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Human Rights At the Altar of Security Expediency

Manoj Mitta

By Manisha Sethi
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2014, pp. xii 216, Rs. 350.00


Thanks to the excesses following 9/11 (racial profiling, waterboarding, rendition to other countries, etc.), counterterrorism has been a subject of much public scrutiny in the US. The recent disclosure of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s reports on the CIA torture programme is a case in point. The elaborate documentation sharply divided the country on the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and their effectiveness in thwarting terror plots or tracing masterminds like Osama Bin Laden. Such commotion in the US is all the more remarkable given that most of the victims of those human rights violations were nationals of other countries. Yet, it triggered off a campaign for a law to ensure that the US never again tortures. No less than the New York Times called for the prosecution of senior members of the erstwhile George Bush administration for their alleged complicity in torture.   All this is a far cry from the muted response in India to the first-ever official acknowledgement around the same time to an even more egregious custodial crime affecting its own citizens: namely, cold-blooded murders of innocents passed off by the state apparatus as counterterrorism. The Army convicted and awarded life sentence to five of its personnel, including two officers, for staging the killing of three Kashmiri residents in Machhil and branding them as foreign militants for rewards. Since Machhil was part of a long series of extra judicial killings, especially in States covered by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, civil liberties groups renewed their demand for the scrapping of this draconian law, a corrective that had also been recommended years ago by an official committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Jeevan Reddy. Yet, in the Kashmir election that closely followed the Machhil breakthrough, it was business as usual as none of the serious contenders dared to go the whole distance on AFSPA. The mainstream media too showed little interest in following up on the convictions for the 2010 fake encounter, although this unprecedented development came on the heels of the cavalier killing by soldiers of two youths driving back in a car from a Muharram procession in Budgam.  It is against the backdrop of such indifference in India to the widespread practice of state crimes camouflaged as counterterrorism comes this eye opener called Kafkaland: Prejudice, Law and Counterterrorism in India. The book, as suggested by its title, uncovers layers of deception perpetrated by various state actors—spies, ...

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