Patchwork towards Justice

There is a fascinating article in this week’s Wired Magazine. The article discusses a new software that is being developed by German computer scientists that may be able to take shredded documents and piece them together. Before the Berlin War came down, the East German Secret Police, the Stasi (there is a wonderful highly-recommended movie about this) created huge dossiers on its citizens. In this surveillance-state, government conformity was maintained through fear, paranoia, and torture, if required. These huge dossiers have since been made open to the public, but just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Stasi workers made an effort to destroy the documents. However, even these may not be beyond recovery:

kps_gill.pngThe machine-shredded stuff is confetti, largely unrecoverable. But in May 2007, a team of German computer scientists in Berlin announced that after four years of work, they had completed a system to digitally tape together the torn fragments. Engineers hope their software and scanners can do the job in less than five years even taking into account the varying textures and durability of paper, the different sizes and shapes of the fragments, the assortment of printing (from handwriting to dot matrix) and the range of edges (from razor sharp to ragged and handmade.) “The numbers are tremendous. If you imagine putting together a jigsaw puzzle at home, you have maybe 1,000 pieces and a picture of what it should look like at the end,” project manager Jan Schneider says. “We have many millions of pieces and no idea what they should look like when we’re done.”

The implications for this project are tremendous. On the Big Brother side, citizens may be worried that even after shredding vital personal information, it may still be recoverable. However, keeping Big Brother in check may also be possible.

“People who took the time to rip things up that small had a reason,” Nickolay says. “This isn’t about revenge but about understanding our history.” And not just Germany’s Nickolay has been approached by foreign officials from Poland and Chile with an interest in reconstructing the files damaged or destroyed by their own repressive regimes.

While in Punjab, I do not know the current state of documentation, however, I do know that especially during the 80s and 90s and occurring today, the Indian-state compiled huge dossiers on Sikhs both in Punjab and abroad. This was how they created their infamous ‘blacklists’ during this period. Brief personal testimonies have also led me to beleive that ledgers exist providing certain details of the ‘disappearances’ during this period. Many members of the Punjab Police were given bounties for killing Sikh youth. Many innocents were picked up and killed to line their pockets. Deep in government vaults, a paper trail may still exist. Before it is destroyed, technologies such as that described in this article may play an important role in bringing about justice.


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7 Responses to “Patchwork towards Justice”

  1. Maestro says:

    Jodha, an interesting issue to bring attention to. Are you suggesting that such a technology could potentially create evidence of all the injustice and violations that occurred in Punjab? Do you think such documentation even existed in the first place?

  2. Maestro says:

    Jodha, an interesting issue to bring attention to. Are you suggesting that such a technology could potentially create evidence of all the injustice and violations that occurred in Punjab? Do you think such documentation even existed in the first place?

  3. Mewa Singh says:

    Maestro,

    I am not sure that Jodha thinks that this technology would be vital, because at this point no one is even sure where this documentation exists. However, while I am not sure WHERE it exists, I am convinced that it DOES exist. Bounties were paid to police officers who produced 'Sikh heads.' Government records of even disbursements are minutely maintained. The question is WHERE, not IF.

  4. Mewa Singh says:

    Maestro,

    I am not sure that Jodha thinks that this technology would be vital, because at this point no one is even sure where this documentation exists. However, while I am not sure WHERE it exists, I am convinced that it DOES exist. Bounties were paid to police officers who produced ‘Sikh heads.’ Government records of even disbursements are minutely maintained. The question is WHERE, not IF.

  5. Kaur says:

    Very important clarification Mewa, thank you.

    On the "Big Brother" note, this does make me very nervous. Taking into account the huge problem of Identity theft, etc going on right now could this be a great accomplishment for history, but a future landfall?? What would be the weight of potential benefits/hazards??

  6. Kaur says:

    Very important clarification Mewa, thank you.

    On the “Big Brother” note, this does make me very nervous. Taking into account the huge problem of Identity theft, etc going on right now could this be a great accomplishment for history, but a future landfall?? What would be the weight of potential benefits/hazards??

  7. […] we have discussed the atrocities committed by the Indian state against the Sikhs numerous times, groups such as Ensaaf and others have been […]