Friday, November 20, 2009

Vendetta in Bangladesh

15 August, 1975 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and part of his family killed

June, 1996 His daughter Sheikh Hasina comes to power after western donors restore democracy

April, 2001 High Court confirms death sentences for 12 of the accused

October, 2001 Shaikh Hasina loses election and Khaleda Zia becomes prime minister

December, 2008 Sheikh Hasina reelected

August, 2009 Final appeal hearing begins

November 19 2009 Appellate division confirms judgment of death by hanging

Thus, we see that the case had lain dormant, under the protective mantel of an Indemnity Ordnance, promulgated by President Khandker Moshtaque Ahmed, and later ratified by General Zia as Indemnity Act of 1979.

The "assassins" were rewarded with lucrative posts and given heroes' status by every subsequent government until the election of 1996 produced Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Mujib. She had survived the killing becasue she had been out of the country in 1975.

Therefore, the pattern that emerges is this: killers are hailed as heroes till 1996, the dynasty acquires state power in that year, loses it in the election of 2001, when proceedings against the killers stop, and are resumed again after Hasina, the daughter, returns to power in December, 2008.

A personal vendetta? A lynching? Victors justice? All three.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was fourteen, and I lived in Dhanmandi, very near the scene of the killing. At dawn, I heard the booming of guns, and woke up in fear. Later, we learned that Mujib and his family had been killed: there was rejoicing throughout the land!

Against this background, what are we to make of the Supreme Court verdict? Well, to put it mildly, it opens up an enormous gap between law and morality. The law must posit that every killing in peacetime is murder; but a moment’s consideration will show that morality can never posit that every killing in peacetime is immoral. Was the killing of Caligula murder? Certainly. But was it immoral? Certainly not.

Furthermore, we cannot consent to the proposition that the law, and the legal process, is always just.

Take Chief Justice Taney. A devout Catholic, he had emancipated all his slaves; yet, when the Dred Scott case came up, he had to assert that 'a black man has no rights'. When the Bengal terrorists were gunning down British officers and, after due process, were being carted off to the Andamans, Bengalis hated the English for that: now, several streets in Calcutta are named after 'terrorists'.

Moreover, the Supreme Court, respect for which must be implanted in the heart of every citizen if we are to live in peace and with a clear conscience, has been sullied by a case that was basically moral, not legal. Now, no one, except the narrow band of fanatics devoted to the House of Mujib, who reck with neither morality nor logic, will regard the ‘due process’ as little more than an elaborate charade. The Supreme Court came into bad odour the day democracy was introduced: December 6, 1990. On that day, after General Ershad resigned, the Chief Justice became president, instead of the vice-president per constitution; later, he had this illegality legalized when parliament sat and passed two amendments. Since then, no one has ever believed that the Supreme Court is above politics.

Now, they will say, there goes the last institution to the democratic dog.

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