November 1, 2018 @ 11:45 am


Ending impunity

Delhi HC retrieves a lost cause and convicts those behind the Hashimpura massacre

The conviction of 16 personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) for the massacre of Muslims committed 31 years ago is a rare instance of the justice system responding to the cry for accountability and justice. By sentencing the 16 men to imprisonment for the remainder of their life, the Delhi High Court has signalled an end to the impunity they had seemingly enjoyed all along due to systemic delays and perfunctory investigation. An hour after sunset on May 22, 1987, about 45 men from Hashimpura village near Meerut in Uttar Pradesh were abducted in a PAC truck, most of them shot and their bodies thrown into two canals. They were among more than 600 people rounded up by the security forces after the brother of an Army officer was killed in communal violence and two rifles were stolen by rioters from the PAC. The police later established 38 deaths, but could not find the bodies of 22 of them. The U.P. Crime Branch-CID filed a charge sheet in 1996 against 19 PAC personnel, including Surender Pal Singh, commander of the ‘C-Company’ of the 41st Battalion. The prosecution case was backed by the testimony of five men who survived being shot and thrown into waterbodiesIn 2015, the trial court acquitted all the 16 available accused (three, including the commander, had died by then), as it did not have evidence on the identity of the truck or the PAC men travelling on it.

The en masse acquittal was a travesty of justice. There was great concern that documents that could have helped nail the accused had been weeded out. It is to the credit of the Delhi High Court that it was not content with merely examining the evidence produced before the trial court. Accepting a plea by the National Human Rights Commission, it allowed additional evidence to be recorded by the trial court even as the appeal was pendingThe C-Company’s registers, with records of the movement of PAC vehicles and the deployment of personnel, provided the evidence to pinpoint both the truck that had left the Police Lines, Meerut, and its occupantsThese records were not available to the trial court. Apart from bringing home the culpability of the accused, the High Court concluded that these were custodial deaths as well as targeted killings of people from a particular community. The Hashimpura massacre case will be long remembered both for the unconscionable delay the judicial system has become habituated to and for the manner in which a case almost lost has been retrieved by the higher judiciary. It is also a reminder that there is a constant need for reassurance that policing and the criminal justice process in the country will remain fair, and free from all manner of prejudice.

Age of Bolsonaro

The victory of the divisive firebrand raises serious anxieties about the future of Brazil

In electing retired army Captain Jair Bolsonaro as its President, Brazil has chosen to be governed by a man described as the “Trump of the Tropics”, after the 45th U.S. President, Donald Trump. Mr. Bolsonaro swept a runoff election over the weekend, winning nearly 55% of the vote to defeat the left-of-centre Fernando Haddad. Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign, run largely on social media, evoking comparisons to Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, vowed to tackle political corruption and economic mismanagement, and crack down hard on rising crime, especially gang violence. That this campaign promise resonated more with Brazilian voters than they were put off by Mr. Bolsonaro’s dangerously regressive outbursts and polarising verbal attacks denigrating women and minorities, supporting torture, and threatening opponents with violence, says much about the mood of the nation today. However, years from now, Brazilian pollsters, like the political pundits baffled by Mr. Trump’s win, will be asking how a presidential candidate such as Mr. Bolsonaro, who also openly professed his love of dictatorships, could not only find acceptance but soar meteorically in its domestic politics. To comprehend this outcome and the path on which Brazil has put itself in electing Mr. Bolsonaro, it is important to remember the legacy of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and his leftist Workers’ Party.

When Brazil’s military dictatorship ended in 1985, the balance of power tipped toward leaders of centrist and leftist leanings. After Mr. da Silva, known as Lula, and his Workers’ Party won in 2003, they settled in for 13 years of rule, including five years under Dilma Rousseff. Throughout this period the government made alleviating the poverty of millions of Brazilians its top priority and achieved remarkable strides in this space. Yet, over time Brazil’s political class became corruption-stained, and at some point most voters lost faith in that leadership. That happened as theeconomy gradually descended into deep recession, even as the far-reaching Petrobras “Car Wash” corruption scandal started toppling dozens of political and business elites across the spectrum, culminating in the controversial impeachment of Ms. Rousseff in 2016 and then the jailing of Mr. da Silva in April 2018 with a 12-year sentence for corruption and money-laundering. In the longest arc of history, the rise and fall of Brazil’s leftist politics may have brought succour to the most vulnerable demographic but it left the middle class feeling neglected. Now, the backlash is complete. Mr. Bolsonaro brings to high office the promise to reduce regulation and tax and boost investor confidence, and also the threat to more extensively exploit Brazil’s vast natural resources, including the Amazon rainforest; he has proposed to build a highway through it. This, along with his disdain for the Paris climate change accord, could mark a disturbing departure from Brazil’s historical sensitivity to keeping its precious environmental resources intact.

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