Sometimes a story can make you want to run away and hide.
I was on the phone to Ajit Sahi, talking about his tenacious reportage that had blown the lid off one particular narrative. Last year he had investigated how the Indian state had banned a grouping called the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) just days after 9/11, and thereafter how the police had locked up scores of former SIMI members as suspected terrorists. Incredibly, Sahi was the first independent journalist to explore whether the charges held up. The rest of the Indian news media had been content to parrot the official line.
Over three months, he investigated case after case, met many of the accused, their families – and discovered that there hadn’t been a shred of viable evidence presented in any of the cases. He recounted how, after meeting a stream of weeping relatives whose lives had been ripped up and hearing tales of gruesome abuse, he thought he was going crazy. The truth can be like that sometimes.
And then he said what was on my mind – if it could happen to all these people, could it not happen to me or you? Given the right set of circumstances and prejudices, of course. In his piece for us, he looks back on that story and the continuing scandal of those wrongly accused.
Terrorism must be countered with the sharpest and best means at our disposal, there can be no doubt about that. And our best attempts must also be made to plug its wellsprings with whatever works – often boring diplomacy.
But we cannot let justice suffer, and kick aside years of work on building up human rights, as our first response to terrorism. Which is exactly what we seem to have done. It does nothing to solve the problem; instead we create new ones to get mired in.
The quest for justice continues in our photographic Special Feature this month, which chronicles the dogged effort required all round in a situation as complex as that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the use of rape as a weapon of war was widespread. And in our Essay from Sierra Leone, we see how an expensive international judicial set-up has left a rather impoverished legacy.
Dinyar Godrej for the New Internationalist co-operative.
Photo by Bill M.