What happened in a train in Kerala, when a “passenger” took out a bottle of petrol, sprinkled it on fellow passengers and tried to burn them alive is horrendous, to say the least. The panic-stricken passengers ran helter-skelter. Three of them — KP Naufiq (38), M Rehmat (44) and Sehra Betul (2) — jumped out of the speeding train, sustained severe head injuries and died. From a bag found at the site, the accused has been identified as Sharukh Saifi, from Noida in Uttar Pradesh. It contained a bottle of petrol and a diary that had his notes in grammatically-correct English like, “What do I do today?” There is no indication that he had an altercation with anyone on the Alappuzha-Kannur Executive Express before he took out the incendiary bottle. In fact, many of the victims who ran to safety were sleeping when he sprinkled petrol on them.
All this suggests that it was a terror attack. He had no particular target and his aim was only to create panic. In the alternative scenario, Saifi is a mental illness patient, who had no control over what he was doing. There is a ban on the sale of petrol in bottles and cans. How could he obtain petrol in two bottles? Did someone help him in procuring the same from a gas station? How could he run away without interception, when many saw him striking terror right in front of them? The police have been able to prepare a sketch of the accused and it should be possible for them to keep track of him till he is nabbed and brought to justice. Kerala has a large number of “guest workers”, as the migrant labourers are euphemistically called in the state. There had been some serious murder cases which were the handiwork of such workers, but they were cracked in no time.
While every angle of the case needs to be investigated, especially to rule out the possibility that it was an incident of terror, there is also a need for an effective way to keep a register of all migrant labour. In a city like Noida, from where the alleged arsonist came to Kerala, there are rules in existence whereby migrant labour employed in housing societies are screened by the police. It is also incumbent upon the employer, especially the contractor who supplies labour, to keep the personal details of such people so that cases like this one can be solved quickly.
What’s in a kiss?
When there are millions of cases pending in Indian courts, many of them for decades, it is a pity that the courts have to spend their precious time to hear frivolous cases. One such case involves Hollywood actor Richard Gere and Indian actor Shilpa Shetty. The controversial incident happened at Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar in Delhi where the two actors were spreading awareness about AIDS. To drive home the point that AIDS was not communicated through kissing, Gere kissed Shetty on her cheeks. One Bhoopsingh Ranjilal filed a case against both at a court in Mundawar in Rajasthan alleging, among others, that they indulged in obscenity. Shetty claimed that she was taken aback when she was kissed, though she did not protest because of modesty and other reasons. She had to approach the Supreme Court to have the case transferred to a court in Mumbai.
After many years, the court pronounced its verdict last year absolving her of the charge that she was involved in a deliberate act of obscenity. Ordinarily, the case should have ended there. Alas, the prosecution challenged the verdict in a higher court which, too, did not find any merit in the case. She stands absolved of all charges in this case. One can imagine the kind of harassment she would have undergone during the 16 years that the case remained on the judicial radar. As of now, there is no guarantee that the parties concerned would not challenge the verdict in the High Court and, if necessary, in the Supreme Court. All this in a country where films with U (Universal) certification have long, passionate kisses that border on obscenity. Alas, prudery is a national obsession for which the state has to pay a price!
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