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Each day Binayak Sen spends in jail is one day less for democracy in India

Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 50, Dated Dec 29, 2007

That Sen, in May, chose to return and face the law should have been reason enough for any court to grant him bail

Social commentator

ON DECEMBER 10 this year, the day internationally observed as Human Rights Day, the Supreme Court of India denied bail to the veteran rights activist, Dr Binayak Sen, incarcerated since May in Raipur jail under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. For those present, the 45-minute-long hearing was a horrible experience. We heard the prosecution claim that Dr Sen was part of the dreaded Maoist formation, and that giving him his freedom would mean setting him loose to spread subversion against the State. We saw, to our shock, how no verification was made of the prosecution’s claims, even as the government lawyer presented his summary of the contents of Dr Sen’s computer in the vilest terms, telling the court it contained letters describing how Dr Sen had helped organise an arms training camp at Nagpur. Defence counsel Rajeev Dhawan pointed out that the prosecution was distorting the letter’s contents, that Dr Sen had been in Nagpur in the course of a fact-finding mission into last year’s lynching of a Dalit family at Kherlanji and that he had nothing to do with any underground training. But the court felt that Dhawan’s arguments were matters to be looked into by the trial court, and it was satisfied that there was enough reason to deny Dr Sen bail.

What was even more disturbing was to hear some of our more experienced friends tell us that it was the job of the prosecution, the representative of the State, to lie and that there was nothing new or surprising about the way the State counsel had fabricated stories about Dr Sen.

What do you do when you are faced with a liar State ? Has not the country’s highest court laid down the principle that an individual’s liberty is to be cherished above all else and that bail should be denied only when that liberty is a potential threat to others? Did the bench that sentenced Dr Sen realise that even a day of his being in prison meant misery and pain for villagers and tribals across Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district, for whom he was the only medical help they had access to? Did the bench consider that Dr Sen’s arrest has led to the closure of the Dhamtari hospital? And then we get to read about how some actor is granted bail because the court has entertained the plea that the fate of crores of rupees depends on him or her.

Laypersons ask simple questions: was there a danger of Dr Sen going into hiding once he was granted bail? It is a well-recorded fact that Dr Sen returned to Raipur in May this year after a holiday in Bengal, fully aware of the rumours the Chhattisgarh Police was spreading about him with the help of the local media. His brother had even sent out a letter expressing the fear that he might be arrested after his return. But he came back. And was arrested. Had he been what the Chhattisgarh Police wants the court to believe, he would have gone into hiding. That he chose to return home and face the law, such as it may be, should have been reason enough for any court to grant him his freedom while the case was on. For those following this case, the delay tactics the State has adopted in the trial court are proof enough that it is only interested in prolonging Dr Sen’s imprisonment. As a result, a powerful and credible voice, which had been exposing crimes the State committed in the name of the Salva Judum, is now stifled. It also means that the resources of the entire human rights community are forced to go into securing freedom for their leader, diverting its attention from the State’s other excesses.

It is important for the government of Chhattisgarh to silence everyone who has brought to light the nexus of corporate capital and a State hell-bent on looting the resources of the poor. When Dr Sen exposed the Chhattisgarh government’s anti-people nature, when he spoke against the Salva Judum and against encounter killings, the State decided that enough was enough, he could no longer be allowed to remain free and go on speaking. The easiest way out was to dub him a Maoist.

How many more days in jail there are for Dr Sen, one does not know. What one knows for sure is that each day of captivity for people like Dr Binayak Sen means a lessening of the days of freedom and democracy in India. We need to know that there are hundreds of people languishing in the jails of Chhattisgarh who are not as well known as Dr Sen, many of them CPI activists, who have been labelled Maoists for the crime of opposing the Salva Judum. One may not support the violent politics of the Maoists, but when any opposition to the State is dubbed Maoist, it does give their politics a certain legitimacy. Is the State doing it deliberately? Is it itself de-democratising the politics of India?