The idea of evidence, as the word’s etymology indicates, is founded on the faculty of sight. ‘Seeing is believing’: empirical knowledge — hence, all modern disciplines like law and medicine — is based on a judicious application of this premise. But turn it round, and one is left with ‘believing is seeing’, which is the realm of love rather than law, miracles rather than medicine. In such a world, the justice system is turned upside down. A particularly absurd instance of this inversion occurred recently at a sessions court in Chhattisgarh, during the trial of the renowned doctor and human rights activist, Binayak Sen. Mr Sen — who is out on bail after being in jail for two years for alleged links with the Maoists — was being tried under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. On the second day of the prosecution’s arguments, the public prosecutor attempted to prove that Mr Sen and his wife were part of an international terror network because Ms Sen had written an email to “one Fernandes from the ISI”. And what could this ISI be but Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence? But, as it turned out, ISI is the Indian Social Institute in Delhi, and Walter Fernandes its former head and a friend of the Sens. The court was also regaled with other suspicious bits from the Sens’ correspondence. “We have a chimpanzee in the White House” appearing in one of the messages indicated, according to the prosecution, that Mr Sen was using a code, as terrorists often do; and his wife addressed one of her correspondents as “Comrade”, as Maoists often do one another.
All this would have been terrifically entertaining — the chimpanzee did make the judge smile — had some of the most crucial issues of democracy and human rights not been implicated in the treatment meted out to Mr Sen over the last couple of years. That an individual of rare and celebrated courage and skills has been accused of conspiring to overthrow the State, made to fear for his life, and was held in jail with an ailing heart for two years on the flimsiest of evidence, lays bare the actual state of justice in Chhattisgarh and, by extension, the Indian State. These latest incidents certainly give a comic twist to the tale. But that does not make the situation any less sinister. Paranoia, especially when founded on ignorance, could dangerously undermine the rational foundations of the legal process.