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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 26, June 19, 2010

‘Thank you’ Speeches and Kasab: in the Structure of Perverse Capitalism

Sunday 20 June 2010, by Priya Naik


What does one attribute individual action to?

The question that underpinned the very foundation of liberal thinking is hitherto key anchorage for the mindset in the capitalist structural arrangement. As we sift through newspapers there appear threads connecting and narrating the tale for a theoretical reflection.

Thank you, said Lebow when she won her Oscar this year for best director. The gratitude was not for the golden figure she clasped. It was a thank you to the her parents, the university where she studied, the loyal friends and the war in Iraq; all those people, factors, components and circumstances which made Hurt Locker an Oscar winning movie. Speeches are what Oscar and Nobel Prize winners prepare. At times these speeches are entertaining, but are mostly speeches, to thank everybody: all those people who have made them who they are. In fact, any winner, including the candidate who tops the UPSC examination, is a deviant, if s/he does not recognise that the effort was not a solo one at all.

The recognition admits that these striking efforts have not been alone. Irony, however, grins in the face as in modern-capitalist milieu, creativity is identified with the creator. Cardigans, sandwiches, watts and pasteurised milk are named after their creators. So are a billion copyrights and patents. This is not like the anonymous art of ancient India, where the creation’s splendour is unaccompanied by a reminder of who created it. The individual in a capitalist mode is identified as the doer. Success stories map the individual’s stupendous rise, his work, achievements, as though his product were his alone.

It is the individual who, in turn, acknowledges the contribution of other factors. The author thanks his wife and children, for bearing him on days when he was bumbling and cranky, and the professor writes in his foreword that his students taught him more than what he taught them, the artist bows silently to his muse. Human action is not alone. Nor is it carried out in isolation. A million, multiple factors make a person what she is. Attitudes, beliefs, upbringing, education, socialisation and heredity are tucked under every triumphant act, action and execution. An award is a celebration. A happy day for the hero, the champion, the one who beat everybody else. Capitalism celebrates individualism and it’s celebrated spectacularly when an individual outstrips the rest. But what about actions and achievements which don’t make people stand up and clap? Is it fair and just to hold the individual responsible? Either it is an action gone haywire or too ordinary to be celebrated, the doer of these actions is condemned to be speechless. And speechlessness is more often than not a harbinger of fatalistic atomisation of the individual. Rightly said, speech is power; assertion is reaffirmation of the social being of the individual.


Is there anybody Kasab would like to thank? Is there a speech he has prepared in the past twelve months, in gratitude for the confinement and solitude he has been kept in? The logic that human action is affected by people and environment around is oddly overlooked in matters of crime and punishment. The rationale to prepare a ‘thank you’ speech is not applicable when things go wrong. Words are not enough, when things go right: evidences are those glib mouthed thanking endlessly. But the wrong are wronged when they are held solely responsible for the act committed. The death sentence punishment for Kasab is like punishing the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano for erupting. A 22-year old is punished for a crime which he carried out willingly, actively, consciously without a strain of remorse. The euphoria was evident in the air. A tea vendor at the Victoria Terminal, where Kasab unbridled his machine gun, served free tea to grateful passengers. Newspapers carried detailed reports of the judge who gave the verdict, including how he spent his day. Outside the court, firecrackers were burst and sweets distributed. Cash awards were announced for the judge and prosecutor. This misplaced sense of glee is catharsis, no doubt. Aristotle would agree. But it is misplaced because the death sentence makes no recognition that Kasab was only the spring, sprung into action-the metaphoric foot-soldier. The country however, was seized with a determination to put him in the gallows. Penalising Kasab is right, indeed. But if this is justice, it is incomplete. With no recognition, acknowledgement that this was not the act of a serial killer, but a part of an organisation, which with an agenda commits a graver crime. One could arrest the spread of the lava, but does this absolve the shifty tectonic plates for the damage and despair?

That is the tragedy and farce of the verdict. Punishing the criminal achieves little, because it pays no attention to what led him to do it. What is punished is no longer the crime but Kasab. Punishing the individual, rather than the crime that was prodded by an organisation, does not restore the sanctity of that sociological entity called collective consciousness Emile Durkhiem so generously alluded to. It only panders to the mob-consciousness, as it were. Secondly, unlike the capitalist view of human nature as an atomised individual, the socialist perspective differs and offers greater hope for the criminal. Kasab however, is condemned forever. And his indifference was evident. He dozed in the court as the sentence was being passed. And this after innumerable hours and money have been spent on the trial. Treating the individual as a solitary social phenomenon is hazardous. There is no recognition that a person is a product, and if this product is a deviant one, it can be remade. Punishing Kasab and criminals is accompanied with the resignation that human nature is fixed. The individual is held culpable for an act not entirely his. Crime and punishment has been reduced to isolating and penalising the sole and solitary offender. Foucault reminded us that the power to punish is not different from educating and curing. Indeed a piece of advice for which the celebrated Indian democracy and judiciary have, allegedly, little time. So while the acclaimed, applauded and appreciated labour over speeches, the failures are speechless. Not only at the ugliness of their defeat, but the solitude and silence which follows them.

Priya Naik is an Assistant Professor at Ramjas College, University of Delhi.

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