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Friday, February 18, 2011

Binayak Sen: Stifling the Voice of Conscience?

By Arindam Roy on February 14, 2011

New Delhi: What Dr Binayak Sen is going through is shameful and this opinion cuts across both political and the social divide. There have been protests from different sections not only in India but in over a dozen countries. Denial of bail to him has only triggered fresh protests. Questions have been raised as to whether the voice of protest is being stifled.

Over the weekend, there were large scale protests all over India - rallies in major cities and meetings in smaller cities and towns, as the entire intelligentsia were shocked at the treatment meted out to him where he was denied bail.

Editorials and reports were dashed in newspapers; TV channels beamed reports and discussions. Online campaign gathered momentum. Tweet, Facebook and other social sites were abuzz. Most right-minded people, in India and abroad, were dismayed and shocked. A journalist friend from abroad asked this scribe if this was what the largest democracy of the world had to offer!

Other than 40 Nobel Laureates from about a dozen countries, who campaigned in Sen’s favour, civil rights activists raised their decibel.

While Sen’s rights might be denied, those who dare to speak in his favour are allegedly not being spared either.

In Mumbai, Daniel Mazgaonkar, a septuagenarian Gandhian, along with college professors and students, were jostled and dragged away to Azad Maidan police station. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer and human rights activist, was brutally assaulted by the police and dragged to Colaba police station, along with student bystanders who protested against such high-handedness. She was merely standing at Kala Ghoda silently with a poster proclaiming peace and justice!

In Kolkata, Magsaysay award winner, Mahasweta Devi, appealed for demonstration in front of Raipur Central jail, where the ‘barefoot doctor’ has been lodged on charges of sedition.

In New Delhi, activists of several civil rights groups and left wing organisations staged a rally to demand the release of human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen, on Saturday (Feb 12). Writer and social activist Arundhati Roy said the case should not be viewed in isolation, but with a focus covering thousands of other innocents languishing in prisons.

“The fact is that, it is not about one man. It is about hundreds of nameless people who are also in jail. It is not about misuse of law; it is about the very proper use of a very bad law. So, the problem is that we have to talk about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which is actually, barely constitutional,” Roy said.

Sen was convicted of sedition charges under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act for his alleged links with Maoist ultras on December 24, 2010. He has also been critical of government-backed tribal militia named ‘Salwa Judum’ to battle the Maoists. Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata based businessman Piyush Guha were also convicted under the same law.

So is state led-democracy which is messy, be termed as democracy under the garb of authoritarianism?

The core group of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent a letter to the NHRC chairperson, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan. It said: “First, we express deep concern at the manner of recent conviction of Dr. Binayak Sen by the Raipur sessions court, and rejection of bail by the Bilaspur High Court. Dr. Sen has been declared guilty of treason and sedition by the Raipur court, apparently accused on the flimsiest of evidence, and is facing the bleak prospect of a life behind bars.

It seems that the trial court has simply relied on the police version for the conviction, since the evidences produced by the prosecution do not appear sufficient for conviction, that too with an award of life sentence. In fact there was no material on record to prove that Dr. Sen had committed any offence that comes under the purview of sedition, and not a single document seized qualifies to be linked with sedition charges.”

Charges against Sen

On May 14, 2007, Dr Sen, was arrested under the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The allegations claimed that he had acted as a courier for a Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal lodged in the Raipur Jail and then absconded. The five charges against him were: (a) treason, (b) criminal conspiracy, (c) sedition, anti-national activities and making war against the nation, (d) knowingly using the proceeds of terrorism and (e) links with the


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