FOR UPDATE DATED FEBRUARY 26, 2010, SEE BELOW
Just watched Karan Thapar interviewing Binayak Sen - an utterly frustrating experience. See a transcript here.
Karan Thapar made the fundamental logical error of confusing an explanation with a moral justification. And Binayak should have pointed this distinction out to him immediately.
To say that the violence of forest tribals is a response to state violence that accompanies the predatory policies of so-called "development" that destroy the ecology on which the surivival of the forest dwellers depends is to propose part of an explanation. It does not morally justify the violence of the tribals. It does however need to be complemented with an explanation why non-violent strategies have failed.
For example, when a doctor attributes lung cancer to smoking, she is not claiming that lung cancer is what should happen, or that it is right that the patient is suffering from lung cancer. Karan Thapar would however claim that she is a supporter and sympathizer of lung cancer, and that she morally justifies the suffering of the patient.
Take another example. Historians might claim that the rise of Nazism in Germany was a response to the humiliation meted out to Germany by the treaty of Versailles after World War I. Can this explanation - a cause-effect linkage - be treated as a moral justification for the Holocaust? Or as "creating moral equivalence" between the Allied Powers and the perpetrators of the Holocaust? No to both questions.
Karan Thapar also made the mistake of associating Binayak with the maoist position. At one point he even claimed that Binayak had some influence over them. Where did that come from? The police tactic of smear by association, perhaps? Perhaps the entire reason why he was so anxious to side-track Binayak's central message - a warning against genocidal famine - is that he set out with an agenda of trying to entrap Binayak into making a sympathetic statement on behalf of the maoist cause. He is not the only media personality who does this.
I also do not understand how much more clearly Binayak and other human rights activists can express their condemnation of violence - whether of the state, the maoists, or of any other group. Why do their interlocutors not demand the same rapid response condemnation of all acts of state violence from those who support the violence of the state? Binayak tried to make this very point, but Karan Thapar seemed to confuse it with some other point which he had on his talking points agenda.
The elephant in the room to which Binayak tried to point again and again was the evidence of a famine of genocidal proportions. But Karan Thapar seemed to consider it less important than extracting a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the most recent maoist atrocity.
Look out for other signs of the mainstream media using the maoist violence as a distraction to draw attention away from the famine.
UPDATE DATED FEBRUARY 26, 2010This interview generated very little comment in the mainstream media. One must infer that the genocide by silence of the chronically malnourished must continue for a while longer in this shining and incredible country.
But two powerful comments have appeared in the dissident media.
One is a comment by Sevanti Ninan in The Hoot which reinforces my observation that Karan Thapar's objective seemed to have been to extract from Binayak an admission of support for the maoists. "...[T]he Thapar inquisition usually thrives on being single minded. Since he had someone who could be painted as a Maoist sympathizer on his show he was going to milk it for his upper middle class audience for all it was worth. And not just any small time Maoist sympathizer but a man who could be conveniently labeled the country's 'foremost human rights activist', a description Thapar would repeat every now and then with relish. If you succeeded in tarring him you achieved what has been an English TV anchor obsession since 'the Naxal Menace' became prime time fodder. You succeeded in tarring the tribe. Sen's assertion that 'we' (referring to human rights workers) did not condone either the violence of the Maoists of the state, only brought more demands for an even clearer assertion."
The second comment is a longish reflection by Radha D'Souza on "The Economics, Politics and Ethics of Non-violence" that takes this interview as its starting point, and observes: "Paradoxically, the institutions founded on violence, the military-industrial-finance-media complexes, are the ones that preach the ideology of non-violence in unequivocal terms; and those who advocate peace with justice end up advocating violence. How are we to understand this paradox? We cannot say it is because the institutions are hypocrites because, if institutions are mindless, they cannot be hypocrites."
The entire political system is dependent on and sustained by violence, but only maoist violence is unacceptable. "This is the reason why we are unable to respond to the present crisis. The Maoist say: constitutionalism has failed our people, and we say, true it has failed, but what can we do, let us try once more. The Maoists say: India has become a violent society, forty percent of our parliamentarians have a track record of violence, our democratic political parties have their militias, we kill freely in the name of Ram, our army with its vast arsenal has waged war against our people for sixty-three years, and therefore, they say violence is the order of the day. We say: all this is true, but you Maoists should not be violent."
Quoting Buddha's response to the conflict between Ajatashatru and Prasenjit, she ends:
"We witness before our eyes the “killer begetting a killer”, and the “unfolding” of the karma of the conquerors and abusers and revilers and plunderers. But we live in strange times of equality, liberal rights, and individual freedoms, and somehow these lenses do not help us to see the difference between abuser and abused, between plunderer and plundered, between cause and effect, the begetter and the begotten."