Banality of evil

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The one question which has come back to haunt the government establishment in Manipur is “how do you put the genie of fake encounter back into the bottle?” The genies as we know are spirits made popular by Arabian Nights tales, which are kept bottled but often released by individuals greedy for power and money, to use the supernatural powers these spirits possess to advance their personal interests. Often, the spirits stay free longer than desired to torment their releasers even as the latter find they are abjectly unable to drive them back into the bottle. In Manipuri there is a similar saying, and probably an adaptation from this familiar story: “Bhoot sanaraga bhoot loisinba heitaba”. And here is the Manipur establishment, having used killer cops to fight its dirty war of brutally, silently and systematically eliminating insurgent suspects through stage encounters, now finding itself at a loss as to how to silence one of its former executioners who has decided to spill the beans. Thounaojam Herojit Singh, once a dreaded killer cop, self-confessedly responsible for the fake-encounter killings of over a hundred captives, a steadfast loyalist of the police establishment and whatever policies it adopted, until a sensational report on one of his broad daylight killing on July 23, 2009, on the busy BT Road by the Tehelka Magazine, breached the chink in the police armor. According to Herojit’s account when he first decided to come open a little over a year ago, the organization he put his entire faith in had begun turning its back on him when the going got tough. It had become evident to him at one point that his bosses were ready to make a scapegoat of him in order to save their own skins. It is now adequately clear, he is not about to let this happen without a fight. When the courts in Manipur seemingly put his case on the backburner for whatever their reason and much to his frustration, he has decided to approach the Supreme Court to have himself heard, and expectedly, he made loud headlines all over, including in New Delhi.

Herojit’s damning claim is not that he was a killer cop specialised in fake encounters, but that he was acting on the orders of his higher ups. The hints he has given so far is that this hierarchy of command that he was following went very high up. Now that the cat is out of the bag, it is difficult not to speculate how far up this command structure is which either directly gave the orders for the killings or else gave the approval for these orders to be given. Does it end with the state government or were there also green signals from the responsible departments of the Central government, is a question which is getting more and more curious. The doubt also is, if the chain of command did go up very high, would anything come out of case? Not only is it a question of how high up this went, but also how extensive was this collaborative crimes in this sordid chapter in the state’s history? If almost the entire police department and more are found guilty in varying degrees, would penalty come to be diluted or non-implementable? Numerous Holocaust trials have shown us how this guilt does not always have to be in terms of direct complicity, but also by complicity of silence. Those complicit can also be perfectly respectable, god fearing family men too, as Hannah Arendt has so startlingly revealed in her coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker, later published as a book titled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”.

As for Herojit, if what he is doing now is driven by remorse and a need to atone his own guilt at having participated in this horrendous murderous policy, then may the heavens forgive him. However, if he has been led to believe his confessions to the crimes, and the claims of his having merely followed orders from his leaders, will clear him, he will probably find himself very mistaken and disappointed. Again taking a leaf out of the Holocaust trials, we now know that there is today a universally accepted standard of moral rectitude regarding such matters in the shape of the “Nuremberg Principles”, which essentially say that the excuse “I was following orders” in matters of grave crime against humanity, cannot be tenable in the eye of the law. Every human being, regardless of the hierarchy in any organization he or she find themselves, cannot surrender their moral agency and must remain a moral being especially when gross injustice is being perpetrated by their organizations. At these moments, they must be able to stand up to their moral callings and be able to refuse to be part of the crimes they are expected to commit. This we all know is easier said than done. The banality of evil being what it is, more often than not, even very ordinary people, with loving families, have been part of these crimes by their remorseless indifference.

IFP Editorial

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