An immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Binayak Sen, who has been under detention in Chhattisgarh, under completely vague and unsubstantiatable charges is a pressing demand of the times. Dr. Sen is a pediatrician, public health specialist and a leading figure in the democratic movement for the defence of human rights, especially of tribal and other poor people in Chhattisgarh. Dr. Sen remains in prison, ever since his detention from May 14, 2007, under the provisions of the Chhattisgarh State law, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006 and the National law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, amended in 2004, and which contains key provisions of the now repealed Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act, 2002. The State of Chhattisgarh is unable to provide any evidence against Dr. Sen, and are merely continuing to detain him only due to the powers derived from the laws. On December 10, 2007, the Hon. Supreme Court of India dismissed the bail petition filed on behalf of Dr. Sen. Although it is widely recognized that these are some of the most draconian laws in the land, in dismissing the bail petition, the Supreme Court has accepted the Constitutionality of these laws.
In the meantime, it has been reported that that Dr. Sen’s health has deteriorated during the period of incarceration and that he has not been provided adequate health care. During the period of incarceration, Dr. Sen has been subject to Trial by Video-conferencing and denied consultation of lawyers. It is now widely recognized that the real reason for the incarceration of Dr. Sen has been his activities in exposing so called `encounter deaths’ in Chhattisgarh at the hands of security forces.
Chhattisgarh is one of the arenas where there is an ongoing fierce battle between the majority of the people who live off the lands and the forests, and a minority that would like to see the advance of private capital into those very lands and forests to exploit the forest wealth and vast mineral wealth of Chhattisgarh. The Government of Chhattisgarh would like to create a fertile environment for the growth of such monied interests and has armed itself with draconian powers to arrest the growth of any resistance to this agenda. It has been said that the State law alluded to earlier was passed by a BJP Government when a walkout was in effect by the opposition Congress. While this may be true, the provisions of the National law that has been used was one that was passed by a Congress Government long before the BJP even came into existence! It may therefore be concluded that the laws on the books today are backed by all parties of the ruling circles that seeks to crush the movements of the people for their livelihood and dignity.
The case of Dr. Sen is but one egregious example of the harassment of individuals who have selflessly pursued the path of democratic struggle to defence the rights of the people of India. Given the legal impasse, it is therefore contingent that every pressure be brought on the Government of Chhattisgarh to immediately release Dr. Sen.
A broad debate must begin in our society on the role of state organs and the nature of the laws on the books, and on who these laws serve. The result of such a debate will open the doors of progress for the Indian people.