In the absence of any personal hatred, what prompts killers to shoot?
Shishir Tripathi | April 13, 2015
I wish “a few good men” rise to occasion and not just speak but shout against the systematization of crime that has been unleashed by the state on its own people. The Hashimpura verdict and the April 7 killing of 20 tribal men in Chittoor, while blowing away the pretentious claims of the state of being protector of its citizens, also shows the banal bureaucratisation of crime, where an act of killing becomes a ‘duty’ performed by the unthinking foot soldiers, who are nothing more than ignorant and ‘stupid’ conduits in the crime.
Every time a Hashimpura or Chittoor takes place, it becomes even clearer that political postulates are not carved in vacuum; they arise from the social code which we are made to observe and abide to. Reading Hannah Arendt as a student of political science and years later watching ‘The Reader’, a movie based on her “banality of evil” thesis, I was left with a question for which there is apparently no clear answer.
Arendt in her book, ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’, discusses how the perpetrator of violence or any similar evil act can actually be so bereft of original thinking, that his personality assumes a systematic character, which in turn renders all his acts so banal that it is devoid of any logic, even a twisted one.
Arendt remark that acts of Adolph Eichmann, a top Nazi leader, were defined by the intrinsic inability to think on his own. And this was clearly reflected in the way he used stock phrases and self-invented clichés.
Obviously, nothing, apart from the banality and lack of any original thinking could have helped Eichmann justify his act of executing thousands of Jews and his role as a major organiser of the Holocaust. His act indeed could not be seen as something more than a pursuit of professional promotion and establishing himself as a loyal servant, diligently following his duty.
Whatever the case may be, in all the probable reasons behind the mass execution of innocent Jews by the unrelated individuals, the presence of frightening banality is apparent.
Arendt’s proposition is important because when killing or any other crime becomes an act akin to performing official duty, it assumes a monstrous character.
In the 2008 German-American film ‘The Reader’, Kate Winslet who plays Hannah Schmitz gets convicted for life for genocide. While in jail she commits suicide after reading the memoir of one of the survivors detailing her horrifying experience in the concentration camp. The movie interestingly portrays the ‘official duty’ kind of traits even in the evilest acts of genocide.
There is same horrifying banality in the killing of 20 poor tribal men allegedly involved in sandalwood smuggling in Chittoor. Twenty 'woodcutters' hired by red sander smugglers were killed in Seshachalam hill ranges near Tirupathi by policeman for reasons that are explicitly absurd.
On May 22, 1987, at least 40 unarmed men were killed in cold blood in Hashimpura, Meerut, by the members Uttar Pradesh’s provincial armed constabulary (PAC). The case was followed by many high-profile and widely highlighted extrajudicial executions. What was common in all these cases is lack of any link between those who killed with those who fell prey to state atrocity. There was no personal enmity between the victim and the perpetrator. In all possibility the latter was just executing the orders of his masters.
Hitler ordered the execution of the Jews because of his deep prejudices and hatred for the community, but thousands of his foot soldiers who followed his command cannot be taken to be sharing the same hatred. The same seems to be the case in Hashimpura, Chittoor and other ‘encounter’ killings in India. Then why they killed is a disturbing question, answer to which is fraught with even uglier truth of how the modern state functions.
Killing cannot be justified but even the law looks at circumstances behind any act of wrongdoing before awarding any punishment. In many cases the presence of “grave and sudden provocation” has been the reason for acquittal or lesser punishment to those accused of even for the crimes like homicide. But when the crime is devoid of any reason, Arendt’s banality defines it.
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