Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Outrages against liberty by various arms of the Indian state are neither rare nor mild, yet, even by those standards, the sentencing of Binayak sen is a shocking event. When a good doctor and an internationally acclaimed humanitarian is convicted by a court in a democratic(!) country and sentenced to life imprisonment: for violating arcane laws which should probably not be there, and which he anyway appears not to have violated, it is time for grief and rage.

I am not an expert on the various aspects of this case, but this much seems clear to me: Binayak Sen was not responsible for an act of violence. It doesn’t matter to me whether he is a Maoist sympathizer or not — if he is, that’s an exercise of his right to thought. It doesn’t matter to me if he spoke in favour of the Maoist movement — if he did, that was an exercise of his right to speech. It doesn’t matter if he possessed banned books — as far as I am concerned, possession of a book, whatever it is, should never be a crime. It doesn’t matter if he gave significant medical aid to an injured Maoist leader — if he did, he was doing exactly what every good doctor would have done in his situation. It doesn’t matter that he visited said Maoist leader in the jail or elsewhere — even disregarding the fact that such contact would have been normal in view of the doctor-patient relationship, noone, should ever, in any circumstance, be penalized merely for being in contact with another human being.

If Binayak Sen actively played a role in planning or executing violent deadly attacks, he should serve the time. But as far as I can tell, there is no evidence whatsoever he did so. Whatever evidence there is, point in a very different direction.  The notion — non actionable, even if true — that he was some sort of a believer in a Maoist ideology seems to be supremely wrong-headed. By all accounts — and I am relying here on accounts of those who know him — Sen’s beliefs were of a far more mild variety: he believed in inclusive growth, aid to underprivileged communities, an opposition to a system that created “two kinds of people” (the haves and have-nots), and so on. He is on record saying he abhors violence, including the Maoist variety. The evidence also points to him selflessly serving these underprivileged communities through his work as doctor. From the linked Tehelka article:

Drive 150 kilometres away from Raipur into the unforgiving dustiness of the forest around Bagrumala and Sahelberia in district Dhamtari, where Binayak ran his Tuesday clinic, and the heroic dimension of his work overwhelms you. There is nothing that could have brought a retired colonel’s elite, accomplished son here but extraordinary compassion. Scratchy little hamlets, some no more than 25-houses strong. Peopled by Kamars and other tribals, the most neglected of the Indian human chain, destituted further by the Gangrail dam on the Mahanadi river. No schools. No drinking water. No electricity. No access to public health. And increasingly, no access to traditional forest resources. Here, stories of Binayak Sen proliferate. How he saved young Lagni lying bleeding after a miscarriage, how he rescued the villagers of Piprahi Bharhi jailed en masse for encroaching on the forest, how he helped Jaheli Bai and Dev Singh, how he helped create grain banks. “Do something. Save the doctor,” says an old man in Kamar basti. “We have no one to go to now.”

In short, the evidence points to him being a man who above all believed in doing good. As a doctor, and a humanitarian with certain beliefs, he did good to everyone, from the powerless poor to some who the state considers its enemy. He spoke out against things he considered unjust and criticized the state whenever he felt it did wrong. Some of his acts made him, in the eyes of the powerful, a dangerous man who needed to be put down.

This ruling is certain to be challenged, but it still means that the forces of evil have won this round. For India and for liberty, this day is a black one.

****

When I last wrote about Sen, a reader (Chetan) asked some interesting questions.

If this issue were to be discussed on the basis of principle alone, I would like to know your views about how you would view an arrest of a person who is actively involved in aiding and abetting a violent political movement.

For instance, were it to be proved that a person provided not just intellectual but also material and tactical support to a violent movement, do you think the State has no right to imprison him? (The implicit assumption here is that the person didn’t involve himself with the violence. Let’s just say he provided funding and helped perpetrators of violence hide from the cops knowing what they had done)

While I cannot cover every scenario here, a few things I believe are:

Helping a violent movement  in a way that is directly linked to the execution of violent criminal acts (giving them money knowing it would be used to buy guns, helping them plan an operation, carrying letters detailing this plan from one person to another) should be a crime.

“Helping” a violent movement in any other way (moral or intellectual support, giving legal advice or medical help, carrying a letter that merely contains seditious propaganda) should not be a crime. Nor should giving money be a crime if it is the case that this money will only be used for legitimate purposes and not for violent acts (or, by mens rea, even if the financier believes incorrectly such to be the case).

From the libertarian viewpoint, the most important issue when pondering the legality of a certain sort of indirect support is whether its nature is intrinsically rights-violating (NAP violating). A good rule of thumb to resolve this is to ask the following question: would it, in your mind, be legal to offer the same sort of support to another group that had till then not committed any crime? If the answer to this question is yes, then the support should probably be legal even when offered to a violent lawless group.

Granted, a few cases are somewhat on the line, but in Sen’s case, it doesn’t even seem close.

Read Full Post »

..but I feel happier about the death penalty being awarded to these guys that I have for any other case I can remember.

There are people whose crimes have led to far greater destruction and death. Terrorists, mass murderers, genocidal dictators. But there is something particularly chilling about a group of men hunting down and murdering a young couple in love for no other reason than to uphold their notions of collective honour. If individual liberty is the greatest moral good, and collectivist coercion the greatest horror,  then the murder of  Manoj and Babli was evil in the purest way imaginable. When their killers die, I will rejoice.

Read Full Post »

I cannot really express how thrilled I am with this decision. The High Court, through its judgment, has given millions of Indians the right to be the way they are without facing harassment or prosecution. This is the biggest blow in favor of individual liberty that has happened in India for many, many years. In this blog, most of my political writings are about things that depress and outrage me; this one though, is pure joy.

Read Full Post »

I get plenty of junk in my Facebook feed every day most of which I barely give a second glance; today however, one particular item caught my eye. Titled “Vigil for Binayak Sen”, this particular Facebook event was in support of Dr. Binayak Sen, whose continued detainment by the Chhattisgarh government violates every principle of justice. Not only has he not been charged with any recognizable criminal offence, the laws under which he was arrested allow for arbitrary detention without any right of appeal: he has been in jail since May 2007 with no end in sight.

All that, however has nothing to do with why I am writing this post; the reason is because the description of this event  begins as follows,

Jonathan Mann award winner and civil liberties activist, doctor of the poor, Dr. Binayak Sen has been jailed by Govt. of India under fabricated charge of being a supporter of Maoism.

But why should it matter who Dr. Sen supports? Maybe he supports the Maoists, maybe he does not. That fact is completely irrelevant. If freedom means anything, it means the right to expouse any views, however repugnant. If you believe in freedom of thought and speech, supporting an organization, whether it is is the Maoists or Al-Qaeda or the Nazis, should never be a crime. It is only directly criminal deeds that ought to be actionable, nothing else; not views, not speech, not associations.

By starting the description of the event in this manner, the author automatically gives an impression that this arrest is wrong because Binayak Sen is accused of supporting the Maoists while he in truth does not. BS!  This arrest is wrong because it violates individual liberty and it’s wrongness would not reduce even the slightest were Binayak Sen the greatest supporter of Maoism in the world. Why are so few people inclined to defend liberty purely for liberty’s sake?

Read Full Post »

Honestly. Can this be real?

A criminal case was filed in a court on Thursday accusing Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh with ‘hurting’ fans by staying away from the Padma awards function.

Dhoni and Bhajji were to be honoured with the Padma Shree by President Pratibha Patil in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Senior advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha filed the case in the court of the CJM Ramdarash seeking to book the cricketers under sections 499 (defamation), 500 (punishment for defamation), 503 (criminal intimidation) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace).

Ojha alleged that the two cricketers insulted fans and dishonoured the prestigious award by staying away from the function.

The comment section is depressing to read. This one, by someone called Kapil Sapre, is probably my favourite:

This is not insult of fans but this is insult of our Honourable President who honours the celebrities with such awards. It is also insult of our nation. Showing such attitude those have made our country to fall on face at international level. No celebritiy henceforth should be allowed to do so and to prevent this those should be fined in terms of money like 25 crores as they also earn that much and imprisonment for at least 3 years. There should be no case and nothing direct punishment. Why because such people are idols of rising youth. If they do so, youth will also tend to do so.

(Hat Tip: Aristotle the Geek)

Read Full Post »

The Crapola network has the scoop.

Read Full Post »

They say rightly that truth is stranger than fiction.

So Muthalik and his gang of goons beat up women at pubs because they deem the activity is against Indian culture. This sets off similar acts of violence and vandalism by other Hindu right-wing groups. One of their victims, a fifteen year old girl, is so traumatized by the incident that she commits suicide.

What next? At the very least, you’d expect legal action against the perpetrators, right? But this is India, where miracles happen everyday, only in a bad way. Instead of directing its ire at the bad guys, a Mangalore local court directs the police to file a FIR against the Union minister Renuka Chowdhury for her statement comparing these incidents to the acts of the Taliban.

The whole thing beggars belief. The first news report I read on the matter didn’t mention the law that Ms. Chowdhury had allegedly violated (and for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out); so I scoured around some more. Finally I found it:

…directed the police to register the FIR under section 153 A (Promoting enmity between different groups) and B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (Statements conducive to public mischief) IPC and also to submit the investigation report before March 20,

The only thing more WTF than the act of the local court is this terrible set of sections under which the FIR was filed. There are ridiculous laws and  then there are ridiculous laws. In the theater of the absurd, anything is possible — and if the results are mostly tragic, hey that’s life!

Read Full Post »

A thought just struck me. All those dashing moustachioed South Indian actors, yeah the ones who beat up the bad guys and gyrate with the voluptuous ladies with equal panache, should write a letter to their adoring fans. They should tell those young fellas that they can do something really great this Valentine’s day; form vigilant squads and protect the couples who decide to go out. Of course, it is difficult to take up the cause of over-happy lovers, but surely these fellas (who presumably have no significant others) will do that much to abide by the wishes of their favourite superstar?

So there you go young fans, you know it is right to woo a pretty lady (your hero does it all the time) and it is also right to beat up a villain soundly (your hero excels at this too) — why not help both happen this 14th? Go out and thrash any Ram Sena activist you see on the street — Rajnikant will bless you.

Read Full Post »

In this excellent piece, security guru Bruce Schneier comments on efforts by the Indian government to ban Google Earth in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Let’s all stop and take a deep breath. By its very nature, communications infrastructure is general. It can be used to plan both legal and illegal activities, and it’s generally impossible to tell which is which. When I send and receive email, it looks exactly the same as a terrorist doing the same thing. To the mobile phone network, a call from one terrorist to another looks exactly the same as a mobile phone call from one victim to another. Any attempt to ban or limit infrastructure affects everybody. If India bans Google Earth, a future terrorist won’t be able to use it to plan; nor will anybody else. Open Wi-Fi networks are useful for many reasons, the large majority of them positive, and closing them down affects all those reasons. Terrorist attacks are very rare, and it is almost always a bad trade-off to deny society the benefits of a communications technology just because the bad guys might use it too.

Communications infrastructure is especially valuable during a terrorist attack. Twitter was the best way for people to get real-time information about the attacks in Mumbai. If the Indian government shut Twitter down – or London blocked mobile phone coverage – during a terrorist attack, the lack of communications for everyone, not just the terrorists, would increase the level of terror and could even increase the body count. Information lessens fear and makes people safer.

[…] Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. I haven’t seen it talked about yet, but the Mumbai terrorists used boats as well. They also wore boots. They ate lunch at restaurants, drank bottled water, and breathed the air. Society survives all of this because the good uses of infrastructure far outweigh the bad uses, even though the good uses are – by and large – small and pedestrian and the bad uses are rare and spectacular. And while terrorism turns society’s very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response – just as we would if we banned cars because bank robbers used them too.

I made a related point last month in my reaction to the same news.

Read Full Post »

The Mumbai terror attacks were remarkable, not just for their audacity and horrifying elements, but also for the spontaneous reaction it elicited from the public. Citizens across India demonstrated in massive numbers and expressed their outrage against terrorists and politicians. There were posters and sloguns and an atmosphere of common purpose. The numbers were massive, the intensity electrifying, the cause just.

However I wonder.

I wonder what those protesters, proud Indians all, who presumably are outraged at Pakistani terrorists killing our people and overjoyed about our economic growth and rapid urbanization, feel about Raj Thackeray’s dictats to out-staters, the culture of entitled offendedness that pervades our society and makes people force their beliefs on others, the recent incident where a Pakistani girl studying in Mumbai was assaulted  for having an Urdu tattoo on her body or this other incident where Ram Sena activists beat up pub goers for behaving ‘immorally’.

I wonder if they think twice when they read about Sania Mirza getting harrassed for keeping her feet too close to our flag, Taslima Nasreen being told what she cannot write, M F Hussain’s paintings being vandalized, Tamil movies being ‘banned’ in Karnataka, arrests made for writing derogatory stuff about politicians or Harbhajan Singh being dragged to court for dressing up as Ravana in a TV show. If they do, they certainly do not show it.

So, while I am happy that my country has been recording good economic growth and all that, I fail to muster up enough enthusiasm about the grassroot protests that took place after the Mumbai attacks. There is little to argue about a terrorist attack; we all agree it is horrifying and wrong and that the perpetrators should be punished. Protests and all are fine and good, but there is hardly much moral ambiguity at stake there. On the other hand, the incidents I mention are commonplace and related in that they all involve a complete disregard for individual liberty. There are principles at stake there, principles worth fighting for. So, when I see that my countrymen, who proved their amazing ability to gather together  and protest less than two months ago, display little or no outrage at all these incidents I have mentioned above, it tells me something — their values are not really pro-liberty, their conception of morality not necessarily mine.

Read Full Post »

I fully agree with all those people who think captured terrorist Ajmal Amir should not be have the right to a lawyer or a proper trial.

Rights like these might make sense in countries with an excess of freedom but they have no place in our nation. There may be some people who believe that the rule of law is too important to be set aside for emotional satisfaction and others who like to spend their ink writing about jurisprudence and the perils of setting bad precedents and suchlike. I say, screw them!

We Indians are an emotional lot, we prefer to express our outrage in the old fashioned way. When have we cared that much about foreign concepts like civil liberties anyway? You can’t talk of proper legal procedures when there is no rule of law to begin with. All this talk about presumption of innocence is pure baloney in a country where so many people die at the hands of criminals everyday. So I  say, torture Ajmal Amir for three days and then hang him in broad daylight without a trial. In fact also slap sedition charges on any lawyer who has declared an intent to extend legal help to that bastard. Such people do not deserve to live among us.  Mahesh Deshmukh, if you think the beating you got at the hand of Shiv Sainiks was bad, wait till you see how prison feels!

And let’s not stop at Ajmal, henceforth hang anyone who a majority of people in the country want to kill at some given moment. After all, we are a democracy and an emotional one to boot.

(Here’s a related post by Aristotle the Geek)

Read Full Post »

A PIL has been filed in India asking to get Google Earth banned. Apparently the terrorists used Google images to plot their attacks.

Considering that the terrorists also used buses, trains, cellphones and a fishing boat, perhaps we should ban those as well.

And while we are at it, we should make sure that there are no loopholes. After all, most of the data supplied by Google is provided by other parties. Even if Google Earth is no longer accessible from India, one would be able to get the information from other sources. So let us block those sites as well, indeed ban all data obtained by satellites or cameras, and ensure that such data cannot be sent into India from outside the country. Regulating the internet would be a good start.

But here’s a prediction: after all this is done, a resourceful individual will still be able to get any information he wants. For information is a rebellious bird, it can never, ever be caged. The same however, is not true of the government.

Read Full Post »

The terrorists killed over a hundred innocent people yesterday. This wasn’t an act that took place in some distant part of the world. It happened in a city I care about, one that I have spent four summers in and where many of my friends live or have family. The attack was astounding in its scope and daring — no suicide bombers this time around but machine gun wielding militants taking hostages in posh hotels. The country is outraged and for good reason.

Yet, and yet. This is just a small thing compared to what could and looks likely to happen now. There are calls for much tougher anti-terrorism laws, possibly more draconian than what the US introduced after 9/11. In a poll conducted today by an Indian newspaper, 95% supported such measures. If laws like these are passed, the Indian police will relish in using them. Thousands of people will be rounded up on mere suspicion, many of those unrelated to terror. Some will be locked up for months, perhaps years. Phones will be tapped, due process suspended. You are thinking, all of that won’t happen to me. And you may be right, but rest assured that it will happen to many people just like you. It is when this atmosphere of panic and police-statism takes over our nation that the terrorists will have truly won this one.

QI hits the nail on the head:

The easiest reaction in a situation like this is to call for tougher laws, all of which aim to circumvent the adherence to due process. Due process anyway gets short shrift here in India, and do we really want to legitimise that? […]Shouldn’t better investigation, more co-ordination and better training be looked at first, instead of giving the police arbitrary powers to harass citizens? […] I am just terrified by the knowledge that by bringing in such laws, we have pretty much capitulated to terrorism – their objective of destroying the civil and democratic fabric of India will have been achieved. And contrary to what people feel, these won’t be effective deterrents. Simply because, in my mind, they do not address the root of the problems plaguing our law-enforcement esablishments.

He is right. The Indian police and intelligence agencies suffer from severe deficiencies. They need to be revamped. There needs to be better training, coordination and other changes. But these will have to smart changes. We don’t need knee-jerk reactions here. The deterrence value of laws that suspend due process is small and costs to essential freedoms huge. The Indian establishment could do much worse than read Bruce Shneier’s excellent blog on security measures to get some pointers.

A heavy handed law that curtails civil liberties will be a tragedy far greater than any terror attack. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We should keep this in mind and fight to preserve the intangible things that are truly valuable, even as we take measures to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

Read Full Post »

David Bernstein has a fine post where he explains the perils of having ‘reasonable restriction on free speech’ such as hate speech laws:

When I was in law school, advocates of weakening First Amendment protections to restrict “hate speech” pointed to Canada as a shining example of how egregious expression could be banned without threatening freedom of speech more generally. At the time, the Canadian Supreme Court was holding that Holocaust denial and violent, misogynistic pornography are not protected under Canadian constiutitional law. And, really, who wants to defend Holocaust denial and violent pornography? Yet, less than twenty year later, we have Canadian citizens being prosecuted for quoting biblical injunctions against homosexual activity, or for merely reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons. (For the latest outrage, see here, courtesy of Instapundit). So the Canadian example hasn’t quite worked out as its prior advocates had anticipated. Instead of being an example of “reasonable” restrictions on freedom of expression, it has become an example of the slippery slope problems inherent in allowing restrictions on freedom of expression based on subjective views of what is sufficiently offensive or problematic to be banned.

I have pointed out the same thing in several old posts. And even leaving aside the slippery-slope argument, there is something fundamentally immoral about censoring someone’s opinions because it is distasteful.

Bernstein’s post also goes into other issues, such as the intrinsic arbitrariness of tribunals that end up enforcing such laws. Read the whole thing.

By now, the most important truth ought to be obvious to all — freedom of speech needs to be absolute in order to mean anything. Thus one cannot have a thing such as a “right to never have your feelings hurt”.

Unfortunately, as Orwell famously said, to see what is one front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

So I repeat myself, ad nauseum, for that is all I can do really.

Read Full Post »

After successfully combating the menace of smoking, he is now on a mission to eradicate the other great vice — alcohol.

Sometimes I wonder where we Indians would be without Ramadoss. It is abundantly clear now that we are simply incapable of taking good decisions for ourselves. We masturbate, smoke, drink, maintain poor personal hygiene and consistently elect the wrong politicians. Without his fatherly protection and control, we would soon become a bunch of wastrels.

There is only one thing I fear — what if Ramadoss gets tired of his mission and stops taking care of us? What will we do? Who will we turn to?

But, in my heart of hearts, I know he will never stop. His conscience will prevent him from doing so.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »