Justice K John Mathew of the Lok Adalat (People’s Court) of Kochi in Kerala has computed the value of a human life at Rs 1 crore. That is the money paid by Italian authorities to the next of kin of each of the two fishermen who had been shot dead months ago by Italian marines. Although the victims were in waters where there had been no pirate trouble, and in a small fishing boat rather than in a much larger pirate ship, and all but one of them had been visibly asleep on deck when the attack took place, the other having died when he awoke to the sound of shots and raised his head, the Italians have claimed that the shootings were justified as “the suspicion was that these were pirates about to attack” the Enrico Lexie, an Italian tanker. Why pirates about to attack a huge ship would be fast asleep on deck, besides being visibly unarmed, has not been explained by the Italian navy, who was angry that two of its men were arrested just for shooting two innocents from India. After all, if NATO personnel were to be arrested for killing innocent civilians, tens of thousands would now be in jail for the murder of hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. To join NATO is to get an invisible 007 badge which confers the right to kill without any fear of punishment.
Admirers of Italy in India (and there is at least one prominent political family in India, one very close to the Bhuttos, that speaks only Italian when they are with each other) ensured that the lawyer for the central government sought to excuse the two Italian marines from being prosecuted by saying that the shooting took place “outside the territorial waters of India”, an untruth. If such an argument be accepted, should any person wish to conduct an assasination, all that needs to be done is to lure the victim beyond Indian waters and kill him or her there. According to the government lawyer, Harish Rawal, this would mean that Indian courts would automatically have zero jurisdiction over the case. The intense effort to free the two Italians may ensure that they be allowed to return to their country by next month, if the Kerala High Court accepts Rawal’s arguments. Such an outcome would mean that India would de facto have joined Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations where NATO personnel cannot be held to account by local courts,but must be sent back, usually to be freed even after committing rape and murder. Incidentally, the two Italians who killed the fishermen were first placed in luxurious guest house accomodation and later moved to a special cell in a Trivandrum jail, where they are allowed to dress and move about as they please, and get specially-prepared meals served to them. Part of the benefits of working in NATO.
Justice Mathew ought to have decreed that at the least, the Italian government should pay Rs 5 crores for each of the dead fishermen. These days, even a middle-sized apartment in a big city costs Rs 1 crore to buy. Bringing up a family on that capital would be very difficult. Hence the fact that at the least, Justice Mathew ought to have awarded Rs 5 crores to each of the two “NATO widows”. That sum would still be much less than what was demanded of the Libyan government (and got) by European governments after the Lockerbie air disaster. It is unfortunate that authorities in India seem comfortable with a situation where the price of a human life in India is placed at a level far below that of a life in any of the NATO member-states, barring perhaps Turkey, which the EU does not accept as European enough to join the grouping. Justice Mathew is following in the path of then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, RS Pathak, who decreed that the tens of thousands killed and disabled by the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster were collectively worth only around $400 million, when in fact a much more reasonable value would have been $4 billion, at the least. The only way to teach NATO that India is still an independent country would be to set a figure for compensation that is similar to what citizens of the alliance themselves claim when a loved one is killed.
India is a democracy where the top priority of the government is the protection of the reputation and assets of the ruling branch of the Nehru family, which interestingly has much more contact with the Italian side of the family than with the Indian. While relatives from Italy come at frequent intervals to enjoy the gracious hospitality of Sonia Gandhi at her government-provided fortress, such a privilege is almost never extended to the Indian relatives, most of whom meet her – if at all – only during special occasions such as weddings, that too in public locations. Officials who know that if their identities get revealed will face severe punishment claim that Sonia Gandhi’s Italian relatives have interceded “several times” in the matter of the arrested Italian marines, and that they themselves and their illustrious sister have been “regularly contacted” by Italian authorities to ensure an early release of the two NATO personnel. We do not know if such claims are correct. However, what is clear is that the Government of India has gone the extra ten thousand miles in accommodating the wishes of the Italian side. There have also been reports that the Vatican in Rome has interceded with prominent Indian politicians to secure an early release of the two marines. Again, such a report is difficult to accept. Why would the Vatican get involved in a muder case, just because the alleged perpetrators are Italian?
The world is a much less secure place because of the James Bond-style 007 privileges given to NATO personnel in action. A human being is a human being, and just because she or he is an Afghan, Indian or Iraqi does not mean that a muder should be ignored by the international human rights brigade, the way such killings are at present. In Libya, to tale just this example, several thousand civilian lives were lost in NATO military action, besides much more as a result of the ongoing rampage of those armed, funded and trained by NATO to kill their fellow citizens. There is no longer any security for life or property for Libya, and yet neither BBC nor CNN nor Al Jazeera refer to the country at all in their broadcasts, having moved on to the next target, Syria. Here too, armed gangs have sprouted up so that it is no longer safe to go about in some parts of the country. Countries across the world that have lost lives as a consequence of NATO action need to come together and shame the UN into conducting an investigation into the matter, rather than ignoring it because the headquarters of that venerable institution is dominated by members of NATO, whose license to kill with impunity needs to be taken away before more tens of thousands of innocents perish in bombs, bullets and missiles.
As for the two Italian marines who killed innocent fishermen off the Kerala coast, the chances are that the power of NATO will ensure their escape from justice. They will not be the first NATO personnel to get away with murder. Interestingly, those such as Bradley Manning who sought to expose such crimes are now in prison rather than celebrated for their ethics and courage. But why blame NATO? When governments crawl before the alliance, who can blame them for continuing to regard themselves as above international law and morality?
By MD Nalapat