When a verdict and a sentence — both of extraordinary importance to a vast number of people in particular and to the country’s self-understanding in general — are given on the same day, justice suddenly becomes an intensely felt presence. At such unusual moments, the courts satisfy the people’s need to believe in the impartial operations of justice. Even the fact that the verdict in the case of the Naroda Patia massacre in Gujarat has come 10 years after the event seems unimportant. Justice is perceived as functioning strongly and independently with the arrest of people like Maya Kodnani, a doctor who had been a member of the legislative assembly at the time of the killings and later became a Bharatiya Janata Party minister. Besides, unlike in the other cases related to the 2002 killings in Gujarat, the number of the convicted exceeds the number of the acquitted, although many feel that certain mob leaders have got away. But progress in the case has not been easy; it was delayed endlessly till the special investigation team took it up, and this may be contributing to the sense of achievement. The death sentence on Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving murderer from the night of terror in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 has not taken so much time. The convolutions of the plot, with its red herrings trying to point to members of India’s minority community, caused some delay, but Kasab’s presence, ironically, helped rather than hindered the investigation.
The reported reason for the death sentence is an indication of India’s culture of justice. It is Kasab’s blatant lack of remorse that decided the court at the end, it seems, for the death sentence is given in ‘the rarest of rare’ cases. Kasab is young, he could have been brainwashed or misled. Only when the court was satisfied that such was not the case was the death sentence passed. In both cases of the verdict and the sentence, the families of victims have at last felt that some justice is being done. In both cases, again, a whole country has been reminded of the ties between communities, often at painful odds with one another yet linked in some intangible way, held together in their differences as much by accepted habits of coexistence as by the institutions of the republic functioning at their best. The positive image of justice that is now dominant will gain in strength if the judgments have their expected consequences.