Archive for October, 2011
Despite a Delhi High Court directive to the Chhattisgarh police to ensure the safety of the jailed adivasi teacher who had apprehended custodial torture, Soni Sori has alleged that in clear violation of the Court’s order, the Dantewada SP gave her electric shocks, underdressed her and tortured her on the night of October 8. In a letter addressed to the Supreme Court, and received by a social activist in Delhi today, Sori has described the torture to which she was subjected by the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and has demanded to know who is responsible for her condition.
On the night of 8.10.2011, from 12 midnight to 2:30 am, SP Ankit Garg called me into a room in the police station, gave me electric shocks (current shock), took my clothes off and severely tortured me. Why has no action been taken against him? Sori has asked in the letter in Hindi, a scanned copy of which is attached herewith. Sori, whose case is currently being heard in Delhi, has written this letter on a small scrap of paper and asks the apex court five incisive questions.
Describing herself as a suffering adivasi women who is also a daughter and sister of this country, she asks the Court to tell her who is responsible for the brutal custodial torture to which she has been subjected by the police in Chhattisgarh. It may be recalled that Soni Sori had apprehended this physical torture when she was picked up by the police in Delhi, and had moved the Sessions court and the High Court in Delhi to oppose her remand to the custody of Chhattisgarh police. Keeping her fears in mind, the Saket Court in Delhi had awarded her custody to the Chhattisgarh police only upon receiving their assurance of her safety. The Delhi High Court also asked the Chhattisgarh police to submit a report listing out steps to ensure Soni’s safety.
The Trustees of The Gandhi Foundation, London.
Ilina and I appreciate deeply the solidarity and support extended by so many friends from the United Kingdom and across the world in the course of my trial and incarceration. We were looking forward to meeting at least a few of you in the course of our proposed visit to the United Kingdom in November.
The original citation of the Gandhi International Peace Award when it came, was a surprise, as I on my own had never claimed to be a representative of the tribal people of India. However, I had always proudly claimed the heritage of a vernacular and indigenous life-world that was egalitarian and sustainable, and since the awarding body was free to make its own ascription, I humbly accepted the responsibility being put on me. I was fully aware that there could be many views about my fitness to undertake such a task, but it never occurred to me that my ethnic identity, in that I was not ethnically a member of the tribal people of India, would stand in my way.
To my understanding, the ethnic indigenous people of the world have suffered terrible violence in the course of the development of the capitalist state, a violence that has been directed equally against all colonized people, the working class, and other subaltern sections. Efforts to build a new society must be made by all oppressed people together. To claim to take on board the politics of genetic ethnicity as a part of this effort is a form of racism, and racism never smelt sweeter merely because it was articulated from the platform of a subaltern identity.
What we are confronting throughout India today is widespread hunger, compounded by widespread displacement, to the extent that it constitutes a stable famine spread over large parts of the country and over large sections of its people. Access to appropriate health care remains a dream for all except a privileged minority. The penetration of global capital into resource rich ‘undeveloped’ regions, and the operation of industrial and mining interests in these areas have been responsible for this displacement and disenfranchisement of communities. State policies in countries like ours are aiding rather than curbing these processes. Urgent measures are needed to combat this hunger, stop this displacement and ensure equity, human rights, and social justice. However, voices of dissent are deliberately suppressed through outdated laws and juridical processes, and thousands of citizens languish in prison for opposition to these policies.
In the context of the award, the changed citation has only led to further contention and acrimony. Unfortunately, the process of nomination, the thinking behind the original citation and that behind the second, were never made public by the Gandhi Foundation. If the first citation was problematic, the second was even more so, as in this, the “Tribal People of India’ of the first citation did not find any mention at all. This was not a position in which I could afford to be complicit. The level of debate is now such that the paramount issues outlined above threaten to be replaced by a palimpsest of ethnic fundamentalism. Under the circumstances, the really important task of delineating and combating the tragedy being enacted before our eyes gets pushed to the background.
Accordingly, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that at the present juncture it will not be appropriate for me to receive this award. My thanks go to those who nominated and to those who selected me for this award. It was never my intention to give offence or show disrespect to any of the parties in this controversy. I greatly regret any inconvenience that the organisers may be put to as a result of my decision.
RELEASE BINAYAK SEN CAMPAIGN, UK
When a member of the Release Binayak Sen Now Campaign in the UK nominated Dr. Binayak Sen in April 2011 for the International Gandhi Peace Award in 2011 after consultation with other Campaign members, Dr. Sen was in indeterminate custody sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition under India’s draconian anti-terrorism legislation. The Campaign wished to draw British and international attention to Dr. Sen’s work and plight. Therefore, the letter nominating him put forward the following case:
A paediatrician by training, Dr. Sen specializes in public health and has devoted his life’s work to extending health care to India’s poorest people through monitoring the health and nutritional status of the people of Chhattisgarh, one of the economically-deprived and neglected regions of India.
…As Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Dr. Sen has been at the forefront of peaceful campaigns for social justice and strongly critical of the Indian state for human rights violations in the course its ongoing war on Maoist rebels. Although he has been controversially incarcerated by the Indian state on charges of assisting these rebels (he is regarded by Amnesty International as a ‘prisoner of conscience’), he has always been an outspoken public advocate for non-violent activism towards social transformation.
…Given his explicit commitment to non-violence and his sustained peaceful activism in obtaining health care and human rights for the most deprived sections of society, particularly the rural poor, Dr. Binayak Sen is an exemplary candidate for the Gandhi Foundation award [which would] acknowledge the singular contribution made by this dedicated and courageous individual towards bringing together health, food security, the empowerment of women and economic enfranchisement in the cause of the widest and most meaningful deployment of both human rights and social justice.
The successful nomination made no mention of the ‘Tribal Peoples’ or the ‘adivasis of India,’ a monolithic category which the Gandhi Foundation later and without due consultation inserted into its citation, suggesting that Dr. Sen and Mr. Bulu Imam would jointly receive the award on ‘behalf’ of the adivasis of India. After justifiable protest and representations by some adivasi activists, the Foundation changed the wording to ‘two men who have worked in different ways to address the growing violence.’
Honourable Judge Sahib, whatever written statement I am submitting is true. I request you, Judge Sahib, to kindly take note of my truthfulness.
For the last two years, the policemen have been harassing me. They used to harass me by summoning me to the police stations, entering our houses and breaking household items and playing (leeringly) with our clothes. If we tried to say something, we would be told threateningly, ‘Where would you go to lodge the complaint? Who will listen to you? One day, we will declare you a Naxalite and kill you. That’s why we have declared you an absconder since last year.” I would tell them that I was working as a teacher in a school. Then how could they declare me (an absconder)?
क्या आपकी कोई बेटी है ? चलो थोड़ी देर के लिए उसका नाम सोनी सोरी रख देते हैं !
उसे पुलिस वाले बाँध कर घसीट रहे हैं , और वो रोते रोते आपको पुकार रही है , पापा मुझे बचा लो ! आप खड़े होकर देख रहे हैं , आपकी मासूम लाडली बेटी को पुलिस वाले घसीटते हुए ले जा रहे हैं ! इस समय आप विवश होंगे या क्रोधित ? क्या करने का ख्याल आएगा आपके मन में ?
और उन्ही पलों में जब आपकी मासूम बेटी को पुलिस वाले घसीट रहे हैं , मैं उसी मनः स्तिथी में आपके विचार जानना चाहता हूँ , “भारतीय लोकतंत्र ” “संविधान” , “महान भारतीय संस्कृतिक परम्पराओं” के बारे में ? चेहरा उधर मत घुमाइए ! मुझसे आँख मिला कर उत्तर दीजिये ! आपकी बेटी अभी भी चीख कर आपकी ओर आशा से देख रही है ! और आप उसकी चीखों का जवाब नहीं दे रहे हैं ? सोनी सोरी की चीखें इतिहास हो जायेंगी ! पर हमारा पीछा नहीं छोड़ेंगी !
हमें माफ़ कर देना सोनी सोरी , हमारा लोकतंत्र तुम्हारे लिए नहीं है , न संसद , न हमारी दिखावटी नैतिकता और धार्मिकता , ये सब हमारे लिए हैं ! तुम आदिवासी हो , इसलिए तुम्हारे लिए है ,पिटाई , खुरदुरी ज़मीन पर पशु की तरह घसीटे जाना , ज़िंदगी भर जेल में बैठकर ,अपने तीन बच्चों को याद कर रोना , और फिर एक दिन चुपचाप एक गुमनाम मौत म़र जाना !
“सोनी सोरी मेरी बच्ची” मैं तुम्हे भारतीय राष्ट्र की ओर से अंतिम विदाई देता हूँ ! आदिवासियों के सम्पूर्ण संहार के बाद जब हमारा प्रधान मंत्री, लाल किले से इस एतिहासिक अपराध के लिए क्षमा मांगेगा , तब तुम हमें स्वर्ग से क्षमा कर देना ,सोनी सोरी ! अलविदा अलविदा
At the outset, I would like to thank the New York Academy of Sciences for conferring on me the prestigious Heinz R. Pagels Award for Human Rights. I wish it were possible for me to be with you in person on this occasion. Besides my gratitude for this great honour, I also have a personal reason to celebrate a connection with the Academy. My father was a pharmacologist whose research was on melanocyte stimulating hormone. He worked in the Medical Corps of the Indian Army and taught for some time at the Armed Forces Medical College in Pune, India. He was offered membership in the Academy, but had to decline because, as an officer of the Indian Army, he was not permitted to accept membership in a foreign organization. So this Award is, in some ways, a celebration of an older connection.
Of course, I never had the privilege of crossing paths with Professor Pagels. I am not a physicist, but if you will pardon me the audacity of seeking parallels between his work and mine, I might focus on his dedication to increase popular understanding of the importance and complexity of physics and of science in general. As a paediatrician and public health physician, I have tried to enhance the public’s understanding of the ways in which poverty and injustice undermine efforts to promote health and peace, which we ourselves take for granted as our own fundamental human rights.
Another parallel between us might be that we both married well. My own work would not have been possible without the patience and support of my wife Professor Ilina Sen, an eminent feminist scholar and peace activist in her own right, who herself is an admirer of Professor Elaine Pagels‘ work on the perception of women in society.