Monday, September 24, 2012

This awkward business of sedition

Once upon a time, a man wrote three letters. He wrote that he hadn’t heard from his correspondent in a while. He talked of the gulf between rich and poor, of the need for propaganda, of how their organisation needed to do more to achieve their goals.

These letters were carried by a doctor. The doctor was subsequently arrested. For sedition. Which means that his actions hurt the nation.

Dr Binayak Sen was already known for the years he spent serving the poor, providing medical aid that the government should have been providing. He was then accused of waging war against all of us. Those letters he carried were written by a sick senior citizen called Narayan Sanyal, who was in jail for Maoist/Naxalite activities.

In a new book, The Curious Case Of Binayak Sen, journalist Dilip D’Souza points out that the judge who found Binayak Sen guilty offered the interpretation that a letter describes certain murders as reactionary. But the letter does not mention the word ‘murder’ at all. At another place, the wording has been twisted around. Instead of a request for ‘MR’ to send funds for ‘friends here’, the judge interprets it as a request to send money to a person or group called ‘MR’.

D’Souza mentions that there are people who dislike Dr Sen because of his alleged support of Maoists, or even just because he was trying to help Sanyal in jail. The author describes his own brief brush with the law. 

D’Souza writes that he — along with some other men — was once arrested for travelling in the Ladies compartment of a local train in Mumbai. He was bailed out and asked to appear in court. The other men did not appear in court. They had already bribed their way to freedom.

Which brings us to this awkward business of corruption. Now a cartoonist called Aseem Trivedi is accused of doing the nation harm. He drew a cartoon that seemed to suggest that the lions on our national emblem have turned into wolves, their mouths dripping blood. Their motto reads: Bhrashtamev Jayate. The Corrupt Win.

Whether it was a good cartoon or not is a separate matter. But it did citizens no harm. It did the national emblem no harm. The emblem remains where it was, engraved on a pillar. As for our motto, Satyamev Jayate, it should be engraved on our hearts. But seeing how corrupt we actually are, how every law turns into an opportunity for someone in governance or administration to extract money illegally from harried citizens, Trivedi was probably just telling the truth as he felt it.

So who does that cartoon actually damage? It damages, I suppose, our image of ourselves. That image of us being lion-hearted defenders of the truth.

If only we were. If only our policemen arrested people who do damage the nation. If only the policemen themselves did not damage the nation.

In D’Souza’s new book, he quotes historian Ramchandra Guha, who has written of his encounter with a Muria tribal in a jail in Chhattisgarh. Dabba Boomaiah had a job as a labourer on a lift irrigation project. One day he offered to take a road-building crew to the Bhopalpatnam police station. The police began to quiz him about Naxal activity in the area and pressured him to become a vigilante, via the Salwa Judum. When he refused, he was arrested.

Neither Guha, nor D’Souza, nor I, know what has happened to poor Dabba since. Let us hope he is out of jail, at home, safe. Perhaps, he is considering engraving upon his lion heart, the words: Satyamev Jayate.

First published here.

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