Singled out?

There are several troubling questions that the trial, conviction and sentencing of Vikram Buddhi, a doctoral student in the United States, raises.

A US court has sentenced Buddhi, an Indian Institute of Technology alumnus, to almost five years in prison and an additional three years of supervised release for allegedly posting hate messages on internet in 2005 against US President George Bush and calling on Iraqis to avenge the deaths of their citizens. The messages were traced to Buddhi’s computer but in 2006, investigators released Buddhi after interrogating him. Strangely four months later, he was picked up again and put on trial. His trial was far from fair. Crucial evidence was hidden from the jury. The judge who presided over the case was hostile to Buddhi from the start. Even if he had authored the internet postings, the sentence is rather excessive. There is a difference between hate speech and violent acts and the postings fall under the former category. The postings were made at the height of global anger against Bush’s war on Iraq. Millions across the world, including Americans, were enraged with the invasion of Iraq and the terrible occupation that followed. People marched in protest, made films and wrote books that reflected this rage. Several movies made by Americans even showed Bush being assassinated. Why was Buddhi’s postings singled out? Was Buddhi a victim of the small mindedness of xenophobic Americans?

It is not our argument that Buddhi should be set free because he is Indian or because his bright future as a researcher has been put on hold. If he did commit a crime, he deserves the sentence as per the law of the land. But this punishment should have come after a fair trial. Buddhi was denied that.

The Indian government is reported to have done little to secure Buddhi’s right. Its lack of involvement in his case is shocking. India’s ambassador to the US, Meera Shanker, told a pan-IIT conference in Chicago recently that she did not know about the case. The Indian consulate in Chicago, under whose jurisdiction Buddhi’s case falls, was simply not engaged in the trial. Such apathy is unacceptable. Buddhi is expected to appeal the sentence. Hopefully, the Indian government will ensure that he gets a fair trial at least this time.

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