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State-sponsored vigilantism

From: The Hindu, May 28, 2009

Editorial

It is a symptom of the troubled times Indian democracy is passing through that the release on bail of an eminent human rights activist and medical practitioner, Dr. Binayak Sen — something that is routine for even individuals of questionable repute accused or convicted of heinous crimes — should be an occasion for relief and joy. Nobody is questioning the right of the State police to file a case and to have insisted on the custody of Dr. Sen when evidence first surfaced about his alleged involvement with the banned Maoist party. But the denial of bail was mean and vindictive and intended to serve no purpose other than to punish the accused by the sheer weight of process — he spent two years in a Chhattisgarh prison. Certainly there was no question of Dr. Sen fleeing, since he had voluntarily turned himself in for questioning when he first learned the police were looking for him. The fact remains that none of the witnesses the police produced before court were able to corroborate the official charges. No wonder it took just two minutes for the Supreme Court to set him free on bail.

Welcome though the release of Dr. Sen is, it is essential that public attention continue to remain focussed on the appalling state of affairs in Chhattisgarh. The State government’s vigilante anti-insurgency campaign known as Salwa Judum is currently under the scanner, thanks to a PIL pending before the Supreme Court. A specially commissioned report by the National Human Rights Commission has catalogued scores of gross human rights violations and the apex court, by way of interim instructions, has asked the State authorities to provide compensation to the victims of Salwa Judum and facilitate their rehabilitation. Not only has the Raman Singh government dragged its feet on this crucial matter, it has also targeted the activists and the NGOs that are trying to help the internally displaced tribals who want to return to their native villages. On May 16, for example, the State authorities demolished the premises of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in Dantewada run by the respected Gandhian, Himanshu. The pattern that is emerging from the State’s actions is very clear: Chhattisgarh does not intend to tolerate any criticism of its policies. It is imperative for the re-establishment of the rule of law and the protection of the basic rights of the people that Salwa Judum is abandoned so that the tens of thousands of people whose homes and livelihood have been destroyed by the cycle of vigilante and Maoist violence are given a chance to return home.