Arindam Chaudhuri
[January, 2011]

Of late, other than the stink of onions, the only other news that has earned a lot of editorial space – and thankfully so – is that of the life sentence that has been awarded to Binayak Sen. However, the issue has taken up an intellectual tone; so the common man hasn’t quite gotten involved in a way he had gotten involved with the Jessica Lal case due to the glamour element. While that was a common rage-driven murder case of comparatively less significance – murders, however unfortunate, are common crimes – the Binayak Sen case is of far more significance to the society since it is about the common man’s predicament and every individual’s democratic rights in India. It is about our right to ideology and our right to work for a better society. And therefore, every Indian must get involved with this case and come out with a strong opinion against such injustice.

Before I discuss the whole debate around Binayak Sen, let me introduce him first. The reason why I want to introduce him is because his introduction would itself justify his predicament to a large extent. Binayak Sen is a paediatrician by profession, with MBBS and MD degrees. He is also the national Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He extended his profession and galvanized it with social cause (which is a rare case in India – where most doctors in today’s generation are more concerned about making money from dying patients than engaging themselves for the society, especially for the poor!) and by providing health care to disadvantaged tribal families in the poor state of Chhattisgarh. He had also worked with the state government on health sector reforms and had expressed his views on human rights violations during the anti-Naxalite operations. And this last part, in short, is his only crime!

Sen has been arrested on the account of his meeting Narayan Sanyal 33 times in Raipur jail – and mind you, all his meetings were scheduled aft er prior police permission and were closely supervised too. On the face of it, the evidence on which Binayak Sen has been charged is highly prejudicial in nature. Even if he were planning some Naxal operation or was helping Sanyal with his motives, then why did it take 33 closely supervised meetings for the police to prove his crime? Why were the same allegations not charged just aft er the first few meetings? Sen has been sentenced based on a postcard written by Narayan Sanyal regarding his health issues, again duly signed by the jail authorities. Further, the evidence shown to prove Sen guilty has consisted of books, articles and letters sent to Binayak Sen by Sanyal, exchanging thoughts on Maoist and Naxalites. This, by no means, can be considered a criminal offence; rather, this is one of our fundamental rights. Sen has also been charged with reading Mao’s books and Marx’s Das Kapital – by those standards, by default, I too become a criminal, and even half of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students studying history; perhaps half of Bengal and also half of this world from China to Russia to Cuba to Latin America has now become criminal infested! It’s really a pity that uninitiated people today have an opinion on Mao – know his mistakes by all means, but know his political ideology as well that gave shape to China, before commenting on him or comparing him with Narendra Modi or anyone else who can never match Mao’s revolutionary fervour.

And Marx is a name that should be banned from the vocabulary of selfish, corrupt, unpatriotic, uncommitted politicians of the Indian variety including the CPM class.

Anyway, coming back to Binayak Sen, he not only carried on his work silently but also raised his voice against atrocities conducted by the state in the name of anti-Naxalite operations – be it for organizing and mobilizing people’s groups like Salwa Judum (for which even the Supreme Court had lashed out at the Chhattisgarh government) or for killing innocent people during combing operations. At a global level, organizations like Amnesty International, the British House of Commons, the British Medical Journal, The Global Health Council, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and individuals like Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen and many others have criticized this recent arrest of Sen by the Chattisgarh government. Sen, for that matter, has been charged under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the same section that was used against Mahatma Gandhi in 1922 during “the Great Ahmedabad Trial” wherein Gandhi was charged with spreading disaffection against the British. The Act, in the words of Gandhi, is the “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens.” What comes as a real shocker is that a person who has been felicitated with various awards for his work for society and medicine – including the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights (Sen was even not allowed to travel to US to receive this award, which is no different from the manner Liu Xiaobo got treated in China) – is now being convicted of crimes that have not even been proved properly.

Keeping this debate aside, the moot question here is that the court found an allegiance of Sen with Naxals and that’s why he has been dealt with such harshness. I have written in the past and I maintain – Naxals are no terrorists! Their means might be wrong, but their agenda is very clear, and that is to represent the oppressed sections of the society. Their fight is against the government and not the common man. And it is no secret that they have outgrown to such an extent that they have become one of the biggest internal security threats for the nation. And it is also no secret that they share such an unflinching support from the tribal poor spread across the nation, that till date all counter-operations of the government have failed to neutralize them. The Naxalite movement is a result of the state and politician-driven terrorism on the common man. First, our politicians are so insincere that they marginalize millions into sub-Saharan existence, giving them destitution level food and health, not to talk about pathetic education and employment. Then what does the state expect? To me, it’s a crime not to protest such terrorism by the state and politicians. And one such form of protest that our terrorist politicians have driven people into is Naxalism. Give them food, health, education and employment and let us see if the movement exists anymore. We have to think about finding ways to remove the root cause of Naxalism instead of condemning them. In such a scenario, a patriotic man like Dr. Sen has an uncompromising significance, simply because not only is he educated to appreciate the larger concerns of the nation, but his deep roots within the tribal communities also help him to sensitize with them. Ideally, instead of sentencing him, the state should have productively engaged Sen in bringing the tribals into the mainstream. It’s foolish to sentence him and extremely more foolish to lose an opportunity that could have been utilised in neutralizing Naxalism to some extent, at least in Chattisgarh!

Instead of putting the real corrupt thieves and terrorists – politicians who run this country – behind the bars, it is a shame that people like Binayak Sen are being given lifetime imprisonment by the country’s judicial system. Indeed, if Sen has gone beyond ideologically understanding the root cause behind Naxalism – as I and many others in this country have done – and gone to the extent of hobnobbing with Naxalites by passing a letter or two as a token of symbolism, he surely could have been given a six month sentence at the most. But using a shameful law, that shouldn’t have existed in the first place, and sentencing a patriotic man like Binayak Sen to life imprisonment only shows how real terrorists are running the show in a country where – as his wife and equal partner in his good deeds, said – the common man has to fear for his free and democratic existence, if he is to ever raise his voice against the state’s atrocities.
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