Recent verdict in the case of 'Nirbhaya', Supreme Court highlighted 'Collective Conscience' as one of the main deciding factors to term events, that unfolded this incident, as 'rarest of rare' crime. 'Collective Conscience', in recent times, has become a white cloak behind which jigsaw pieces of cases are arranged to reach a conclusive judgment. And the cases where cover of 'Collective Conscience' is not tendered, the decisions slant and slide against genuine merits.
'Nirbhaya' case is one of the cases in the long list of other unfortunate and shameful cases that unexpectedly could muster huge support of 'Collective Conscience' and could flick the straw over the otherwise dead conscience of collective humanity. In other cases that have not been able to gather rallies of black clad people on the streets holding candles in their hands shove away through the wind without creating a whiff in the nostrils. The faces in the silent gatherings protesting in this case could not be differentiated on the basis of religion, caste, race nor even on economic distinctions. People from all hues, classes and strata of the society in one voice condemned the incident and agitated to the last layer of their vocal bands.
The 'Collective Conscience' has been able to do tasks that ordinarily justice system could not, the tasks that the codes and laws fail to do. Four criminals in this case have been delegated to gallows. Afzal Guru hanged with the stamp of 'Collective Conscience' on the papers of his death sentence. Pellet guns in Kashmir justified for the 'Collective Conscience' to know that the children of Kashmir deserve to be blinded and their own children merit the best of schooling and facilities. Rapes of Dalits are acceptable for they hardy are human beings in the eyes of 'Collective Conscience'. 'Konunpuspora' incident where women were raped and in many cases the children as young as 5 years were made to watch the chastity of their mothers being ravaged, cannot to be questioned since a blot on Conscience collectively is after all the blot on patriotic credentials of 'Collective Conscience'.
How biased has approach of 'Collective Conscience' been turned into! 'Collective Conscience' has been designated as a set of Conscience that perfectly fits into the mental frame of 'Hindu Nationalism'. One community determines the contours of 'Collective Conscience' and members of other communities participate in the scheme of things reflecting the conscience of majority community. However at the times when members of minority community are subjected to sufferings that deserve shaking of 'Collective Conscience', the cruel silence grips and chokes conscience of whole humanity.
In the similar case of 'Bilkis Banu', a 19 year old Muslim girl who was gang raped in 2002 while 14 of her family members were killed which included her 2 year old daughter, life imprisonment awarded by trial court was upheld by the Bombay High Court just two days before the verdict of 'Nirbhaya'. This case over the period of 15 years did not stir 'Collective Conscience' of nation. Central Bureau of Investigation had sought Death Penalty to at least three of the convicts for having gang-raped 'Bilkis' and for having mercilessly murdered her family members. Two year old girl child killed, mother while holding the dead body of her little child to her bosom being raped and the slaughtered bodies of other family members lying around is not the 'rare of rarest' case in the eyes of those who invoke selective 'Collective Conscience' of nation in matters that deserve strict adherence to legal parameters and sincere judicial prudence.
Justice has been done in 'Nirbhaya' case on fast track, Good! everyone is happy. What about 'Bilkis'? What about 'Kunanpospora'? What about the Dalit minor girl from Delhi having been repeatedly gang raped, tortured and made to drink corrosive substance and then killed in 2016? What about 'Vani', a 20 year old Dalit woman from Tamil Nadu who was gang raped and killed by upper caste men in August 2016? What about 'Mohammad Shalik', 20 years old killed in Jharkandh in April 2017 for dating a Hindu girl? What about 'Ikhlaq', killed for having meat stored in his refrigerator? What about 'Pehlu Khan', killed for transporting a cow in Alwar, Rajasthan? What about 'Najeeb', who went missing from JNU after having a scuffle with ABVP? What about 'Abu Hanifa' and 'Riyazudin Ali' who were lynched by a mob accusing them of slaughtering a cow? The list is long, just with the cursory ruffle of Internet pages thousands of cases with grave injustices would pop but in all these and other cases 'Collective Conscience' go into hiding somewhere under the layers of hypocrisy.
'Collective Conscience' is not a shield. It is not the aggregate of conscience of a select few, nor the Conscience to protect individuals of a particular religious group. It is not the Conscience to buttress a certain religious schema nor the Conscience derived from political affiliations. 'Collective Conscience' is the conscience of humanity, compassion, empathy, justice and impartiality. It cannot wink its eyes to appease those having muscle power in one case and hop upon the other cases in sheer disregard to justice in order to assuage myopic demands of propagandists in the name of national interest. 'Collective Conscience' cannot be determined by vocal anchors in Newsrooms nor by sloppy Newspaper reports. 'Collective Conscience' should reflect pulse of nation on the basis of justice and fairness not on emotional hyperbolism. It should be invoked only when laws and rules back the arguments based on emotional opinions, otherwise 'Collective Conscience' becomes a tool to execute persecution.
(S.S Qadri is a post graduate in Management Studies from the University of Kashmir firstname.lastname@example.org)