The Italian Marines/Kerala fishermen killing case: Or How India Ended Up Looking Like An Idiot

(pic courtesy: Reuters)

(pic courtesy: Reuters)

The Italian marine duo accused of killing 2 Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in February 2012 have pulled a fast one on not just India, but  its Supreme Court  as well. The pair was granted permission to go back to their home country, to vote in last month’s parliamentary elections, on the condition that they would return to continue facing trial after the 4-week period ended. But now they’ve  reneged on their word and, as the Italian Foreign Office simply puts it, won’t be returning to India. The worst fears of the Kerala state govt and the victims’ families who had opposed the sailors’ bail pleas have come true.

How could the Supreme Court not have seen this coming? At the risk of speaking out in contempt of court, what guarantees were sought to ensure that Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone would not go back on their word? In the SC’s defence, the two sailors had returned to India on 10  January 2013 after a Kerala court had allowed them to spend Christmas in Italy with their families. At the time, Italy had hailed the local court’s decision as one that confirmed the spirit of trust & cooperation between the two sides.

The Indian courts – Kerala and the apex one – have been more than magnanimous in this case, allowing the murder under-trials to go home twice- for a festival and to vote.  I have a problem with this sensitivity.
1. Since when are murder under-trials allowed privileges like family time for such things as festivals and to vote? I would have been sympathetic if they had been granted such relief on humanitarian grounds. For instance, a health emergency (a loved one on his/her death bed, or the sailor himself needing to avail of some life-saving medical treatment back home.)
2. If there’s nothing wrong with such allowances, why aren’t 2.5 lakh Indian nationals who are under trial & languishing in jail granted the same privileges on Eid/Diwali/Navroze/Christmas and during civic body/assembly/parliamentary elections in India?  This kind of favouritism towards foreigners in India is really shameful.  I doubt that Italy would have extended the same privileges to, let’s say Indian sailors who ‘accidentally’ fatally shot Italian fishermen presuming they were ‘pirates’ in ‘Italian territorial waters’.

3. Given that Rome had all along been seeking custody of its nationals by rejecting India’s jurisdiction in the matter (claiming that the unfortunate killings took place in international waters), how could the court have been so myopic and let the foreign nationals leave Indian soil? The fact that India does not have an extradition treaty with Italy only makes matters worse. (India had merely signed an extradition arrangement with Italy in 2003.)

The court’s blunder compounded with the the lack of an extradition treaty may have well sounded the death knell for the victims’ families’ fight for justice. For, now India will have to wage a battle for custody of the two sailors in order for the murder trial to go on. In the absence of the accused on Indian soil, the trial stands disrupted.

The courts have some explaining to do. And I hope the lawyers of the slain fishermen’s families pose these uncomfortable questions to the apex court.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ravi Karnad
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 14:45:12

    We look like a “weak” state. One which cannot protect the interests of her own people.
    I was pouring out Olive oil at breakfast when I read this and was wondering that I should look for an Indian brand….


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