[Reader-list] Translation, Guilt, Innocence and Two Cups of Coffee
shuddha at sarai.net
Fri Aug 31 06:15:05 IST 2007
It is always interesting and worthwhile to participate in a discussion
on questions of the interpretation and translation on language, and
about how our notions of truth are stabilized or destabilized by the
apparatus of recording. We learn a lot, especially when the issues at
stake are as vital and significant as innocence and guilt. This is
especially true when at the heart of the discussion lies an alleged
offence which has resulted in the ultimate punishment of the death
penalty being awarded, twice, and then rescinded, on grounds of lack of
evidence. This task requires us to look at language, law, evidence,
theories of mind, interpretative agency, reportage and a host of other
things. This is precisely the kind of stuff that the Reader List was set
up to do. So thanks in advance to all those, especially Aditya Raj Kaul,
Rashneek Kher, Kshemendra Kaul , Pawan Durani and others who have
provoked this posting/thread.
1. Apologists and Apologies
As you must have figured out by now, I am referring to the spate of
postings that we have all recently read, that have, in one way or
another, raised the question of Sanjay Kak's purported 'mistranslation'
of the intercepted recording of a telephonic conversation between SAR
Geelani and his brother Faizal immediately after 13 December 2001,
during the POTA trial court proceedings in the '13 December Case', while
appearing as a defence witness (Defence Witness #2, if I am not
mistaken) for SAR Geelani.
These postings have appeared because -
a) having failed to garner sympathy for the position that
'Jashn-e-Azadi' is a film that should not be available for uninterrupted
and undisturbed screenings, or that it should be banned, or that it
should be prevented by the police from being seen;
b)having witnessed the demolition on this list of the allegation that
the purportedly Roots in Kashmir (RIK) initiated screening of 'And the
World Remained Silent' in Kamala Nehru College was cancelled at the
behest of those who wanted a screening of 'Jashn-e-Azadi' (following
clarifications from Kamala Nehru College and Sanjay Mattoo, the person
who tried to organize the screening of 'Jashn-e-Azadi' in the first
place, as to the exact chronology of events)
- those involved in the campaign to stop the film from being watched
(RIK activists and their sympathizers) were left with no other
alternative but to train their guns on the filmmaker, on the members of
this list, and to begin making yet another series of allegations about
the filmmakers motives and antecedents. Having failed in their
vilification of the message, they have now turned on the messenger. They
elected to follow rule 38, 'leave the subject altogether, and turn your
attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character'
- from that wonderful list of rules of how to win an argument on the
cheap, attributed to Scopenhauer in Faiz Ullah's post 'to win and
argument...' made on the 20th of August on the Sarai Reader List.
Unfortunately for them, this strategy, though momentarily disorienting,
(because we find it difficult to imagine that people would stoop so low
as to do such things, and when they do, find ourselves momentarily
stunned) is bound to fail, in fact it has failed already, for reasons
that I hope to show in some detail in this set of postings.
This will involve some very close reading of newspaper reports, articles
and court proceedings, and some technical details, and will be a lengthy
post, and may be tedious for some, because, in keeping with the ethical
standards that this list commits itself to, and that a majority of its
readers expect, I cannot afford the luxury of making unsubstantiated or
unsubstantiatable statements. I have to quote sources, contextualize and
build an argument based on the actual content of publicly available
documents as opposed to conjecture, prejudice and hearsay. I find myself
compelled to do this not because I am personally interested in having
those who make these allegations exposed for what they are, but because
this list is a public record of sorts, and I do have an interest in
ensuring that we as list members still retain the capacity to correct
the grossest of distortions that suddenly erupt amongst us. So apologies
in advance for the length of this posting.
I really do apologize for the length of my recent postings but I am
hoping that you all will understand that when dealing with a
multi-headed hydra as I find myself having to, I too am forced to become
a snake with a never ending tail, : ) In other words, even a single
rejoinder has to be long and comprehensive enough to deal with the venom
injected by (apparently) many different heads. I need to deploy some
heavy artillery to deal with so much (badly aimed) sniper fire.
Apologies also, for attempting to write this in coherent,
straightforward and ungrammatical english, so that at least my mirror,
and all those given to ordinary conversation on this list can understand
what I am writing. Enough apologies, enough preliminaries. Lets get down
2. Mistranslating a Mistrial
As someone who happens to have followed the trial that is being referred
to ('The Parliament Attack/13 December' Case) quite closely over the
last five years, as regular readers on this list will no doubt recall,
I think that I can lay a claim to more than a casual interest in the
The A.R.K.P interpretation (thanks, Yousuf for a handy nomenklatural
abbreviation for this 'league of extraordinary gentlemen' of Aditya,
Rashneek, Kshemendra and Pawan, or should I say 'Amalgamated Recidivist
Kooks & Poseurs') of a fragment of the trial proceedings, makes for
interesting reading. But a word of caution, we would do well to dwell a
little on the relationship between what was recorded, what was said in
court, what was reported, and how it is now being interpreted by the
'forensic linguistics' division of A.R.K.P, before we jump to any
conclusions, either about Sanjay Kak's purported dissimulation, or about
A.R.K.P's motives in making these seemingly infinitely expanding series
of allegations. I get a liitle concerned, perhaps even a little
suspicious when I see allegations begetting allegations with such
velocity aand with such with remarkable, and self-congratulatory,
Let me first take the newspaper reports and articles that were quoted
recently on an A.R.K.P blog post, titled 'A Lie Which Cheated the
Courts' in a blog titled 'The Kashmir' and which Pawan Durani, and then
Aditya Raj Kaul refer to, more than once - in their postings.
The blog entry (and accompanying comments) basically say that - Sanjay
Kak (and Sampath Prakash) 'mistranslated' the phrase that they render as
'Yeh Kya Korua' which occured in the conversation between SAR Geelani
and his brother. The court, they say, was misled by their
'mistranslation' and hence, SAR Geelani was acquitted.
Nested within this blog entry are four hyperlinks, two of which are
relevant to the question at hand -
1. A report in the Hindu, Friday, May 02, 2003 ' Parliament attack case:
HC questions prosecution version of arrests'
2. Basharat Peer's essay in the Guardian - 'Victims of December 13',
July 5, 2003
(It is in the contents of Basharat Peer's essay that the A.R.K.P theory
of 'mistranslation' finds its ammunition. Mind you, I am saying
contents, not argument, because Basharat's argument runs entirely
counter to the A.R.K.P version of the question of SAR Geelani's guilt or
innocence, but that is not immediately important. Many among you will
remember Basharat Peer, he was a Sarai Independent Research Fellow, and
his excellent essay on reporting from Srinagar is available on Sarai
Reader 04: Crisis Media at )
I will analyse each of these stories in turn, examine how they are being
read in the blog under discussion, look at some additional material, and
then, I will turn to the publicly available court records of the case,
to try and see if there is any sense in what A.R.K.P are saying.
Let's get a few facts right first. The depositions made by Sanjay Kak
and Sampath Prakash did not get SAR Geelani his acquittal. These
depositions were made at the appelate proceedings at the High Court, and
the High Court confirmed the sentence of death awarded to Geelani by the
trial court. Sanjay Kak has pointed this out himself, in his posting on
this list - the one in which he reprimands me for spoiling the party we
are all having in watching the A.R.K.P hydra expose itself. The High
Court confirmed the death sentence, even though it found the
prosecution's arguments with regard to this particular phone intercept
severely wanting (see below), while simultaneously dismissing the value
of Sanjay Kak and Sampath Prakash's testimonies, not on the grounds of
inadequate or faulty translation, but on the ground that they, being
members of the All India Defence Committee for SAR Geelani, were not
disinterested witnesses.. SAR Geelani's acquittal at the Supreme Court
too was not based on the testimonial contributions of Sanjay Kak or
Sampath Prakash, but on the failure of the prosecution (including in the
instance of the phone intercept) to show that they in fact had any
concrete evidence against him. Perhaps A.R.K.P are unaware of the fact
that the Indian legal system (with the aberrant exception of the now
repealed POTA) works with the assumption that it is guilt that needs to
be proved, not innocence.
Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that A.R.K.P now realize their
factual error in stating that it was Sanjay Kak's testimony that 'freed'
Geelani, and focus next on intention rather than on consequences. Not in
order to win or lose a legal wager, but in order to retain their
terribly difficult and hard won position on the slippery slope of their
self-assumed moral high ground. Then they would argue that it hardly
matters whether or not Geelani was acquitted on the basis of these
statements, what matters is that an attempt was made to mislead the
court, and by extension, the people of India. This attempt (in their
reading of reality) shows that Sanjay Kak, (and by association, those
who stand by him) are indulging in dissimulation.
Now this would be true if,
a) the crux of SAR Geelani's purported guilt of innocence could
logically be demonstrated to lie in the indisputable meaning of the
words 'Yeh Kya Korua'.
b)if the police/prosecution/A.R.K.P version/translation of the
conversation were shown to be perfectly in concordance with and
consistent with the context in which the conversation (of which,
remember, the intercept is an imperfect recording) took place.
Remember this, because this is going to be crucial when we look at the
actual court record of how this was looked at in the Supreme Court,
where the matter was finally decided on.
But for now, let us stick first to the question of the quality of the
telephone intercept as evidence, and secondly to the interpretations
given to the words, 'Yeh Kya Korua'
This is what the report on the Hindu (which is a report on the appelate
trial proceedings in the High Court, not on the POTA Trial Court) that
the 'Lies that Cheated the Courts' posting links to, has to say on the
first of these two questions (the evidentiary quality of the intercept).
This report, which A.R.K.P invoke but never detail, merits quotation at
length, in fact, in its entirety.
Parliament attack case: HC questions prosecution version of arrests
The Hindu, Friday, May 02, 2003
By Our Special Correspondent
[ NEW DELHI MAY 1. The two-judge bench of the Delhi High court, hearing
appeals in the Parliament attack case, today closely questioned the
Prosecution on its version of the arrests made in the case and the
contradictions that it throws up.
The Special Prosecutor, Gopal Subramanium, had told the court, quoting
Delhi police's Investigating Officer, Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, that
the telephones of S.A.R. Geelani and Afsan Guru/Navjot Sandhu, had been
tapped on December 13. Calls recorded on December 14 — between Geelani
and his brother at 12.12 p.m. and between Afsan and her husband at 8
p.m. — pointed to their connection with the attack and suggested that
Shaukat Hussain and one other person were in Srinagar.
Geelani's house was put under surveillance on December 13 and December
14. He was arrested at around 10 a.m. on December 15 and Afsan Guru at
10.45 a.m. Information received from Afsan Guru about the registration
number of the truck in which her husband was travelling was sent to
Srinagar. On the basis of this, the truck was located at 8 a.m. on
December 15 and Shaukat Hussain and Mohammed Afzal were arrested by
The Srinagar police officer, who made the arrests, stated in evidence
that he received information about the truck's registration number at
5.30 a.m. on December 15.
The defence has maintained that Geelani was arrested on December 14 at
around 1 p.m. and Afsan between 6 and 6.30 p.m.
Justice Usha Mehra asked Mr. Subramanium to explain the discrepancy in
the evidence of the Delhi police (that the arrests were made after 10
a.m. on December 15 and information sent to Srinagar) and of the
Srinagar police (that it acted on information received at 5.30 a.m.).
``If you go only by the clock, then the prosecution is not telling the
truth'', Mr Subramanium said. The question related to the credibility of
the witnesses. ``Your Lordships would have to be assisted to see which
witness is believable''.
Justice Mehra suggested that ``a lesser explanation'', such as the one
offered by the defence that Geelani and Afsan were arrested on December
14, better suited even the prosecutions version of the arrests. She told
Mr. Subramanium that if the court were to believe his witness, Mohan
Chand Sharma, it would have to disbelieve the story of the arrests in
Justice Mehra also pointed to other gaps in the Prosecutions story.
Why did the police, which apparently acted with speed to ascertain phone
details, intercept calls and mount surveillance on Geelani on December
13, not go to the evening college where he taught, even if only to get
his description to help in his arrest? Given that the identity cards on
the dead militants suggested a Kashmiri connection, why had the police,
when intercepting calls, not considered that these might be in Kashmiri
and engage a Kashmiri interpreter? How did the investigating officer who
did not know Kashmiri and had admitted that the translation of the call
involving Geelani was done after it was recorded, decide that it was the
``relevant'' one ? ]
Fortunately, unlike their lordships, we do not need much 'assistance' to
see whether or not the A.R.K.P cohort, in their new found role as
witness, prosecutor, judge and executioner combined are indeed
'credible'. (and I am glad that Rashneek, at least has expressed a
reluctance to play the role of the hangman because he says that he is,
like me, against the death penalty, I am happy that there are some
things on which at least Rashneek and I can genuinely find agreement)
Let us see why I think we don't need much assistance.
3. Figures of Speech
The chronology spelt out by the above quoted report, which 'Lies that
Cheated the Courts' unhesitatingly invokes, is very clear. When Geelani
was arrested, (according to the prosecution) on the morning of December
15, no one in the Delhi Police, least of all Inspector Mohan Chand
Sharma, knew what the contents of this infamous phone call was. Even
though it is on this that the prosecution built so much of their
argument. It had simply not yet been 'translated' for the police .In
other words, if the meaning of 'Yeh Kya Korua' in this conversation was
unambiguously - 'What did you all do' - and if it is true that this
phrase referred to the attack on the Parliament - a fact on which hinged
the suspicion that Geelani was involved in the December 13 incident,
then, the police, while arresting him, had no clue as yet that this was
indeed the case. They were arresting him for saying something that they
had not yet known at that time that he had said. They had no other
grounds for arresting him. His cell phone number was found on the phones
recovered from the body of some dead men. That was all.
[Aside: Consider this - it is possible that in some hours, I might be
able to get Aditya Raj Kaul's cell phone number from somewhere, and feed
it in the directory of my cell phone, or that in some hours, someone
will key in Aditya's number into my cell phone. It is also possible that
I am in fact a terrorist who is, in a few days,weeks, months, hours, who
knows when - about to lead a suicide attack on a Cafe Coffee Day outlet
because I really do not like the way they brew their coffee. It is
possible, indeed more or less sure that I will die in this attempt. It
is possible that my cell phone will then yield Aditya Raj Kaul's mobile
number, (because I have either been dying to talk to him all along, or
because someone has keyed in this number and put that phone on my dead
body) and that then, Aditya Raj Kaul (who, it is true, I have been in
regular touch with as a fellow subscriber on the Reader List, something
my laptop will surely yield) will then be arrested and held for five
years in solitary confinement, and be sentenced twice to death on the
grounds that he was the terrorist mastermind of the 'All India and J&K
Coffee Liberation Squad', of which I was a mere zombie underling, sent
out to court death for the sake of better aroma for us all You get my
drift: End of Aside]
The depositions of the investigating officer in the case at the trial
court are to the effect that there were other conversations, other
intercepts. The depositions of the prosecution witness who translated
the intercept, the fruit vendor Rashid Ali, and the man who actually did
the interception both indicate that there was a great deal more that was
said, and that again - there were other conversations. But the
investigating officers chose to zero in on Geelani on the basis of these
two minutes and sixteen seconds alone of a recording where the signal
drops not once, but twice, without taking into account the intercepts of
the other calls. But the fact remains that none of these intercepts were
'translated' or available in any form for the police to understand when
the arrests were made. So how, then, did the police know which 'segment'
of which recording of which intercept was relevant to their theory that
Geelani was guilty, that he was in fact the mastermind?
Secondly, the police officer concerned, was clearly not speaking the
truth about the timing of the arrests, because if we are to believe his
chronology of when Geelani and Afshan were arrested in Delhi, we have to
disbelieve the actual time of arrest of Shaukat Hussain and Muhammad
Afzal in Srinagar. If the Delhi police is truthful (Geelani suspect and
arrest justified) then the Srinagar police is lying (thus Afzal
innocent). Yet Afzal and Shaukat are the only key suspecst who have
actually been found guilty. And if the Delhi police is lying (about the
timing of Geelani and Afshan's arrest (because they get to Afshan only
through Geelani) then the entire story falls apart. This is why, the
phone intercept, is a basically a flawed piece of evidence. If we take
it very seriously, then everything else falls apart in the case.
Further, if we take the contents of the conversation to be a tacit
admission of complicity, then something even more interesting occurs. If
'Yeh kya korua' can only mean 'what did you/you all do in Delhi' which
in turn can only mean 'what did you/you all do, as in try to attack the
Parliament in Delhi' then, the person who asks the question, that is
Feizal, is clearly aware of what is going on. He would not be in a
position to make a reference to an event that had just unfolded if he
had not been aware of its imminent unfolding in advance. In other words,
in order for Feizal to have asked a question which can only be read as a
reference to the attack on Parliament, Feizal needs to have been in on
the conspiracy. And yet, Feizal, who was investigated and questioned at
length by the police has never been charged. There is no attempt to make
a case against him. If Geelani is guilty because he 'knew', (and that
is all we can surmise if we accept this postion, that he 'knew' because
there is nothing else that can be said with regard to the man) then,
according to the argument of the defeated prosecution case and the
renascent forensic expertise of A.R.K.P, so must Feizal be guilty. Yet,
no one has ever been able to pin anything on him. And yet the 'needle of
suspicion' continues to quiver in the direction of SAR Geelani, at least
in the arguments that A.R.K.P are making.
4. 'What Happened'
Still, let us for form's sake, continue to try and take their position
seriously. Let us actually go into the language of what is being said,
and the context in which the conversation takes place.
Basharat Peer's excellent article in the Guardian, the second and more
apparently 'damning' revelation dredged up by the diligent A.R.K.P
blog-soldiers actually says the following -
"Giving evidence in court, Kak said, "The Kashmiri equivalent of 'What's
happened?' is 'Yeh Kya Korua'. It is a generic term used for a range of
ordinary circumstances, such as when a child spills a glass of milk or
when there is snowfall or a marital dispute." The younger brother of the
accused teacher had called simply to get a syllabus and a prospectus. He
translated that portion of the call as: Receiver (accused teacher):
"Tell me what you want?" Caller (his brother): "Syllabus and
prospectus." (from Basharat Peer's article, cited and linked above)
Remember, Kak does not say that 'What's happened' is a *translation* of
'Yeh Kya Korua'. He says it is an *equivalent*. The word equivalent
connotes a similarity of valence or value, not an identity. Equivalent
is not identical. Equivalent means 'something approximating to another
thing' not 'something identical with another thing'. But Kak does not
stop here. He locates the phrase rendered as 'Yeh Kya Korua' in the
context of how people might talk about events, idiomatically - as 'a
generic term used for a range of ordinary circumstances'.
Just as in Bengali, we might say 'E ki kando' (what's been done/'Oh,
what happenned') or 'E ki korlen' ('what did you do') to express -
surprise, delight, pain, pleasure, irritation, wonder, astonishment and
a whole gamut of expressions. Idiomatic language often contains
expressions that might have a different import from their 'literal'
meaning, and that may or may not refer to personalized interactions, but
could even extend to general comments on nature and the cosmos, as a way
of 'greasing' the levers of conversation. Such that a Bengali like me
could say, very easily, to another Bengali 'e ki korlen' while looking
up at the thundering sky, in a difficult to translate idiomatic move
that includes in its ambit, not just the other person, but also the sky
god Indra as well . Sampat Prakash's testimony in the trial court also
includes several examples of the diversity of ways in which the phrase,
"Yeh Kya Korua' might be deployed in ordinary conversation between two
Kashmiris who were on familiar but respectful terms with one another.
But I digress, it is not references to natural phenomena that we are
discussing here. The question of context becomes all the more important
if we look at the entire contents of the conversation - which is about a
syllabus, a prospectus and a host of other humdrum matters, some of
which are referred to not explicity, but implicitly.. Actually, it is
interesting to read the entire conversation. And you can read it as a
downloadable pdf, in romanized Kashmiri and English, in no place other
than Sarai Reader 04 - Crisis Media (page 158) on the page facing the
beginning of Nandita Haksar's article 'Tried by the Media': The SAR
The pdf file is available for free download, like the entire contents of
all Sarai Readers at
Read it carefully, and you will see that on line 15 there is a statement
(after static noise) by Faizal, Geelani's brother which reads, in mixed
Kashmiri and Hindustani - "meh vonmus 'hota hai' " - which translates as
"I said it happens (hota hai)". This is preceded by polite, near phatic
preliminaries of a totally casual nature, and followed by an enquiry
about a prospectus, at the end of which, Faizal asks, "Yeh kya korua".
To which Geelani responds by asking "Kya?Dilli ha" ('What?In Delhi?) and
Faizal asks again, "Dilli Kya Korua". it is here that the words "Kya
Korua" are located. Indeed, they can mean 'what did you do', or 'what
happenned' depending on how you choose to read them, because neither
reading is incorrect or antagonistic, even if one is more exact and the
other is idiomatically apposite. In fact, if you do read them as 'what
did you/you all do' too, there is room for ambiguity, because the query
could be about people in the plural, or as correctly hinted at, even in
part by Rashneek, as a - second person singular respectful, (not plural)
past perfect continuous question. Whichever way you choose to read it.
it must be read in conjunction with the "hota hai" that has preceded it
by second. And once you do that, there is no getting away from the fact
that the query refers to a situation, a general state of being, rather
than to a concrete event.
Even the prosecution has never really challenged the reading of 'Kya
Korua' as a reference broadly suggesting 'What;s happenned'. This is
clear from another report in the Hindu. One which A.R.K.P neglect to
invoke, but I am quite happy to pull out of my archive of news reports
of the 13 December trial.
Dec. 13 case: tape of phone intercept played in court
The Hindu, Tuesday, May 06, 2003
By Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI MAY 5. The tape-recorded telephone intercept, which was the
mainstay of the prosecution's case against S.A.R. Geelani during the
trial of the Parliament attack case, was today played for the Delhi High
Court bench hearing the appeals.
The prosecution has maintained that the tape contains the question, put
to Mr. Geelani by his brother, "what happened in Delhi'' to which he
laughs and replies "yeh che zaroori (this was necessary)''. Having heard
the tape, Justice Nandrajog said that he had not heard "yeh che zaroori''.
Justice Usha Mehra asked the Special Prosecutor, Gopal Subramanium, if
this evidence was the core of the evidence against Mr. Geelani. "I am
not putting all my eggs in the basket of that intercepted call,'' he
5. 'Was This Necessary?'
Things get a little complicated for the A.R.K.P theory here. This
newspaper report seems to suggest that even the prosecution refers to
the question 'Yeh Kya Korua' as 'What's happenned in Delhi'. The judge
does not disagree. Since according to A.R.K.P, rendering 'Yeh Kya Korua'
as anything like 'What's happenned' is a sure sign of the fact that the
person found doing so is in cahoots with terrorists, and must be a paid
agent of JKLF, we have to arrive at the conclusion that not only Sanjay
Kak and Sampath Prakash, but also the Special Prosecutor Gopal
Subramaniam who tried so hard to get Geelani to hang, as well as the
honorable justices Nandrajog, Mehra and Dhingra, must be, according to
this theory, in league with terrorism and the paid mercenaries of JKLF
or some other 'tanzeem'.
If A.R.K.P had the patience to go through the trial proceedings they
would know that shortly after the hearing in which the whole telephone
intercept argument is explored, the court calls upon Defence Witness #5,
Aarifa Geelani, SAR Geelani's wife, who tells the court that the
telephone conversation conains delicate and discreet references made
between the brothers ('hota hai', 'yeh kya korua') to the fact that
Geelani and his wife were at that time quarrelling about when they
should be visiting Kashmir. That Aarifa's mother in law, Geelani's
mother, had asked her son, Feizal, Geelani's brother, to enquire about
why Aarifa was not coming up to Kashmir to visit them as was planned and
to ask if everything was all right at home in Delhi, and so on.
Of course, A.R.K.P don't do boring things like detailed reading of
court transcripts, because they would then know that Aarifa's testimony
passes without adverse comment in the court room. Doing that requires
more than punching messages and scoring points on Blackberries, and then
giving each other virtual congratulary back-slaps. it requires slow,
patient reading. It requires hard work at the careful knitting together
of an argument before even daring to make the hint of an accusation. But
A.R.K.P wouldn't waste their time doing that, would they, becasue that
would inhibit their capacity to post rapid fire slander. They would much
rather spend their time making random links to newspaper reports and
articles that they haven't read or digested, and then, on the basis of
these links, scream 'murder' on our list. It is so much more exciting to
deceive yourself and the world, acquiring in the process a momentary
flash of internet fame, than it is to actually undertake a patient
reading of a judicial record.
Things actually get a lot more complicated for A.R.K.P if we realize
that the real controversy in the testimony as it unfolds through the
depositions of defence and prosecution witnesses is not about the
meaning of 'Yeh Kya Korua' at all (about which there is no real debate
in the court room) but about whether or not an expression rendered as
"yeh che zaroori" in the police transcript of the recording is actually
audible or not in the tape.
The edifice of the police and the prosecution's case is actually
entirely built on the purported presence of the words "yeh che zaroori"
immediately following the exchange between the two brothers that are
rendered as "yeh kya korua"..."dilli ha", ..."dilli kya korua"
The police, in its deposition maintained that the words "yeh che
zaroori" translated in the charge sheet as "yeh kabhi kabhi zaroori hota
hai" or, "this becomes necessary at times"( accompanied by laughter) is
indicative of the fact that Geelani was somehow justifying the attack on
Even if we accept, theoretically, that "Yeh kya korua" refers to a
concrete occurence, that is the attack on the parliament, we have no way
of knowing what Geelani thinks about that occurence unless we have in
hand something like "yeh che zaroori". We are not, in other words in a
position to form a reliable theory of mind vis a vis Geelani and his
response to the attack on the parliament. We are not in a position where
we can know anything about guilt, innocence or complicity unless we know
what Geelani's explicitly expressed opinion on the occurence. This is
possible only if we can pull out an expression like "yeh che zaroori"
from our bag of tricks. The problem is, no one, till date, neither
prosecutor, nor defence, nor judge, nor expert technical witness brought
in by the prosecution, has ever been able to hear anything remotely like
the words "yeh che zaroori" in the recording.
This is what the High Court commented found necessary to say in
paragraph 346 of its ruling while discussing whether or not it heard the
words "yeh che zaroori".
"During the hearing of the appeal, we had called for the tape from
Malkhana and in the presence of the parties played the same. Indeed
the voice was so inaudible that we could not make head or tail of the
conversation. We tried our best to pick up the phonetical sounds where
there was a dispute as to what words were used, but were unable to do
so. Testimony of Prosecution Witness # 48 reveals that he could not
analyse the talk as it was highly inaudible. Prosecution Witness # 48
is a phonetic expert. If he could not comprehend the conversation in a
clearly audible tone, the probability of ordinary layman picking up the
phonetic sounds differently cannot be ruled out. The prosecution
witness, PW #71, Rashid, who prepared a transcript of the tape is fifth
class pass and it was not his profession to prepare transcript of
taped conversation. The possibility of his being in error cannot be
ruled out. Benefit of doubt must go to the defence."
6. Signal and Noise
And the reason why they have not been able to hear the recording is the
fact that the sounds that make up those words are simply not there. What
we have instead is digital noise, a dropped signal, auditory degradation
- something quite common in recordings of cellular phone taps, which
always suffer in audio recording quality in comparison to the signal
level of the actual conversation.
We might recall at this time that throughout the POTA trial court
proceedings, which preceded the High Court trial, the police and the
prosecution did not find it necessary to produce the actual
audio-recording as evidence, even though they declared from every media
roof top, that they had conclusive evidence about Geelani's complicity
in the contents of that very recording. They produced instead a
transcript of a translation, done after the arrest, days after the
recording, by a person, who happenned to be a Kashmiri fruit vendor
whose working knowledge of Hindi or English was demonstrably not
adequate to the task of translation.
Geelani has insisted in every statement made by him, at every stage of
the trial, that the words "yeh che zaroori" represented an interpolation
in the transcript of the recording. But it took the inability of anyone
to hear the words in the judges chamber during the trial in the high
court for it to be admitted that the three crucial words, were in fact,
simply not said.
It is not surprising therefore that the public prosecutor was candid in
saying that he 'did not want to put all his eggs in the intercept
basket'. But clearly, the A.R.K.P division of forensic linguistics and
spin doctoring possess a far higher level of legal acumen than the
special prosecutor who tried so hard to get Geelani the death penalty.
They want to put their eggs, their chicken, the vegetable matter between
their ears and all their rhetorical heavy spices into the basket of the
telephone intercept - a piece of evidence that everyone acknowledges as
being degraded by confabulation. They are not content at doing just
that, they are also able to shift the weight of evidence from a
statement whose existence is found to be wanting to a statement whose
interpretation actually provokes no controversy. And so, the
translation, interpretation or rendition of 'Yeh Kya Korua' which
establish nothing either way, become, in their eyes, (or should I say
ears) more important than the lynchpin of the prosecution's argument.
A.R.K.P deserve to be recognized not just as champions in wasting this
lists time and energy in the pursuit of one red herring after another,
but also as highly creative, wildly imaginative legal analysts. Their
abilities in this regard surpass the best brains of the Special Cell of
the Delhi Police, which has provided us with such a shining example of
probity and integrity throughout the course of the 13 December trial.
It is not Sanjay Kak who has lied and played with the trust of what
A.R.K.P call the 'people of India', or of this list. It is A.R.K.P
themselves who occupy that stellar role, and it is not necessary for us
to ask whether they do so out of ignorance, stupidity, or worse, design.
What is not disputable is that no one can do it as energetically, and
with as much pretentious self righteous humbuggery and maudlin,
narcissistic, self flagellatory assumption of the status of the
perpetual victim as they can.
They lied when they said that their screening was scheduled and then
cancelled at Kamala Nehru College, and when that fabrication was
exposed, they lied again, this time about something far more serious.
Instead of attempting to engage with the task of serious criticism, as
was demanded of them by this list, they tried to defame and insult
someone's reputation. In doing so, they have only exposed themselves.
This list knows now who they are and what their intentions are.
Regular readers of the Sarai Reader List will be familiar with the
expression "Free speech needs fearless listening." Well, they have
spoken freely, we have listened fearlessly, and I think that many of us
have not been intimidated by the high volume at which they have dished
out their bile. In the end, they have suffered, because by speaking too
loudly, too quickly, too often, they have really ruined their own
chances of the possibility that we would give them a sympathetic hearing.
I have no doubt that the Kashmiri Pandit people have suffered enormously
in the last twenty years. I have absolutely no qualms in saying that
those who visited violence upon them as well as those who manipulated
their fears and anxieties to their own ends are all guilty of having
done things that are terribly wrong. But the cause of justice for
Kashmiri Pandit people, which must surely lie in a solution to the issue
of Kashmir which is just for all people in Kashmir, is not safe in the
hands of a group of motivated and self serving individuals who have
absolutely no scruples in the way in which they represent that cause.
Their actions indicate that perhaps they could be counted as amongst the
worst enemies that the displaced Kashmiri Pandit population have, or can
have. They may not have murdered people, but they have certainly
attempted to assasinate time and again the possibility of a peaceful
settlement of the Kashmir question.
7. Epilogue: Stray Thoughts on Audio Recording and Translation
I spent this evening talking separately to two friends, very different
people, before sitting through the night to write this posting. One was
a sound recordist and engineer with a special interest in the auditory
qualities of mobile phone devices, an inventive, cheerful and curious
person who is passionate about the properties of of sound and the craft
of sound recording. The second was a person who teaches a foreign
language in Delhi university, someone whom I have known for the last six
years, and whom I have had several regular but occasional conversations
that I always find personally rewarding.
I asked the first person whether a set of significant sounds, say three
words, could be retrieved from the auditory black hole of digital noise
in a recording of a mobile phone conversation. She said "no, a digital
auditory black hole is a digital auditory black hole. Once a signal
passes below the threshold of audibility and recognition due to the
interference of noise, it cannot be retrieved by 'cleaning up' the
recording". In other words, there are next to no chances of the recovery
of words that might or might not have been said from under the patina of
digital noise in a recording. Ambient noise can be cleaned, provided
there is a sufficient sample of ambient noise available for a detailed
acoustic analysis to be done, which in turn would help in eliminating
the interfering frequencies, and so 'recover' the lost sound. But a
mobile phone conversation is a digital signal, and a phone intercept of
a mobile phone conversation is a degraded digital signal, and with a
less than quality signal to noise ratio, in other words, more noise,
less signal. These degradations are usually irreparable. For all
practical purposes, we might as well assume that whatever may be
underneath the corroded patch of signal, is non existent. The words 'yeh
che zaroori' will never be found, even if we look for them.
Unfortunately, words let loose in spite, or in anger, on an electronic
list, rarely if ever go into a digital black hole. They stay orbiting
the ether for a long time, bouncing across continents in forwards,
replies and rejoinders. Everything A.R.K.P said on this list is going to
stay, and it is their problem as to how they will live with the endless
google searches that will turn up their fabrications, time and time
again. Archived lists have cruel and unforgiving memories, I hope that
before the next time anyone hits 'send' on a mail written in undue
haste, they remember this simple fact.
After I met the sound engineer friend, who is by nature shy and
reticent, and wishes to remain nameless, I went to another
rendezvous,this time with the language teacher. We talked of many
things, and one of the things we talked about, was the fact that while
the narration of an offence or a misdemeanour always translates easily
in a courtroom, and then in society at large, as guilt, it remains very
difficult to translate innocence. When someone does something wrong, or
is seen as doing something wrong, you can always find words to give form
to what they have done, or to what you think they have done. On the
other hand, when someone has done nothing, it becomes very difficult to
find words to give substance to this absence of an action. How can you
sculpt a form and a shape out of the negation of a form or a shape? That
is why innocence is difficult to translate in any language. That is why
it is so easy for us to point fingers at others. Words of accusation
fall off the tip of our tongues, or our fingers, like acid rain.
We spoke in a comfortable mix of Hindustani and English, switching from
one language to another as if they were playmates. I gave examples about
how one might say 'E ki kando' in Bengali, he talked about the occasions
when one might say 'Yeh ki Korua' in Kashmiri. We had several cups of
coffee. We talked about the difficulty of translating silences in any
language. We parted promising to lend each other books that we had
talked about in the course of the conversation.
This friend speaks Kashmiri at home, teaches Arabic in the university,
and has had to think, due to a continuing set of circumstances, long and
hard, harder than anyone I know, about truth, translation, guilt and
innocence. His name is Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani.
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