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Banality of evil

Quite obviously, the last word has not been said on the confession by Manipur Police head constable Thounaojam Herojit that he was indeed the man who gunned down Chungkham Sanjit, the 22 year old militant suspect in the sensational broad daylight extra judicial killing on July 23, 2009 at Imphal’s busy Bir Tikendrajit Road. This is so because his confession is not so much a show of remorse for the heinous crime he has committed, and admittedly he has made many more similar executions in his entire career. It is more out of resentment that his organisation and those who gave him the orders are abandoning him in the face of an inquisition in which it is becoming certain he would be convicted. From the video recording of his interviews by the media, including the Imphal Free Press, he did come across as somebody with absolutely no empathy. He appeared to be the perfect professional, doing his duty as best as he could within the confines of the job profile he is given. The entire episode almost evokes the engaging debate in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna literally coerces a reluctant Arjun to pick up his weapons and kill as a soldier should, without once worrying about the consequences. Herojit too had come to believe insurgents were his enemy, and killing them was his duty and with robotic compliance followed orders to commit what are for the law abiding and human at heart, monstrous. He is a teetotaller and never once needed to intoxicate himself before the contemplated executions. He did not even once make his victims turn around so he could shoot them from the back, and instead preferred to kill them making eye contact so that even in their last moments they were never in any doubt they were about to die and at whose hands.

The picture is as chilling as one of the Grim Reaper himself. It is still more frightful because it is unlikely Herojit is the only executioner in the Manipur Police, or for that matter any other armed law enforcing unit operating in the state. Remember there is an ongoing Supreme Court case on the alleged over 1500 extra judicial killings made by the police and army in Manipur in the last 30 years. The entire episode definitely bears moral witness to the barren spiritual landscape Manipur’s brand of counterinsurgency has brought to this devastated land. This devastation does not end with hardened killers like Herojit, loyal only to their profession, or at least what they have been told is their professional duty. Nor does it with their immediate officers who allegedly gave these orders for the executions. It is the climate of impunity which has descended on Manipur in the decades of an unholy war, where even the thin red line dividing line the conflicting parties have become ambiguous, which is the culprit. In a way, the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, is an exemplification of this degraded moral ambiguity. It trivialises murder. The irony is that if the AFSPA was applicable to the civil police, perhaps the Manipur Police as an organisation would not have had to abandon its executioners like Herojit at the time of inquisitions. Maybe there would have been no necessity for any inquisitions at all given the legal cover AFSPA gives to such perpetrators. Manipur has seen this has happened so many times before with the army and other Central forces covered by the AFSPA. Executioners like Herojit too would also have continued to do their grim jobs dutifully, and probably no dissatisfaction or controversy would have surfaced. The peace of the graveyard in Manipur therefore would have remained undisturbed.

The public tendency to laud the rebellion of Herojit is another indicator of the extent evil has become banal in the way Hannah Arendt conceived of it, and is understandable. After all, this is another testimony that the demon within the system is beginning to gurgitate with discomfort at its own legitimised evil within. The decades of legal sanction to killing and brutality had long begun to warp the moral outlook of the place and what is happening now seems like poetic justice in the midst of an extended drought of systemic justice. This sensational but sorry episode is replete with many more ironies. Not the least is Herojit’s appeal to his colleagues in the police profession to not follow “illegal” orders. The truth is, if the AFSPA was applicable to the civil police, the orders for extra judicial executions that he was following would not have been “illegal”. But this anxiety, it must be said is not new. In fact the Nuremberg Principles of 1950, drawn up in the wake of the WWII and the Halocaust, address very much the same thing. Amongst the principles is that following orders to perpetrate atrocities still constitutes war crime. In other words, it is not just individual actions but also the laws which sanction these actions which can be illegal. From the perspective of the Nuremberg Principles then, even Acts like the AFSPA would be illegal.Interestingly, as Amartya Sen implied in “The Argumentative India”, the spirit of the Nuremberg Principles was contained in Arjun’s initial resistance to Krishna’s “order” to pick up arms and fight. Devotion to duty is fine, but often, it is the nature of the duty which also calls for questioning. Events of the past few days are a wake up call for all to begin such introspections.



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