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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.

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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.

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..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.

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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.

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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?

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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)

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The Crapola network has the scoop.

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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!

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