The Binayak Sen Digest -1

Below are some of the best writing on the web on the Binayak sen judgement, for and against. Text in Bold is  for emphasis.
The case of the good Doctor By Rakesh Shukla: an advocate at the Supreme Court of India.

A look at the trial court judgment convicting Dr Binayak Sen illustrates the hazards of retaining provisions like sedition on the statute books. The principal allegation against Dr Sen is of passing three letters written by jailed Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal to unspecified people in Kolkata… Dr Sen had formally applied for permissions for each of the meetings as the General Secretary of the PUCL, permissions granted by the jail authorities. In fact, the jailors deposed that all of the meetings were strictly supervised, ruling out the possibility of any letters being exchanged between Sanyal and Dr Sen.

The choice of Dr Binayak Sen, a winner of international awards, for prosecution by the state would be really puzzling if the motive were not so obvious. The targeting of an individual like Dr Sen is not something initiated by a Superintendent of Police or an Inspector General of Police. It is but, undoubtedly, a high-level decision made by the powers-that-be to send a message to civil liberties activists to desist from highlighting atrocities committed by the state against people in Maoist-affected areas. Instead of starting a dialogue or addressing  inequalities in society that give rise to Maoist movements, it seems that the state is bent on breaking all forms of connection between the civil society and the Maoist rebels, as if to prepare a prelude to a military crushing,

DR.BINAYAK SEN & TWO OTHERS VS THE STATE By B. Raman: Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies.

The conviction and sentencing of Dr.Sen and two others have been questioned by the critics on grounds of the reliability of the facts as adduced before the court and the interpretation of the laws relating to sedition. There is apparently no independent corroboration of Guha’s statements that the documents allegedly written by Sanyal had been brought out of jail by Sen after one of his meetings with Sanyal and handed over to Guha. The conviction of Sen seems to have been based largely on the uncorroborated testimony of Anil Kumar Singh who claims to have heard Guha tell the police that Sen gave him the letters from Sanyal.

The awarding of the extreme penalty of life sentence on the basis of an independently uncorroborated testimony of a single witness has shocked the critics of the judgement. Questions have also been raised regarding the interpretation of the laws relating to sedition. To prove a charge of sedition, it is necessary to show that Sen—even if he had received the letters from Sanyal as alleged by the police— had intended to cause disaffection against the State and promote acts of violence.

A careful identification of the missing links in the chain and an examination of the evidence regarding the benign personality of Sen might have led to the mitigating circumstances being given greater weight than they apparently were. One would find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the prosecution and the court had adopted a narrowly legalistic approach to the case without seeing it in the broader context

Our counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists should be more nuanced than they are at present—-marked by strong action against those in the hard core indulging in or advocating violence and a more sympathetic approach to those like Sen, who do not belong to the hard core and do not advocate violence. By treating both as no different from each other who deserve deterrent punishment, we will be driving more people who are now merely in the periphery into the arms of the hard core. The police should not unwittingly become a source of aggravation of the problem.

More detailed anylysis of the verdict and list of protests across India.

Once the central conspiratorial point and incident has been constructed in the judicial narrative, conspiratorial linkages between the three accused and their common causes and actions before the incident also needed to be established. This has been attempted in Pijush Guha’s case by a reference to his frequent visits to Raipur and a case pending in district Purulia, West Bengal. Judge Verma has ignored the fact that Guha was made an accused in the Purulia case after 6.5.2007, the date on which he is said to have been arrested in Raipur. This fact strongly generates a suspicion of afterthought by the police of the two states acting in collusion. Judge Verma’s verdict also naturally ignores the fact that Pijush Guha’s frequent visits are explained by his being a tendu leaf trader trading in the areas of Chhattisgarh.

3. That Binayak Sen had a close relationship with CPI (Maoist) is sought to be established by the unsubstantiated testimonies of police officials claiming that Sen and his wife Ilina Sen had assisted alleged hard core Maoists Shankar Singh and Amita Srivastava. Sen has not disputed that Shankar was employed by Rupantar – an NGO founded by his wife Ilina. Nor has he disputed that he and Ilina knew Amita Srivastava whom the latter, on the recommendation of a friend, had helped find a job in a school. But the Judge has just accepted the police’s word, without any other testimony or material evidence whatsoever that Shankar and Amita were Maoists.

4. Judge Verma has also wrongly concluded, on the basis of hearsay by the police, that one Malati employed by Rupantar was the same person as Shantipriya, also using the alias Malati, a Maoist leader’s wife convicted for 10 years in a case tried in another court in Raipur. The judge has not even mentioned or verified the defence evidence put on record that the Malati employed by Rupantar was actually Malati Yadav.

5. Judge Verma’s narrative seems to have a particular fondness for police hearsay as he has blindly accepted, without any corroboration by another witness or any material evidence, wild allegations made by police officials Vijay Thakur and Sher Singh Bande, officer in charge of Konta and Chhuria police stations respectively that Binayak Sen, his wife Ilina Sen and other PUCL members and human rights activists attended the meetings of Maoists in their respective areas. These officials have gone well beyond their Section 161 statements introducing documents not earlier annexed with the charge sheet, and all defence objections in this regard were overruled by the Judge.

Not to question why by Ramachandra Guha The author is a writer and political historian

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. 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. That his charges were true I can confirm, for I visited the region shortly afterwards, in the company of a group of independent citizens, who included the respected editors BG Verghese and Harivansh, and the distinguished anthropologist Nandini Sundar, winner of the Infosys Prize. Our report, War in the Heart of India, provides a sober, non-ideological account of the crimes of the state and Union governments in this regard.

Sen’s conviction happened in a court subject to intimidation by a government run by (and I use the word advisedly) paranoid politicians (helped by sometimes paranoid police officers). His conviction will and should be challenged. As it stands, however, it is a disgrace to democracy. His brave wife commented on the verdict that if “one who has worked for the poor of the country for 30 years, if that person is found guilty of sedition activities and conspiracy, when gangsters and scamsters are walking free, I think it’s a scandalous situation”. Any reasonable Indian would concur.

A more or less Neutral article with some good questions:
The case of Dr. Sen By Mr. Arnab Author and Technology consultant.

One’s opinions then should be formed by considering two things—-the case against Dr. Sen and whether what he is being accused of should get the life sentence? From a general look at documents available on the Net, one can conclude that there is little credible evidence to establish that Dr. Sen was involved in the operational details of Maoist terrorist activities. The prosecution’s attempts to link him to ISI have been farcical.

However what is pretty clear, and that has not even been denied much also, is that Dr. Sen is a strong Maoist sympathizer.
He and his wife had been instrumental in getting jobs for people accused of being Naxalites but then again considering the kind of company the Sens kept, being Maoist sympathizers themselves, that is but natural.

According to the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), any kind of facilitation for members of unlawful organizations is a crime and by that token the case against Dr. Sen is strong.

Taking a step back, the larger issue is “Is it a democratic right to believe in “banned” philosophies and to facilitate the nominally non-violent activities (like passing their propaganda around or helping in their legal defense) of those who plan and engage in violence against the State”? Or in other words, is CSPSA by definition anti-democratic?
Dr. Sen’s case is a case which sits right in this twilight zone. Working tirelessly all his life for the uplift of the dispossessed, Dr. Sen has frequently found common cause with Naxalites and even if we accept his contention that he does not support their methods of violence, their goals and his overall philosophy has been congruent. Given this, it is only natural that the lines of cooperation between them would become blurred over the years and what the State considers active facilitation he would put down to legitimate political activity in support of people whose goals he supports.

Now for a post favoring the judgment, one of the very few that are intelligent and make any sense at all. Most of the Anti-Sen writing on the web is vitriolic rantings against Maoism and epistles of murderous rage by armchair philosophers about Dr. Sen’s “ideological war on the state of India”
Spurious protests over Binayak Sen By Kanchan Gupta editor of the Pioneer newspaper

A less charitable, and possibly unfair, explanation for Sen’s seemingly innocuous query to the judge — “What is Section 124A?” — is the contempt with which self-appointed civil liberties and human rights activists in this country hold the law of the land. Any law that seeks to impose the writ of the state and uphold the Constitution of the Republic of India, and hence, by definition, outlaws anarchy and subversion, apart from other crimes, is anathema to these champions of civil liberties and human rights as it militates against their libertarian agenda. “What law?” a civil rights activists mocked at me during a television debate on Sen’s conviction, “A law passed by Parliament of India? We refuse to accept its legitimacy.”

A fair assessment of the curious case of Binayak Sen would be incomplete without mentioning his admirable efforts to take healthcare to the poor, impoverished tribals of Chhattisgarh. Undoubtedly, Rupantar, set up by him and his wife Elina, has done remarkable work. Not many alumni of Christian Medical College in Vellore would give up lucrative careers at home and abroad to tend to the sick and the suffering in the interiors of Bastar. But somewhere along the line, the healer became an ideologue and a partisan in Chhattisgarh’s war against Maoists, choosing to align with Left extremism over apolitical humanism.

Sen was tried in an open court under laws that are equally applicable to all citizens of India; it was a fair trial, he had access to the best lawyers and at no stage was he starved of either legal advice or funds. This is in sharp contrast to the kangaroo courts where those who refuse to obey the Maoists’ diktat are summarily tried and executed. Those held ‘guilty’ by these ‘people’s courts’ are poor Adivasis and Dalits who are denied the right to appeal, a right Sen can exercise under the very laws which his supporters are now vociferously denouncing. If the higher judiciary finds the trial court has erred, Sen’s conviction will be set aside.

Worse, implicit in this threat of retribution is the mistaken belief that some are more equal than others and hence above the law. Or that courts must make a distinction between those deemed to be ideologically ‘correct’ and those who are ideologically ‘incorrect’, the prerogative to decide the correctness or incorrectness being that of the Lib-left intelligentsia.

Third, it’s a war being waged by the democratic Republic of India against those who want a totalitarian People’s Republic of Maoistan. In the first 10 months of this year alone Maoists have killed 577 civilians and 260 security forces personnel; they have lost 137 cadre in encounters. In this war, we can choose to be either with the state or the Maoists; there’s no halfway house because the future of our freedom, our liberty, our open society and our democracy is at stake. Binayak Sen exercised his choice.

Official Statement of the Medico Friends Circle on the Binayak Sen Judgement

We, the Medico Friend Circle, a national organization of health professionals, express our outrage at the verdict of the Raipur district and sessions court, on 24th December 2010, declaring Dr Binayak Sen, General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Vice-President of the National PUCL, guilty of sedition and treason, and sentencing him to life imprisonment.

Dr Sen has an illustrious record of over 25 years of selfless public service in areas of health and human rights. He has been an active member and former convenor of the Medico Friend Circle. He has been closely associated with the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the Indian chapter of the People’s Health Movement. He is a pediatrician and is associated with a
number of hospitals and health programs that focus on reaching the most marginalized. In recognition of his work, the
Christian Medical College, Vellore conferred on him the Paul Harrison Award in 2004, which is the highest award given to an alumnus for distinguished service in rural areas. He continues to be an inspiration to successive generations of students and faculty. Many of his articles based on his work have been internationally appreciated.

His indictment under the draconian and undemocratic Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006, and the Unlawful Activities(Prevention) Act, 1967 is utterly condemnable. Not only has the farcical nature of the trial been reported in themedia, the charges against Dr Sen, of engaging in anti-national activities, have been widely held as baseless. This judgment is an unacceptable attempt to intimidate and vilify those who advocate for the rights of the poor and the marginalized, and reveals the indiscriminate use of state machinery to stifle democratic dissent.

MFC believes that a great injustice has been done, not only to Dr Sen but also to the democratic fabric of this country. MFC salutes Dr Sen’s work, and demands that justice be delivered in his case.

Be very very afraid

Mom has been calling me up everyday just to remind me that I should not go to work on 30th. Karnataka has declared a school holiday or a good 2 days “to keep the children safe”. My bank tells me that while it officially is working tomorrow, “we will have to look at the conditions” for me to pick up my ATM card. My pinter is working an extra shift tonight to finish work he is supposed to do tomorrow “kal ka kuch bol nahi sakte sir”.

While the home minister has boldly declared that he does not “foresee any problems” the CM’s of many sates have declared their inability to protect their law abiding citizens by declaring holidays. Tomorrow some hope for justice, some for retribution, and some just want it all over.

Violence lovers on both sides of the religious divide are looking for an excuse. Some will try to justify it as setting right the historical wrongs, one dead body in 2010 at at time.

Irrespective of your religion and political leanings, today is a day that any nation loving Indian needs to be ashamed. Ashamed that for 60 years we have voted into power people who played us on our fears and cultivated sectist fears. Ashamed that we have cultivated media that specialize in glorifying violence and shamed that we refuse to see that justice cannot be achieved by unlawful means

Religious goondagardi (extremism) ; green, saffron, pink or blue is not a just a political problem for it to be solved by parties, it is problem that needs to faced and tackled at the family level. The solution must be come at at the tea shop in the corner and the temple, mosque and church in the community. I hope we are not given anymore proof of this tomorrow than we already have.

We are a nation held captive by fear fulled by opportunist politicians and inept administration of justice. Fear is so common, that we forget how shameful it is. Our fears are that green and saffron will clash with swords and guns. We forget what the real fear should be, that it is the law abiding citizen that is afraid, not the thug, the rioter or the hatemonger. On either side of the religious divide, the criminal is eagerly and fearlessly waiting. No holiday for them tomorrow.