A Sessions court judge in Raipur, capital of the BJP-ruled state of Chattisgarh, has pronounced Binayak Sen guilty of sedition and conspiracy against the State, and sentenced the good doctor to a life term in prison.
So who is Binayak Sen?
An alumni of the prestigious Christian Medical College in Vellore, who had the foolhardiness to turn his back on career both there and in the equally prestigious Jawahar Lal Nehru university in Delhi, follow the lead of the late and legendary Shankar Guha Niyogi—who was murdered some years ago by paid assassins of industrial interests for his dogged and path-breaking, hence dangerous, labours among the unorganized adivasis, dalits, women, and other voiceless denizens of the backwaters of Chattisgarh against some of the most gruesome exploitation that free Indians have known—and devote the last three or so decades of his still young life to serving among the poorest of the poor.
For decades now, this selfless and saintly man has run a weekly clinic deep in the Sal forests of the region that has drawn tribals from as far away as 30 kilometers for healing. Their only other option a two-day walk through the jungles. Sen trained hundreds of tribals to become healthcare workers, an effort whose sterling success found it acceptance as state policy, christened Mitanin Swasthya Yojna (volunteer health programme).
Inspired by Niyogi, Sen also helped set up the Shaheed (martyr) hospital, one that still operates with donations from coal miners.
Indeed much of his work parallels the sort of immersion in ministering to the wretched of the earth that the world associates with the Nobel prize winner, Mother Teresa.
With one all-important difference. Binayak, unlike the good Mother, did not think there was any great purchase in being meek. Thus it is that he made the grievous mistake of standing up and speaking for the “human rights” of god-fatherless forest dwellers in the face of the cruelties and denials vented upon them by the State, by its vigilante agency of goons named “Salwa Judum,” and, if only the judge who sentenced him had listened, by the insurgent Maoists as well.
In particular, Sen’s opposition to the displacement of a hundred thousand tribals from their homes and hearths by vigilante goons of the State made the latter saw red. Ostensibly done to facilitate police operations against the Moaist insurgents and for their own safety (sic) such displacement and any resistance to it by innocent tribals has caused unconscionable brutalities to be inflicted upon them, often on the charge that they were informants to the insurgents, and guilty of sheltering them.
As to Sen himself, does it matter that in repeatedly asking for “equity and peace” whenever querried by the media, he rarely balked from condemning the atrocities perpetrated by the armed Naxalites on innocent men, women, and children.
But in an era of McCarthyism that now seems to accompany the murderous impatience of India’s State and Corporate combine to enhance private wealth, Binayak’s infuriating doggedness of purpose in staying his course in the hinterland among the victims on the ground (had he been, like so many of us, content to combine a lucrative metropolitan career with urbanite activism, things may not have been so dire, either for him or for the State), finally broke the camel’s back, as it were.
The official finger went up, declaring the doctor public enemy number one.
ministering to the sullen malcontents among the dregs of the dispossessed, when the State and its vigilantes had ab initio and without requirement of proof designated them Maoist sympathizers;
visiting a sick 74-year old Naxalite ideologue in jail in the capacity both of a human rights worker (indeed, as vice-president of the well-known People’s Union for Civil Liberties), and as a doctor—all with due knowledge and permission of the relevant authorities both within the jail and outside; never mind that the said Maoist ideologue has curiously himself never yet been charged for being such, or for belonging to a banned organization. He is in jail on a plain murder charge!
and, ostensibly, (ostensibly because a slew of facts on record point to the fake nature of the evidence here), couriering three letters from the Naxal ideologue to a sympathizer outside; a charge that falls flat in the face of the testimony given by no less than jail authorities to the effect that whenever he met Sanyal, the Naxal ideologue, Sen did so in the presence of the police, and that there is no way in which he could have carried any materials unbeknown to such authorities; further investigations reveal that said letters may indeed have been “plants,” and that the testimony of the lone witness who claims to have heard someone else say that the said letters were couriered remained uncorroborated hearsay. It is germane here to recall that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was let off in the Gandhi murder case on the ground that the approver’s testimony could not be independently corroborated!
The provision of the charge of “Sedition” was, as anyone would know, incorporated into Indian jurisprudence by the British colonial rulers, like most other punitive provisions as well. And it was under that provision that both Lokmanya Tilak (“freedom is my birthright”) and Gandhi were to come to be tried then.
Not many know that during the deliberations of the Indian Constitution-makers, the overwhelming vote was for dropping the provision of “Sedition” (that Gandhi had called the “Prince” of all black laws) post-Independence. During those formative debates, Nehru had spoken as follows of Sectiion 124-A (Sedition) of the Penal Code as it was bequeathed to the new nation-state:
“Take again Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. Now
so far as I am concerned that particular section is highly
objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place
both for practical and historical reasons, if you like, in any body
of laws that we might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the
Retained as it was, shamefully, the Supreme Court of India subsequently added an all-important caveat (in the Kedarnath judgement) to it to the effect that NO act of free expression would tantamount to “Sedition” unless there was clear and irrefutable evidence of “incitement to violence” against the duly constituted State.
In the instant case, even if the three fatal letters were indeed couriered by Binayak Sen, none carries within their texts the least hint of any such violent intent.
Which would make sense in the light of the fact that Binayak, as stated above, has throughout his human rights career pleaded privately and publicly for non-violent resistance to the havoc wrought among tribals’ lives and rights by marauding mining and other corporates in violation of a litany of statutory laws, such as Schedule V of the Forest Rights Act.
Binayak’s great mistake here has been to condemn State-sponsored vigilante violence in the same breath as all other forms of violence.
A fact that goes hand-in-hand with some other facts, namely the sly collaboration of many Corporates on the ground in Chattisgarh with the insurgents, to whom they regulary have paid protection-money, and, if reports are to be credited, passing on explosive materials from factory premises as well. All done with careful deniability.
None of which tantamounts to Sedition against the State! And for the simple enough reason that during the neo-liberal phase of India’s famed “development” over the last quarter century, the Corporates have come to BE the State. As incontrovertibly simple as that.
Here is what seems to be happening in contemporary India.
Should you have a full-blown fascist under your chassis, you are ok. The fascist after all, as always, is only the political front of the marauding Corporate. That this is no piece of leftward polemics has been recently confirmed by the leak of the Radia tapes wherein all the fine meshings of connectivity between industrial houses, their lobbyists, their political benefactors, and other segments of the brokering power-elite among the media and bureaucracy have come to inglorious light.
But if you have under your bed someone suspected to be red (one of such suspicious circumstances in the Binayak case, would you believe it, is reference to the fact that he and people around him sometimes were heard to accost each other as “comrade”) you are best dead. And, beginning with the water-shed official murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi, the long line of perfectly innocent workers thus liquidated in those regions of India is indeed a long one; not to speak of hundreds upon hundreds who rot in the jails, often without trial.
Another way of saying the same is this: no greater enemy of the republic than the one who insists that the establishment is after all obliged by oath to the Constitution to implement its promises of equity in asset ownership and distribution, redolently enshrined in article 39 (“Directive Principles of State Policy”).
Here is how that pernicious article reads:
—The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing—
(a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;
(b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;
(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result
in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the
Cannily, those that framed the Constitution had the great good sense to stipulate that the “Directive Principles” would not be enforceable by law! Imagine what might have happened to class rule had they indeed been thus enforceable. The pity is that some mavericks like Binayak Sen insist that these pledges to “we the people of India” who chose, don’t you know, “to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic,” promising “Justice, social, economic and political,” ought to be implemented if Indian Democracy is to have substance and true legitimacy.
More fool they.
Especially now when India is set on a path of humongous “growth” and world-mastery. What could be more seditious than to puncture that ruling-class aspiration with reminders of equity and justice, or to conflate “we the people of India” with the Republic and its future.
Thus if it takes our own McCarthyism to hold back an avalanche of menace from below, so be it. Reason that explains the current onslaught on human rights protagonists of any hue. Indeed, the next internationally recognized (and Padma Shree Awardee here at home) human rights worker facing the prospect of arrest even as I write is no less than Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens For Justice and Peace. Currently, the Pioneer newspaper, owned by a Rajya Sabha member of the Bhartiya Janata Party (the right-wing Hindu BJP) has unleashed a full campaign of calumny against her for the trouble she has taken since 2002 to stand up for the victims of the Gujarat massacres, and to pursue the legal processes of redressal on their side. A campaign of lies aided and abetted by an erstwhile co-worker of her organization, Rais Khan, who has thought it fit for reasons not far to seek to gang up on Teesta on the side of the very Hindutva brigades who remain the accused parties in that massacre.
Indeed, before long, the State might think it fit to go so far in its collaboration with its “strategic partner” as to set up our own Abu Graib and Gauntanamo Bay.
Time will tell.
Binayak Sen Sentenced to Life Term