Before the first word of this post is written, let me make one thing clear : The blinkered nationalists or the right wingers might call me a leftist or a Xian or a pseudo intellectual and most importantly an anti national for writing a post in support of Binayak Sen who has been charged of Sedition by the Additional District and Sessions Court in Chattisgarh. Naxalism is one of the gravest threats that India faces as a nation today and many believe that it is apparently even more dangerous compared to the cross-border terrorism. The government has failed to solve the problem and the home minister recently admitted that Naxals have strengthened their position and have stepped up violence of late. Operating from the dense forests with no proper food, water and electricity these people have waged a war against the Indian state and have found a strong support base from the tribal community living in the jungles. Naxalites have been declared as a terrorist organization under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. But amidst all this, Maoists have found many supporters also. A large number of intellectuals, socialists and human rights activists have spoken for them and their rights. Arundhati Roy, the booker prize winner calls them “Gandhians with Guns”. They have criticized the security forces and the state sponsored civilian militia Salwa Judum cadres for gross human rights violations in the name of counter insurgency operations. Any ways, this post is NOT about Naxals it’s about The untenable imprisonment and victimisation of Dr Binayak Sen. Also, I have no empathy for or patience with Naxalism.
WHO IS BINAYAK SEN?
A pediatric doctor by profession — a gold medallist from the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore has worked for more than 30 years with the tribal poor in Chhattisgarh, battling malnutrition, tuberculosis, and the lethal falciparum malaria strain rampant in the area. He moved from Hoshangabad to Chhattisgarh in 1981, to work with Shankar Guha Niyogi, the legendary mine workers’ unionist. Here, famously, he helped set up the Shaheed Hospital at Dallirajhara, built from the workers’ own money. Later, he moved away to the Mission Hospital in Tilda, and then, in 1990, joined his wife, Ilina Sen in Raipur, to set up Rupantar, an NGO through which the couple have worked for the last 18 years in training village health workers and running mobile clinics in remote outposts.
In the dense jungles around Bagrumala and Sahelberia in district Dhamtari Binayak Sen ran his Tuesday clinic. No schools. No drinking water. No electricity. No access to public health. And increasingly, no access to traditional forest resources. I searched a lot on the net to find what do the people of the region have to say about Dr. Binayak Sen. Here, stories of Binayak Sen proliferate. How he saved young Lagni lying bleeding after a miscarriage, how he rescued the villagers of Piprahi Bharhi jailed en masse for encroaching on the forest, how he helped Jaheli Bai and Dev Singh, how he helped create grain banks. “Do something. Save the doctor,” says an old man in Kamar basti. “We have no one to go to now.”
In 2004, CMC, Vellore honoured Binayak with its prestigious Paul Harrison Award & said, “Dr Binayak Sen has carried his dedication to truth and service to the very frontline of the battle. He has broken the mould, redefined the possible role of the doctor in a broken and unjust society, holding the cause much more precious than personal safety. CMC is proud to be associated with Binayak Sen.”
But three years later on May 14th, 2007 The police arrested him as a Naxal leader and charged him with sedition, criminal conspiracy, making war against the nation, and most surprisingly three courts denied him the bail. The prosecution asserted “Just a namesake doctor” and with his all his work as a doctor and as a humanitarian went into the drain. And from then nothing has moved the court to grant him bail. Not affidavits by doctors from AIIMS and CMC who, inspired by Binayak, left urban jobs to start the rural Jan Swasth Sahyog medical centre in Ganyari. Not 2000 signatures of doctors across the world. Not his stints as a member of the government’s own advisory committee on public health, not his pioneering work in creating the Mitanin health workers programme. And look at the irony when on 31 December 2007, seven months after he was arrested, the Indian Academy of Social Sciences conferred the R.R. Keithan Gold Medal on Binayak. Its citation said, “The Academy recognises the resonance between the work of Dr Binayak Sen in all its aspects with the values promoted by Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.”
WHY WAS HE ARRESTED?
Whatever little reading I did before writing this post, I was amused to see how our police branded Binayak Sen as an absconding Naxal leader.
Five years ago, in January 2006, Narayan Sanyal, a senior Maoist leader was arrested in Bhadrachalam, Andhra Pradesh. He was suffering from an extremely painful medical condition in his hand called Palmer’s Contracture. The jail officials at Warangal had sanctioned treatment when Sanyal was let out on bail. He was immediately arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on a murder charge in Dantewada and taken to Raipur jail. In May 2006, Sanyal’s elder brother, Radhamadhab, who lived in Kolkata, wrote a letter to Binayak Sen, as the general secretary of PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), copied to other human rights organisations, asking for help in getting Sanyal a lawyer, as well as medical attention. As one of the most eminent human rights activists in the region, Binayak intervened. He got Bhishma Kinger, a lawyer who lived in the flat opposite his, to take up Sanyal’s case, and also began corresponding with jail officials to facilitate Sanyal’s surgery.
On May 6, 2007, the Raipur police suddenly arrested Piyush Guha, a small Kolkata-based businessman, who was carrying Rs 49,000 to deliver to Binayak as fees for Sanyal’s lawyer. They also found three letters written by Sanyal in the jail.The police claimed that Guha confessed that these ludicrously explosive letters of uncertain origin had been given to him by Binayak, acting as an illegal courier from the jailed detainee. As soon as Guha was produced before a magistrate, however, he said he had actually been arrested on May 1, and illegally detained and tortured for five days before being forced to sign a blank statement.
CHARGES AGAINST DR. SEN:
33 VISITS TO JAIL
This is probably the weightiest accusation against Dr. Sen that he met Naxal Leader Sanyal 33 times in jail in a month. Now valid reasons for the same [ which the right wingers and even centrists would NOT like to believe ] may be Sanyal’s medical condition, the surgery or the intricacies of his case. Moreover, even if we believe the police for a moment there are certain points which need to be understood :
- Now this sounded like a JOKE to me but all the meetings were legally sanctioned and conducted under supervision. Then why so much fuss about the meetings? Why did the authorities allow Binayak Sen to meet Sanyal in the first place if they ‘sensed’ any naxal links between the two? And not one, not two, not three but they allowed him to visit 33 times. Why this irresponsible and callous behavior by the police force of our country? Can the nationalists explain this to me?
- Binayak’s wife extracted all the letters Binayak had written to the jail authorities seeking permission to meet Sanyal using RTI and it was found that all of them were on official PUCL letterheads, duly signed by Binayak as its general secretary.
It is believed that Dr.Sen was a link between Sanyal and other Naxas and he acted as a courier by passing three letters written by Sanyal when he was in jail.
“My health is not going well, arthritis is a new thing catching up, age is telling,” he writes in a letter addressed to a ‘Dear friend V’. This letter and two others became crucial evidence in the conviction last week of Mr. Sanyal, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and eminent doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen.The other two letters addressed to a certain ‘P’ and ‘Friend’ talk about expanding work among the peasantry and urban centres, and congratulations on a successful “Ninth Congress. On this flimsy evidence, the police declared Binayak, who was in Kolkata, an absconding Naxal leader. Is this an act of Sedition or Rajdroh ? Somebody please explain Why was Mr. Sanyal — whose Maoist connections led to charges against the co-accused in the first place — himself never charged with sedition or conspiracy to wage war or even with belonging to or supporting an unlawful organisation until well after Dr. Sen’s arrest under those serious offence.
“In 2005, the state government promoted a vigilante army that spread terror through the districts of Dantewada, Bijapur and Bastar. In the name of combating Naxalism, it burned homes (and occasionally, whole villages), violated tribal women, and attacked (and sometimes killed) tribal men who refused to join its ranks. As a result of its depredations almost a hundred thousand adivasis with no connection at all to Maoism were rendered homeless. Sen was one of the first to document the excesses of the vigilante army, and to expose the hand of the state government in promoting it.” ~ RamChandra Guha
The State government has failed disastrously to distinguish between the perpetrators of violence and the voices of legitimate dissent and democratic protest. The government didn’t like him because they thought he was a man who raised a voice against their wrong policies. In the eyes of the government of Chhattisgarh, the crime of Binayak Sen is that he dared question the corrupt and brutal methods used to tackle the Maoist upsurge. I am not a lawyer or a judge and may be I don’t understand the severity of his “alleged” crime but I shared my views as an average citizen who finds it difficult to see the world’s largest democracy thrashing the sane voices and tramping human rights who criticize the government policies. Using sedition laws to silence peaceful criticism is the hallmark of an oppressive government. Despite its claim to being a more liberal country than its communist neighbour, India has its share of prisoners of conscience. This calls for a review not only of the judgment but also of the law.
Explanation 3 about Sedition Law in the Constitution says “Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section” Then why on earth such a serious charge against Binayak Sen when there is no evidence that Sen was a member of any outlawed Maoist group or that he was involved in violence against the state. I hope the apex court dismisses the judgement and sets Binayak Sen free.
The official point of view needs a counter-view. And Binayak represents that view. TRUE DEMOCRACY is when one can freely say “Here’s my point of view. Listen to it.”
“Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen…”
“Some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section…”
M.K. Gandhi, during his sedition trial in 192