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My salutes to your sacred streets, beloved nation,
where tradition is invented that none shall walk with head held high
If one so inclined takes a walk, a pilgrimage
One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

ON THE International Human Rights Day in 2007, a doctor and a human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen, was denied bail by the Supreme Court. The prosecution had alleged that Dr. Sen was the key link between Maoist-led movements in different states. The court dismissed the bail petition without stating any reasons. Nearly eight months before this, Dr Sen left his old mother he was visiting in Kolkata, and had gone to the police station in Bilaspur to ask the police why they were making vile allegations against him. He did not walk out a free man that fateful 14 May. Later, in the charge-sheet police claimed that Dr. Sen was nabbed by a police party from some road in Bilaspur.

Who is Dr. Binayak Sen?
He is the national Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the General Secretary of its state unit. Dr Sen has spent the last 30 years working for the most marginalised communities. He was a member of the State Advisory Committee for the “Mitanin” programme that has taken health services to remote adivasi communities. As a courageous advocate of peace and nonviolence, he inspired a generation of young activists. He received the Paul Harrison Award (2004) for “a lifetime of service to the rural poor” and the Keithel medal of the Indian Academy of Social Sciences (2007) for “his outstanding contribution to the science of nature-mansociety.”

What prompted the Chhattisgarh government to arrest Dr. Binayak Sen?
Strong organisations of adivasis, peasants and workers have been in existence in Chhattisgarh, much before the formation of the state. These organisations in the most neglected southern corner, gained considerable strength establishing some form of governance of their own. The formation of the Chhattisgarh state gave a new impetus to the exploitation of mineral resources through corporates, both Indian and foreign, and the consequent eviction of villagers. The peoples’ movements and the scheduled area status were to become obstacles in the government plans. The government reacted through the only method it has perfected – use of arbitrary force. So, records of people’s opposition to mining projects were manipulated; gram sabhas were held inside police cordons; thousands of CRPF, and IRB personnel were stationed; and an extralegal force called the Salwa Judum was set up. Since the Salwa Judum began in 2005, at least 60,000 adivasis have been forcibly evicted from their villages and shunted into police camps, villages burnt, and women raped. As a leader of PUCL, Dr. Binayak Sen was at the forefront, exposing the government’s dirty deals with the mega corporates, the manipulation of records, and the rape killings, destruction of homes and livelihoods that comprise Operation Salwa Judum. He faced open threats of arrest from the police. That the PUCL stood steadfast in these times by the poor people facing dispossession, that the PUCL was able to expose the reality of Operation Salwa Judum to people across the country, made PUCL’s most visible representative Dr. Sen a target.