Saturday, December 25, 2010

People Like Us

Twitter is abuzz about Binayak Sen. Mostly outraged that the good Doctor has been condemned to life in prison for crimes against the Indian State.

His case intrigues me. The confused volley of arguments made in his favor suggests a deeper reason for why his case has so exercised the anglophone Indian mind. I want to briefly address these arguments then talk about why it is that we feel such empathy for him and why this is profoundly dangerous for our republic.

First the arguments. From reading of twitter, I see at least six arguments that have been made.

First, that he is a good man caught in bad circumstances. Well, he put himself in these circumstances willfully. He deliberately built links with people who are responsible for extreme acts of violence not just against the State but anyone even among the people they seek to represent who opposes their ways. He knew full well that the Maoists have declared war on the Indian State and that past experience suggests the State will eventually crush them. This is not a valley of flowers he was entering but a war zone. Bad things happen to even good people in war zones. Cry me a river.

Second, he has done a lot of good for a lot of people. I salute him for this. But good people do bad things all the time. His good deeds may eventually be an argument for mercy and commutation but are not evidence of innocence. Indeed, his guilt is compounded by the fact that he rashly risked all the good he was doing on the ground to pursue a selfish political agenda. Did he not see that his patients in the tribal areas needed him more than the Maoist elite? I bet he did, but delusions of grandeur made him pawn his healing touch for the steel of the gun.

Third, the State's evidence is lacking & even fabricated. This is entirely plausible in today's India. But, surely, those of us here who haven't seen such evidence can't opine on it. The only legitimate venue for making this argument is the courts (both sessions and appeal). Only they see the entirety of the evidence and can arrive at appropriate judgements based on it. We can't possibly second guess the court based on fragmentary and agenda-driven tweets or magazine articles. Trial by media would end whatever semblance we have of the rule of law.

Fourth, our justice system is compromised. Sure. This is a major sore spot in India for we aspire to be a nation of laws. This is something that does require all of us coming together, regardless of our political belief. But turning this specific case as a trial of the justice system seems weird. Lots of people are railroaded every day by our justice system - what is so profoundly unique about this case that requires an extraordinary intervention by the civil society? I don't see anything myself.

Fifth, others in politics & bureaucracy are equally guilty or worse. OK - let's go after them all. What's that got to do with Dr Sen's guilt? Surely, the fact that others are getting away does not imply that the guilty in the net ought not face consequences.

Lastly, sedition is itself a crime that should be outlawed. Perhaps so. But that is again an argument to be made in the parliament (if & when it's in session), not in the wild west of twitter & our compromised media.

These arguments are interesting not only because none of them stands up to scrutiny but that there are so many of them. It's as if Dr Sen's defenders are making a volley of arguments hoping one or more may stick and that his simple to understand guilt is diffused by the complex veil of sophisticated arguments.

Why does India's anglophone elite feel such empathy for this man that they engage in such argumentation? I'd posit it's because he is like many of us but much more. Well schooled and articulate, he shunned the comforts of urban life to go into less privileged communities. He inspires guilt in many of us for our lack of similar initiative. At core, most of our elite is left-leaning and his is in many ways the ideal life they aspire to in their inspired moments. Hence, the inevitable outrage when the hero falls apart because his feet are made of clay. The outrage is less about Dr Sen but about themselves - it allows them to assuage their guilt and move on tomorrow to the next episode of BB4 or Munni or whatever else it is that amuses them in their comfortable but guilt-ridden lives.

This is unremarkably kitschy conduct except for the danger it represents for India. Maoists are not Gandhians with guns. They are waging war on our State and their vision for the future affirmatively is not freedom. Indeed, they are guilty of keeping the regions where they roam shackled to poverty. There is limited investment that would create jobs, no law and order that's crucial for day to day life, and a traumatized generation growing up in the midst of war. Not only is the present awful, the future has also been poisoned.

Maoists need to be crushed but they can't be unless the Indian elite sees them as the enemy. By "them" I don't mean the local foot-soldiers they send out to kill and die. I mean the people like us - like Dr Sen - who inspire empathy in the people of twitter and media. This empathy at a personal level prevents us from seeing through to the evil that they represent. How can we defeat it if we see the devil as the victim?

This is what we must all ponder. There is war ongoing and we need to take a black & white stand. The grey will get us all killed.


Sandeep said...

Nicely put. Well balanced and though provoking.

Primary Red said...

Thanks, Sandeep!

The Wandering Drunk said...

Respect! More power to individuals like yourself! I am frankly sick and tired of listening to ultra left types dominating all discussions. Your analysis was well balanced and a breath of fresh air!

I-Ore Trading said...

Thank you, well argued.

Objectivity cannot and should not be replaced by subjectivity.

Nations survive because the writ of the Law and not of the few.

Ranting by the Mainstream English media is self defeating. Already under a thick cloud, remaining credibility will surely be eroded.

Media is a messenger not an opinion maker or an arbiter between state and society.

horemhebanubis said...

A well argued and well reasoned post. Doing one good thing does not negate the ill effects of another bad thing. To those rosy spectacled sympathisers of Maoists, I point you out to other Maoist nations and the "freedom" that they have. When the state is finally heeding the voices of marginalized and trying to make lives better for them, that is when Maoists and their uber elitist sympathisers are threatened. Which is why Maoists aim to strike at the very basis of development.

Maoists are waging war not against the State but against the people. What does the State have to lose over a few hundreds of massacred Policemen or thousands of oppressed tribals? It is the ordinary people of India who are actually affected by this Maoist scourge.

Anonymous said...

Excellent marshalling of arguments. Very well constructed.

Allow me to counter:
"This is not a valley of flowers he was entering but a war zone".

What you call the war zone were the prisons of 36garh. Several warders were present at every interaction with inmates and they have testified that there were no letters exchanged. So, as far as the facts of the case are concerned, where does the "war zone" come into play?

"But delusions of grandeur made him pawn his healing touch for the steel of the gun."

I don't think he is accused of being a gun carrying Maoist. At least that was never the charge. If you look closely at his work - he has condemned their violence and has also been threatened by their guns. So - isn't your argument jumping the gun?

Third "But, surely, those of us here who haven't seen such evidence can't opine on it."

The entire argument is now based on evidence that is contentious and allegedly planted. It's not the content of the evidence but how it became evidence that is the issue. Those facts are available through the affidavits. Therefore – opinion is fair. Valiant attempt though to brush the facts under the carpet with some nice prose.

Fourth. This is an ideal test case for people who believe that the system is flawed because it is able to get the attention of a diverse group of people. My question here is why not this case to test the system? It tests both trial courts and custodial institutions.

Fifth - Agree with you.

As for your conclusion - I can't see this complex problem in black and white. There are many shaded of grey a few shades of red (not just primary red).

Lastly, like everyone else, you too appear to be romanticising the issue.

Meghana said...

Glad to see this post. Was sick of reading tweets of bleeding heart liberals on Twitter.

Indian Girl said...

I agree with all points, esp 5th n 6th , I see a lot of confused tweets on Binayak Sen myself , otherwise too I have noticed that most people on Twitter have limited knowledge [to put it mildly] of Indian Laws , Judgements are not based on passion . Isn't Marxist ideology on its based on No Country No Religion , the left in entirety are Anti Nationals and Binayak Sen was one of them. I am glad that this judgement could come , those who ve suffered at the violent hands of Maoists ve got some relief

Primary Red said...

Thanks a ton for all your comments! It's very validating for a lapsed blogger. The feedback from anonymous is very welcome. Will reflect and perhaps pen a brief rejoinder later. Merry Christmas all!

Arun Chaganty said...

I appreciate the clarity of argument and it's appeal for an unbiased view of the subject; I do not however agree with all your arguments. I am by no means qualified to make a judgement on this case. I have done some amount of reading, though admittedly in English media that I found available.

I think to blindly leave the judicial (or any other system indeed) without criticism is doing disservice in our roles as citizens. I agree that a bunch of people whining on Twitter isn't terribly constructive, but it has at least motivated you (and me in turn) to take the time out to look up the events, and spend some time to clearly express our views.

I do not sympathise with the Naxalites, and though I do not have a clear picture of their motivations, etc. I do not agree with their methods. I do not have any personal attachment to Dr. Sen, but at the same time feel that his right to a fair trial has been violated.

The proceedings of the trials do disconcert me - even the Supreme Court has stepped in to mention that the trial was not conducted in a fair manner. Prosecutions such as these do nothing to help our country - no citizen can respect the laws of the country without the perception of a functioning judicial system. We put our faith in the judiciary because we expect fair trial if ever we are put on the bench; and we expect that injustice that effects us to be addressed. I think by and large, the people of India feel powerless in front our government - one in which the executive can openly defy and deny the judiciary.

Finally, in regard to your statement "Indeed, his guilt is compounded by the fact that he rashly risked all the good he was doing on the ground to pursue a selfish political agenda" - I have not come across one article mentioning this political agenda of his; please cite your source. I hardly think we can say what a person should or should not do with his life - if he has spent a significant portion of his life working as a doctor for the people, he is not beholden to continue for the rest of his life.

Kannon said...

Excellent have succinctly made all the relevant points. This post should have a wide audience!

Anonymous said...

The point is evidence against Dr Binayak Sen was manufactured by the Chhattisgarh police to attempt to show that he was involved in activities against the Indian state. The judiciary itself is compromised and many times give judgment that go against the spirit of the Constitution (case in point is the rape of Bhanwari Devi where the upper caste rapists were let off with statements such as upper caste men will not have sex with lower caste women, father would not have sex in from of son)! Where there is this level of corruption in the very instiutions of democracy, you want to argue that sentencing a man whose only "crime" was to help the poorest of the poor is right?

Pervez said...

You may have just forgotten about the 160K mining licences that have been granted by the Red Belt States.That is the elephant in the room and it not about "waging war on the State" and "sedition".It is about delivering the MOUs signed by the State. Is Indian democracy so fragile as to feel under threat from a 60 Year old Dr who has spent his last 30 years serving the poor?

Anonymous said...

Wow, your posts have been rare lately but what quality. Bang on.

sanjay said...

It's not about Sen, the maoist sympathizers are using Sen's conviction to convey that they will raise a stink if the same benchmarks are used in Arundhati's sedition case as well, because if that happens that would put all the elites and their ilks on the same pedestal as the hoi polloi. For the elites it's blasphemous to equate classes with masses even in front of law, it just doesn't happen in India.

Kaushik said...

Beautifully done! Neat, balanced, patient and well-elucidated. Kudos!

Kaushik said...

Beautifully done! Neat, balanced, patient and well-elucidated. Kudos!