The Trial of Binayak Sen and Few Disturbing Questions

March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011

by Mrinmoy Biswas

I

The name Binayak Sen is now synonymous with a movement. However nebulous and amorphous it may be, however feeble in actual strength it appears to be, the name has stirred up the conscience of wide spectrum intelligentsia in urbane India. The recent verdict over the concocted trial of the Doctor in the session court of Raipur in Chhattisgarh state of India has already been subjected to sharp and evocative criticism from this wide spectrum of intelligentsia. The judgment delivered is so poor in terms of provisions of civil liberties and criminal jurisprudence that even retired Chief justices of Supreme court of this country could not keep themselves mum over the issue. The other retired Chief Justice of a High court in this country has even gone to the extent of being “ashamed” of being part of such a judgment delivery process. The oft-quoted noble laureate who often appears in press to provide the wisdom of pragmatism in development related issues of Governments came out with a reasonably strong criticism of the judgment. More than eighty academics and social activists of repute were quick to issue the statement demanding “immediate bail till the end of the appeal process, and must judge his case with enlightened reason “. The process was initiated by the Amnesty International by issuing a statement on the very day of judgment with the demand that “state and federal authorities in India should immediately drop these politically motivated charges against Dr Sen and release him”. The panorama of protests now include religious communities, medical communities, practitioners of law, litterateurs, apart from activists groups consistently vocal on issues of trampling of civil rights in this country. Not to be left behind in the melee of protestors, the maverick czar of criminal jurisprudence of the country who only the other day was steadfast in defending to the hilt the murderer of Jessica Lall offered himself to defend Binayak Sen in appeal courts. The vocal and shrill coverage on the verdict in print and electronic media has finally yielded the Home minister of the country to say that the judgment “may be unsatisfactory for many people”, and utter a few words on appeal at higher courts. All leading vernacular and national press came out with lead editorials deprecating and denouncing the calculated move to muzzle protest and dissent, particularly pointing out the alarming squeeze of the narrow space that is existing for independent choice to life and livelihood .

II

This fermentation in civil society augurs hope, hope to sustain dissent. Everybody and anybody who is questioning the judgment is drawing attention to the very apparent dichotomy where lecherous loot of public money is a free call for anybody in power to manipulate law and regulations, and the case of a pediatric practitioner of high pedigree and of international repute being sentenced to be a ‘lifer’ for sustained questioning the modus operandi of these manipulations. It would not be out of place to recall here and draw parallel to the heinous murder and burning of the priest from Australia, Graham Stein and his two sons a decade back in the hinterland of Orissa in January 1999. It is true that the family and hearth of Binayak Sen have yet not been torched to ashes, but that would not be a matter of surprise in case he is released from current imprisonment with dignity, and he continues his tirade against premeditated and forceful eviction of adivasi population from their homeland. It is no strange coincidence that such savage intolerance to difference, whether borne out of religious animosity, or civilian hostility, or from sheer interests of economic plunder are carried out by a uniform, unilinear school of thought. In the case of Graham Stein whose relentless service to eradicate leprosy in the hinterland of Keonjhar in Orissa was construed to be the garb for conversion to Christianity, and therefore he was destined to be torched with his two young sons. In case of Himanshu Kumar of Dantewarda , the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram which he ran for seventeen years for upliftment of adivasis is raged to ruins, and he has been forced to flee by these same forces who now lord over the affairs of state there. The similarity ends there. In the case of Graham Stein, it is the state from its highest pedestal led the condemnation because of widespread isolation from the Christian world. The stamps of religious pogrom were too apparent there. Civil society limited its role in registering only indignation to religious intolerance, the cudgel of protest was left to the Christian brethren of the priest. But in the case of Binayak Sen, it is the arms of state those are the heinous offenders, and therefore there is deafening, embarrassing silence from the presiding deities of the state. The cross of protest is to be borne by the motley crowd of intelligentsia across the country. That the protests have been instantaneous, and protests have been unequivocal in condemning the judgment bears the ray of hope for dissenters.

It does not require here to register too many flowery words to point out the collusion of the session court verdict with the police that kept the Good Samaritan in the Doctor two years in jail before delivering the conviction out of sedition charges against the state. These have been largely commented upon. That the state of Chhattisgarh is hell bent in making an example out of Binayak Sen, Himanshu Kumar , or the likes of filmmaker Ajay T G is now fairly understood by urbane intelligentsia – the examples pointing to the muscle and might of state those are exercised to loom fear of loss of personal security in such consistent individuals. These self-motivated individuals have long been an embarrassment, and eyesore to the grandiose plans of “development”. They questioned forcible eviction, they questioned sustained colonization of middle India by the barons of international finance capital, they brought out abject impoverishment, malnourishment and most of all, and above all trampling down of human dignity by the forces of law before eyes of everybody who has got some concern for the population there. It is easiest to fight the gun with the gun, it is easier to molest and burn hundreds of villages inhabitated by adivasis for years that prehistory can only tell, it is easy to keep thousands of weeping willows tied to the banyan tree of injustice and flagrant force – it becomes difficult to contain and restrain resilient, dedicated minds whose motivation in life is to enlighten the struggle for living. The most distinguishing feature of these individuals is that they could keep their mettle in the face of such huge persecution by standing firm at the very ground zero of exploitation, and seldom appeared in the seminar rooms of Press clubs of metropolitan India, or in TV chat shows. Therefore, the current movement for release of Binayak Sen has some genuine responsibilities as going by the trend the state administration of Chhattisgarh will go to the furthest extent to prolong the incarnation. This is because release of Binayak Sen with dignity is also the defeat of the rule of law that makes possible such incarnation, defeat of the design of state to silence resolute critiques of “development”.

III

Here, we confront the disturbing questions as we feel concerned about the responsibilities for a sustained campaign for release of the Doctor. It is pertinent to point out that the grave charge of sedition against Binayak Sen is construed to be substantiated by his several meetings with Naryan Sanyal, ostensibly an ideologue of extreme left variety, and the businessman from Kolkata , Piyush Guha who allegedly passed off some piece of paper from Naryan Sanyal to him. Both of them are also sentenced to be ‘lifer’ along with Sen in the same verdict of Raipur session court under the same provision of section 124(A) of CrPc , Sec 39 of UAPA, and the notorious state act of Chhattisgarh. Very surprisingly, there is hardly any forthright demand from the same intelligentsia for release of these two co-accused persons. Barring the exceptional editorial from Economic and Political Weekly on the first day of the year 2011 under the heading “Contempt of Justice”, the national press is largely silent on equal rights to justice of the said two co-accused as the good Doctor has against the cited draconian provisions of laws . The appeals those are in circulation in various forms over the internet seldom raise the question of rebuttal of the charges against the co-accused , the purported intimacy with whom landed the good Doctor in all these troubles. Do these approaches not mean that a good samaritan with peerless character and obedient inklings has been most inadvertently made a scapegoat in the campaign against left extremist violence, and should therefore be remedied? Do these approaches not undermine the very issues those Binayak Sen highlighted in his “Final Statement” on 24th December 2010 which he is pursuing in the hinterlands of the state for the last three decades those brought him in confrontation with the state? From the numerous statements in support of his release it appears that the demand seeks justification from his abdication of lucrative profession that his high pedigree could easily have earned. That may be true, but then what is lost from focus is the relentless fight of people like Medha Patkar, et al , whose contribution to highlight the issues are as comparable and relevant as that of Sen , and who are as assiduous as Sen in the ongoing struggle.

The raison d’ attire for meek silence in the case of Sanyal and Guha is that they are supporters of doctrinaire violence. A historical parallel of such argument is the notorious verdict of the colonial power in this country in the “Meerut Conspiracy Trial” of Januarty 1933, or the trial and murder of Bhagat Singh in March 1931. It does not require very many words to point out how fabricated and concocted were the charges in those times. There are now elaborate historical evidences to prove that it was sheer conspiracy from the opposite direction – conspiracy of the then colonial establishment to contain revolutionary nationalism among the urban youth that Bhagat Singh was murdered in the name of judicial trial on “sedition” charges. Secondly, by remaining silent for the demand of fair trial of these two persons whose violence the current campaign is condoning? Is extra-constitutional violence to be decried in support of constitutional violence? Anybody who has an iota of interest in West Bengal of today knows everyday more than one human being is the victim of colossal constitutional violence by the two poles – one has to retain the right and the other has to grab the right of constitutional sanctity of committing murders. By all means, this murder spree is going to be escalated as the state approaches the jamboree of elections. It does not require one to be “seditious” to ask how long the unending business of parading with dead bodies will continue to earn the sanctimony of free, constitutional right to violence? Are the perpetrators going to be declared as extremists to be charged under sedition against the state? What about the recently released leader of a regional extremist outfit of Assam whose bail petition was unopposed by the state for facilitating so called “talks”? Is it not true that so many armed servants of state were victims of extremism of the said outfit in last two decades of violence in Upper Assam? Why are civil interlocutors being pursued by the same establishment to roam about in the valley of Kashmir and talk to the same people at whose violent instigation several policemen on duty have laid life to protect the order of the state ? Are they not talking to the same seditious community who spared at least 140 young lives to the fire of violent state there in the valley? Under what justification the relentless hunger strike of the “iron lady” in Manipur be supported unless the repeal of Armed Forces Special Power Act is not demanded? Is it not true that many armed forces jawans have laid down their families, their hearth, their livelihood to protect the very provisions of the dreaded act that is beyond the purview of the law of this lawless state? An endless number of such examples of intertwined attrition between the state and the armed resistance against the violence of state can be put forward to bring forth that equating the question of fair trial of people charged with purported belief in violence is as frivolous and irrelevant as the question of violence itself. If the adage “violence begets violence” is justified ad nausea at every act of statecraft to subjugate genuine issues, it becomes extremely superfluous to ask who instigated that first. Therefore, is it not a parochial, self-serving stance that while asking for fair trial of Binayak Sen one has to be silent for the other two co-accused facing conviction on the same charges for the purported notion of their beliefs and prejudices?

The second question that comes uppermost in mind is that what makes individuals such as Sen, Kobad Ghandy different in our times? Why is the state so intimidated by them? We cannot but underline the fact that individuals as Sen and Ghandy are exception to their social milieu in which they lived till their formal education was complete. Their paths of active life are markedly different, but they uphold the common strand of conviction of abjuring the values, the goals set for them in their formal education and upbringing. Both belonged to metropolitan environments, could enjoy the privileges endowed by finer and uplifted strands of formal education. In their struggle to abdicate the society of their growing they earned love, and appreciation of the other society, that remains and will remain the cannon fodder of the state, and the establishment. In their struggle towards self-emancipation, these individuals stand shoulder to shoulder with many such luminaries in this world of depravity who have invited relentless terror of state power. The stellar example is Aung San Suu Ky in neighboring Myanmar (Burma) who is only recently released from home intern by the military rulers there after fifteen years of detention, most of which is under house arrest. Aung San Suu Ky is the name that symbolizes the struggle of the people of Myanmar to be able to speak, to be able to come to the streets of democracy. She has borne and is bearing untold personal sufferings to the extent of not even being able to grieve most intimate personal loss even though all the high streets of recognition and privilege were at her askance. Another example to cite is the very recent dissenter from China, whose name many of us came to know only because of award of Nobel Peace Prize in the year 2010. Although the Nobel Peace Prize is a highly contentious subject (only last year it was awarded to the high priest of war mongerers of the world), but the fact remains through this award only the world came to know the name of Liu Xiaobo whose Nobel citation mentions the recognition for “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”. Liu Xiaobo, according to his own testament had a smooth going profession of teaching in Beijing Normal University after the usual program of completing higher education, and touring in international circuit of lectures till Tiananmen massacre happened in June 1989 that changed the course of his life for good. He started writing and delivering talks on the questions of democracy, and his approach to the prevailing conditions of human rights in China (co-author of the Charter 08 manifesto alongwith other members) landed him in jail. The state authorities in China are so scared of him that his comrade-in-arms, his wife Liu Xia was not allowed to receive the Nobel citation. A blank chair there bore the weight of the citation. Moreover, to assert a ridiculous competition in protection of world peace (sans human rights!) a grand prize got announced from the state of China in the name of Confucius, the very philosopher on whose decimation stood the communist practice in China!

We brought out the examples of these living, contemporary individuals’ struggle to stress that the movement towards human rights in our neighborhood are facing far more grievous challenges to usher bare minimum of human rights – that is to be able to speak, to assemble, and to approach a bare minimum of legal protection of dissent. Going by the legal standards in these neighboring countries, the protest against the trial of persons such as Sen, Guha, Sanyal, Ghandy, and numerous others are enjoying far more democratic environment than what the struggle Aung San Suu Ky, or Liu Xiaobo have to conduct and bear. As we noted, here the major focus of the appeals is to restore the practice of fair trial which by axiom is assumed to be present in the system. In case of Xiaobo, he has to face simply a blind stone wall, where even websites are blacked out to prevent circulation of appeals. For supporters of Suu Ky, all these talks of human rights are only wild imagination.

Can human rights, therefore, be limited by national boundaries? In fact, it is not – the case of Binayak Sen has already being taken up at various levels of international forums. We cannot forget to highlight that a good twenty-two Noble laureates took initiative to register their protest, and appeal for fair trial of Binayak Sen in his earlier period of imprisonment without trial. Even when this article is being written eight observers from European Union representing eight countries of Europe are attending proceedings of the trial in the High Court of Raipur. Is internationalization of human rights mandatory only in this part of the world, and to be highlighted only in luminous parks of the West? Does not the campaign for release of Binayak Sen bears the responsibility to highlight and seek support for release of Xiaobo, Suu Ky, and individuals interned like them? Is it sacrosanct for campaigners of human rights in this country only to be in the receiving end of support, and be silent on the obligation, responsibility of supporting the struggles at far more precarious situations? How is the initiative in approaching possible forums of international pressure justified while overlooking the cases of these relentless fighters against state oppression in the neighborhood?

The third question that is baffling us is the very limited and intellectual-centric social nature of the campaign for release of Binayak Sen. Of course for records’ sake the custodians of left establishment have come up with their statements, but definitely they have nothing to do beyond that. The question of impound of civil rights for them will not appear unless another formal ‘emergency’ is called into action. Repetitions of that three decades old mistake by the state as of now are a remote possibility when numerous draconian acts to muzzle civil rights are operational in the country to act as the canopy of the ‘silent’ emergency. There is another very uncomfortable reason for them to remain in the safer side of establishment – almost all these political parties are sanitized by the plank of “development” – the biggest offender against the adivasi, and indigenous people of forest lands in India. The most uncomfortable questions that people like Medha Patkar, Binayak Sen, Himanshu Kumar are bringing in discourses of political economy is the question of repeating the same brutal, and anti-civilization replicas of 17th and 18th century predatory roles of capitalism in the decades of 21st century . The fulcrum reason of adivasi unrest in the hinterlands of Chattisgarh and Orissa is the award of right to unbridled plunder of mineral deposits by the international finance capital. Even the staunchest supporter of the rulers of Chattisgarh will not deny the fact that the state-sponsored civil war in the garb of “Salwa Judum” would not have been a failure to contain the adivasi unrest unless the left extremist came in there to provide active protection and retaliation. No bigger proof of the recognition of the issue is required after cancellation of the license of Vedanta Group of running the alumina plant in Orissa by the same state whose motivation to protect tribal land are now challenged in the sedition charges against Sen. In facing this fulcrum issue of “development”, the left establishment is the buffer in principle for the state. We want to bring to the notice in no uncertain terms that the major contending political forces of the establishment who between themselves occupy about 90% of national political news in a fight of “dog bite dog”, who endlessly carry on hectoring about democracy by keeping so called “noble institutions” jammed and counterjammed at the expense of public money, are eloquent in their togetherness of silence towards the travesty of justice in the verdict from the session court of Raipur. All these vocal representatives of “rule of law” are in unison in their understanding of “development”. The uniform vocabulary Is that the shining path of social upliftment of the tribal people is to uproot them from their hearth, and their prehistoric notions of traditional life – they have to bear this small cost for awarding the monopoly right of international finance capital over water, soil, mineral, forest (if it were possible the sky above could also be leased to them!). To secure this right to plunder land and minerals, and to contain the extremist resistance the state is handing over a huge 600 sq. kms of unsurveyed forest area to the army for so called training purposes – of course the huge cost of environmental disaster by such exercises are to be silently overlooked. In the vocabulary of the establishment “progress” and “growth” are synonymous to the unhindered license of international finance capital to invest and flourish in the mineral-rich central parts of India.

This brings us to the very disturbing and almost helpless situation where the very people whose right to life is in danger fail to protect the protagonists who have aligned their life and service to the very issue. The issues for which Binayak Sen faces conviction on sedition charge are of such sensitive interest to the state and establishment that when we contrast them to the motley crowd of protesting intelligentsia , the distance of the protestors from the people directly related to the issues are only self-apparent. We cannot but ignore the fact that while protests and statements for release of Binayak Sen came out in most of the metropolitan India, the intelligentsia of Raipur and Chhattisgarh are conspicuous in their silence. It has been left to a few valiant lawyers and brave family and friends of Sen in Chhattisgarh to burn the flame of hope in this stupor of silence. This reminds us of the dumbness of society of erstwhile Madhya Pradesh when the mentor of Sen, the valiant organizer of the mine workers of Dalli Rajahara, Sankar Guha Neyogi was murdered in downtown Bhilai two decades ago by the paid agents of Industrialists of the area. Fear is stalking in the dark roads of Jagdalpur, the heartland of Bastar. It is the fear of being damned as an extremist, the fear of losing life and family at even mere questioning the designs of the state that is haunting the minds at large there.

How do we explain this numbness of the very indigenous people in contrast to the shrill voices of dissent among the intelligentsia in urbane, sophisticated India? Why is the palpability of gross failure of justice delivery system in the case of Sen is only registered by the metropolitan intelligentsia who take it granted and sacrosanct the existence of fair trial? The moot question is why the agenda of protestors is so narrow even in terms of expectations from civil society when the notion of fear among the directly affected people remains so strong in its bearing? Will it be a far-fetched imagination if we draw a parallel here about the demand of Independence of India in the upper echelons of the liberal, social-democratic Britain, in the finer, liberal environments of universities of Britain of mid-thirties of last century when most of present day India was medieval India ? While such fair minded arguments of equality were pursued in the chambers of British parliament the great working class of Britain continued to enjoy the fruits of pilferage from these mediaeval hinterlands of the colonialists. Is not the shadow of the same historical replicas are there in the current situations regarding the campaign for release of Binayak Sen? Why is the grave disconnect so apparent between the urgent need of articulating the voices of adivasi, and the demand for civil liberties, demand for right of the individual to choose one’s own life and practice with dignity? In essence, why is the demand for nutrition, nourishment, dignity, alleviation from poverty stand so inconsistent with the demand for an individual for the right to lead own life and practices, and of course fair trial?

IV

We stop here raising questions. It may be argued that intention behind raising such questions is actually to obfuscate the current movement for release of Sen. This argument is only conventional as every movement has the inherent tendency to achieve only the immediate , leaving the issues of the movement to be considered only at some tranquil, safer time – unfortunately that time never appears. Of course, we here only raise questions although by way of putting questions we also focus onto the inherent weakness of the campaign.

Whether Binayak Sen will be released or not will be decided by the court of law and skillfulness of his lawyers in articulating a set of laws of bygone era kept in harness to bring in medievalism in the name of “growth”. But the issues for which Binayak Sen struggled relentlessly will remain who knows for how long. The intention of the article is to bring focus to the issues in the current campaign so that we can ponder over the ways and means to confront the issues.

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PS: At the time of writing the article the ridiculous charge of “sedition” against Binayak Sen and Piyush Guha has been upheld by the High Court of Chhattisgarh state. Their bail petition stands rejected. They are destined now to be “lifer” unless the highest court of this land feels to ameliorate the judgment. This is despite the appeal by forty Nobel Laureates from twelve countries to the contrary. This is despite argument in the court by the so called “czar” of criminal jurisprudence in the country to the contrary who found the charges against the convicts to be to be entirely fictitious. The justice deliver system in this country is fast reaching the point of no return! Who Is germinating violence in the mute minds of the millions?

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