The Biryani That Never Was: 2 Lessons From The Media Trial Of Ajmal Kasab

Posted on March 23, 2015 in Specials

By Sagar ​​Godbole:

Within days of the 26/11 attack, there was a great hue and cry demanding that Ajmal Kasab be arrested and executed swiftly. A great many felt that considering the audaciousness and the scale of the attack, a quick retaliation against the terrorist, by bypassing the ordinary procedures meant for the ‘regular’ crimes, was justified. Every other day I could hear someone on the street, train, or bus claim that our ‘system’ was being too nice to Kasab.

Ujjwal Nikam

The outrage regarding the trial dragging on increased multifold when almost all media outlets faithfully reported the Special Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam saying, “Kasab demanded that he be served Biryani while in prison.” Barely any news channels reported the prison officers’ comments about the incident. Either the channels swept up in nationalistic outrage did not bother to probe deeper, or the Prisons Department was asked not to comment. Either way, the fact remains that the entire nation believed a lie and went on to berate Kasab. The truth, as finally admitted by Ujwal Nikam, is that he made up the story regarding Kasab’s demands for Biryani.

Now think about this, of all the people that you have heard berate the Indian legal system for being too slow in conducting Kasab’s trial and the delay in hanging him, how many were actual victims of the 26/11 attacks? By and large, those baying for Kasab’s blood and saying that he did not deserve humanitarian treatment were merely relying upon media reports, and we now know how easily that could be manipulated.

Kasab was no doubt guilty of barbarous, horrific and unconscionable acts. However, what exactly was his role was needed to be determined by the courts. He was sentenced to death but only after the trial court called all the eye-witness to the stand and gave Kasab a chance to defend himself. While it is tempting to deny the right to a fair trial to terrorists, it is a right that no doubt everyone would want for themselves if they were to be the accused.

This time the media trial got the right guy, but were wrong regarding the food he was having. What if tomorrow the media trial get the wrong guy? This isn’t the first time the media has been hoodwinked, and I am sure this is far from the last.

It is the free and fair judiciary that keeps all of us safe from injustice. If the ‘system’ was updated to just hang or punish every single person who the police accused of being a terrorist, then over time they shall start taking things easy. They can just pick a random person, accuse them of being guilty, and everyone would probably believe so when the TV news flash it (just as everyone believed that Kasab demanded Biryani). In such a case, the person shall have no means to defend themselves without a trial. They can end up in prison, or worse still at the gallows. The really scary part is that the poor fellow could be you.

At present, since every accused has every chance to defend themselves, the police naturally have to do a good and thorough investigation because if they don’t, then the defence lawyers can easily get the accused off the hook. This keeps each and everyone of us safe because a thorough police investigation coupled with a chance to defend oneself means that an innocent individual won’t get convicted.

While I hope the government takes action against Ujwal Nikam for spreading lies simply to build up public opinion, there are two lessons for every Indian today –

1. Don’t condemn anyone as a terrorist or don’t attribute certain acts to an accused undertrial just because the media says something. Determining guilt is a judge’s job, not a TV anchor’s.

2. Be thankful for the fair legal system. A trial by media can be easily influenced by people like Nikam and the next time it might just be you on the receiving end.

Finally, the question that everyone should ponder about is – Would you like for yourself or your parent/child/spouse, the same limited and minimal legal recourses that you wish be extended to an alleged terrorist?