200 crores per month is the price of liberty for Roy. This case is unique in the annals of the Indian legal system for this is not judicial or police custody, he was in the SC’s exclusive custody. Till date Roy has deposited Rs 1,200 crores to stay out.

Even in the 2G spectrum case, the accused were chargesheeted and not even under trial when they were taken in. The law works on the principle of precedence. It is only after the current attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, while arguing for Madhu Koda, got his client off that the floodgates opened for other accused in the 2G spectrum case. My mind switched on rewind to mid-November 2011, when in an extremely significant move, the Supreme Court agreed to examine whether bail can be denied on grounds of gravity of offence. The counsels complained that courts in recent times have been routinely rejecting bail in violation of the fundamental right of life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court decided to examine whether trial courts or high courts could deny bail in high-profile cases simply on the ground of “gravity of offence”, contrary to the earlier maxim “bail is the rule, jail is an exception”. At the core of this debate remains the same underlying credo — bail is the norm and jail an exception. But as we saw in the 2G spectrum case, all the accused were sent to jail. It shook the foundations of civil society in the country for these accused were in jail pending trial.

In Roy’s case, it is the court’s majesty which was trifled with. Given a specific date to appear before it, Roy chose to ignore the call, citing his mother’s illness. Now let me contrast this with what can only be described as a denouement on our legal system. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to the ministry of home affairs and the Delhi police, directing them to submit, within a month, detailed reports regarding a man who was wrongly incarcerated for 14 years. This celebrated case dating back to March 2014 earned the ire of one and all. The case relates to Mohammad Amir, who was arrested on charges of terrorism in 1998 and released in January 2012. He was acquitted in 18 of the 20 terror cases for lack of evidence as the prosecution failed to produce a single witness in any of the cases connecting him to the blasts. The NHRC said Justice D. Murugesan had issued notices to both the Union home ministry and the Delhi police commissioner, while seeking the entire record of the 12 separate cases that had been filed against him, along with the report. For 14 years, he was imprisoned. “While Amir remained confined to a solitary high-security cell in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, he did not know that his father had passed away in penury and his mother got paralysis, suffered a brain haemorrhage and lost speech amid a social boycott,” an NHRC official said. A tragedy of monumental proportions. Which brings us back to the cost of a human life — a bullet for a dancer and those preventing infiltration at the border, Rs 200 crores for Roy and 14 years for a terror suspect. What a travesty.