Author: Dilip D’Souza
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India
Pages: 187, Price: 250, Year: 2012
Review by Mahtab Alam,
Ever since the pediatrician, public health and human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen was first arrested (leading to Life term imprisonment for allegedly waging war against the Country with the help of a Maoist) in a fabricated case in May 2007, much has been written about his life, work and the case against him—both positive and negative. The book under review, authored by Mumbai based writer, Dilip D’Souza is the fourth positive work in the form of a book, captivatingly titled, “The Curious Case of Binayak Sen”. However, the author in the very beginning, first chapter, makes it clear that, “this is really not a book about (Binayak) Sen, this one man. It is instead about his way of thinking about the world.”
Unlike previous works, this book, notably, covers what Binayak has been doing after he was released on bail granted by the Supreme Court of India’s direction in April last year. The author notes, “Since his release on bail, Sen has spoken often about another kind of connection: between malnutrition and secession” and “there’s an articulation of the same concern with human rights—indeed, with the human condition—that Sen speaks about.” Binayak believes and rightly so, that his case is no different from those of thousands of others who are suffering. He says, “Whatever has happened to me is the result of the suffering of thousands of people. Any personal imprint would be ghoulish.” But, the author tells us that through this Sen has “a broader point to make. The communities that face (this) structural violence are facing annihilation—strong words, but Sen clearly saw it as possible—because of famine and an inability to survive”. On an earlier occasion, the author quotes Sen while explaining what he really means by structural violence. In Sen’s words, “By structural violence I refer to the fact that half our children and our adults in this country suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition casts a dark shadow over other diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.” Citing data produced by government’s own institution, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau and the World Health Organisation’s norms, Sen concludes, we are living in condition of famine. And “a third of our live births have low birth weights, this is what I mean when I talk of structural violence.”
Elaborating the flimsy and fabricated case against Binayak, digging in to charge sheets and reading out from the judgment of the trial court, which convicted him with life imprisonment, the author raises certain pertinent questions not only about the Chhattisgarh government and its police, on whose behest Binayak is convicted for no crime but also about the state of the judicial system in our country, especially in the state of Chhattisgarh. The author ably exposes the holes in the charge sheets, selectivity of the prosecution and the executive mentality of the judiciary.
Commenting about two emails, which were produced as major ‘evidence’ against Sen, totally out of context and selectively, the author observes: “It is hard for me to believe that any reasonable prosecution would actually seek to make a case like this.” He is referring to the fact that, for the prosecution, how the mere mention of the ISI (here, meaning the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi and not the Pakistani Intelligence agency ISI which is the “chimpanzee in the White House”), prove that Binayak and his wife Ilina are part of an International terror network! In this regard, he further observes, “It is harder still for me to believe that any reasonable judge would listen to this and take it seriously.” Towards the end of the book, the author does not forget to ask very simple yet important questions, while commenting on the state of Indian democracy. “The one major attempt to shut down Indian democracy happened in 1975 and was called the Emergency. Luckily, it lasted less than two years…But we can still ask: is democracy as we have known it in India really democracy? What constitutes democracy, after all? Elections? Freedoms? Rights?”
The book is an important addition in the available literature on Binayak Sen case, the issues of public health and state of democracy in India and its institutions. However, one strongly feels that the language and presentation could have been much simpler than one adopted in this book. Nevertheless, it deserves to be widely read.
(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based Civil Rights Activist and Independent Journalist. A slightly edited and shorter version of this review first appeared in the Hard News monthly. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Sehat aur Samaj: Why this newsletter?
All of you will remember the ‘swine flu’ hysteria that gripped the entire world and India too just over a year ago. In those days it was a common sight to see people everywhere wearing masks on their faces. These were people who were worried about getting infected by the swine flu virus and trying to protect themselves.
I must confess I was very happy to see all these middle-class Indians hiding their faces.
To begin with the mask till not long ago was a sartorial accessory reserved exclusively for terrorists and other assorted demons. So when respectable people start wearing masks they can help counter stereotypes about what terrorists look like or are supposed to wear. Thanks to swine flu wearing a mask in broad daylight became respectable.
But the real reason why I was happy is my belief that it is a good idea for middle-class Indians to keep these masks on permanently, simply because they should be deeply ashamed of what is happening in their country.
The last time I checked in 2010, the numbers of Indians dying every year due to sudden assaults on their health by poverty, viruses, bacteria, parasites and badly driven motor vehicles were as follows:
- Under-nourishment kills around 25 lakh children annually
- Malaria – Over 900,000
- Air pollution – 527,700
- Tuberculosis – 400,000
- Road Accidents – Over 100,000
Just between these avoidable causes of death the overall figure translates into roughly 12000 Indians dying every day. I don’t know of any conflict anywhere in the world- in Africa, the Middle East or even in Pakistan or Kashmir where the daily toll of lives runs so high.
Times of India
It was far more than just a matter of bail when the Supreme Court last Friday ordered the suspension of the life sentence that was being served by Binayak Sen. Its significance is not just due to the outrage that had been expressed across the world over the incarceration of a human rights and public activist working in the most backward areas of Chhattisgarh. Binayak Sen’s plight served as an opportunity for the highest court of the land to acknowledge the anomalies in the sedition provision and the manner in which it has generally being misused to gag dissidence in our democracy.
As this newspaper reported in the run-up to the court hearing the sedition provision, which was inserted as Section 124A in the Indian Penal Code way back in 1870, is so arbitrary that Binayak Sen could well have been let off for the very same offence with just a fine. For, without a word of explanation, this colonial law provides three very different levels of punishment for those held guilty of sedition: life sentence, imprisonment up to three years or monetary penalty. The definition of sedition is also so vague that the Supreme Court was forced to rule in 1962 that this provision, in the wake of the constitutional guarantee of free speech, would have to be read down to deal only with those who allegedly incited violence against the state.
But, as evident from the experiences of Binayak Sen and numerous lesser-known victims around the country of this draconian provision, the Supreme Court’s 1962 clarification has proved inadequate to safeguard against the misuse of the sedition law. It is therefore a welcome development that, subsequent to the order granting bail to Binayak Sen, law minister Veerappa Moily announced that the government would ask the Law Commission to review Section 124A IPC in order to recast the provision or scrap it altogether. The provocation was the oral observations made by the bench comprising Justice H S Bedi and Justice Chandramauli Prasad that Binayak Sen’s sympathies for Maoists did not make him liable to sedition.
The importance of the corrective applied by the Supreme Court is all the more evident from the Chhattisgarh high court’s failure to recognise glaring infirmities in the case, whether on the issue of conviction or on the quantum of sentence, despite delivering a 35-page order two months ago declining bail to Binayak Sen. The Supreme Court’s intervention in this case is in line with its recent verdict that mere membership of a banned organisation was not a crime unless he was found to have committed violence. Binayak Sen’s release should pave the way for his acquittal of the charge of sedition.
In granting bail to Binayak Sen, the doctor who was convicted earlier this year by a trial court in Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court has sent a clear message to the lower judiciary and law enforcement agencies throughout the country: the charge of sedition should not be bandied about lightly. Although the court passed only a one-line order, the observations made by Justices H.S. Bedi and C.K. Prasad during oral arguments on Friday add up to a scathing indictment of the weak case the Chhattisgarh government put up against the paediatrician and human rights activist. Their remarks also suggest the trial court did not apply its mind to the case. Justices Bedi and Prasad demolished two key parts of the prosecution’s case during the bail hearing. First, they said the mere possession of Maoist literature did not make a person a Maoist. Secondly, and more crucially, they noted that since jailors supervised every meeting Dr. Sen had with Narayan Sanyal — the jailed Maoist leader whose messages he allegedly helped smuggle out — “the question of passing letters or documents does not arise.” If Chhattisgarh had a professional police force and well-functioning judiciary, these glaring weaknesses in the case against Dr. Sen would have been spotted at the very beginning of the legal process and the charges thrown out. Sadly, it has required the highest court in the country to lay this bare before the world.
In legal terms, Dr. Sen’s appeal against his conviction will now continue at the Bilaspur High Court but the endgame, should that forum uphold the charge of sedition, is clear: going by its own observations, the Supreme Court is likely to acquit him eventually. Unfortunately, the Binayak Sen case is not the only Chhattisgarh-related matter involving blatant injustice to come to New Delhi. For the past two years, the Supreme Court has been considering a public interest litigation petition on the role of officially sponsored anti-Maoist vigilantes who have been responsible for the death and displacement of adivasis on a large scale. Though the Chhattisgarh government has repeatedly assured the court that the vigilante squads have been disbanded, it has dragged its feet on the registration of criminal cases and the provision of compensation for the victims of violence. Moreover, as the well-documented attack on innocent tribals in Tarmetla and other villages by the security forces last month demonstrates, vigilantism continues to exact a terrible human toll in the State. With the Raman Singh government refusing to accept responsibility for the appalling state of affairs in Dantewada, the one hope the adivasis of the region have for justice is with the Supreme Court.
On 15 April, after several delays, the Supreme Court of India will hopefully deliver its verdict on whether or not to grant bail to Dr Binayak Sen.
While it is simply impossible to predict beforehand what the highest court in India will decide, we know that the judgment will have very far reaching implications indeed.
As we have argued innumerable times there was no basis at all for the charges of ‘sedition’ or ‘waging war against the State’ brought on Dr Sen by the Chhattisgarh police three years ago and zero merit to his conviction by the Raipur Sessions Court on 24 December last year. The handing out of life imprisonment to this public health doctor and human rights activist was not just bizarre but plainly malicious and guided no doubt by pressure from the political masters in the Chhattisgarh government.
The Supreme Court of India over the years has on many occasions overturned the flawed judgments of the lower courts thereby restoring public faith in the competence and sanity of the Indian judiciary as a whole. We fervently hope it will do so again in the case of Dr Sen and set free a man who should be feted and celebrated by the entire nation for his dedicated social work and not hounded on false charges for venal reasons.
Even though Dr Sen is only one of many thousands of such prisoners in Indian prisons on trumped up charges or arrested without due procedure of law, doing him justice would send the right signal that all is not yet lost with Indian democracy. The public at large still values the integrity of the Indian Supreme Court as one of few institutions that are relatively untouched by the corruption and loss of values evident in all sectors of governance and administration in the country.
Granting bail to Dr Sen and indeed rebuking the Raipur court for bringing shame to the Indian judiciary through its ridiculous judgment will help uphold and even enhance the Supreme Court’s reputation. Any other verdict will not only mean loss of hope and a deep sense of frustration for thousands of Dr Sen’s well-wishers but mark a turning point in the history of the Indian Republic itself.
If prison is going to be the only place for all good men (and women) in this country it will be time to turn this nation upside down and inside out. If the keepers of the Indian Constitution turn out to be its greatest violators then it will be time for citizens to become the enforcers of the Constitution themselves.
And if Dr Binayak Sen is guilty of sedition according to those who run the current Indian Republic then sedition will become our national duty. Hopefully, it will not come that and Dr Sen, by the evening of 15 April 2011, will walk a free man again!
Manoj Mitta, TNN | Apr 11, 2011
NEW DELHI: The sedition provision, under which civil liberties activist Binayak Sen is serving a life sentence, is so arbitrary that he could well have been let off for the very same offence with just a fine.
This is because Section 124A IPC, without a word of explanation, offers three very different levels of punishment for those found guilty of sedition. The highest level of punishment for sedition is life sentence, which is normally given for a heinous offence like murder. The next level of punishment plunges to imprisonment not exceeding three years. The lowest punishment is nothing but a monetary penalty.
Such dramatic disparity in the punishments prescribed for sedition has been highlighted like never before by the Binayak Sen case as the trial court gave him the highest level of punishment in December even though he has not been accused of complicity in any specific instance of Maoist violence.
In a further irony, the Chhattisgarh high court devoted 35 pages to deny him bail in February without any discussion on the sentence. This is despite the fact that bail proceedings after conviction are all about “suspension of sentence”. The high court order gives no inkling of how the life sentence was justified rather than the lesser sentence of three years or fine.
It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will address the sentencing anomaly, whether in Section 124A itself or in the high court order, when Binayak Sen’s plea for bail comes up for hearing on Monday. The significance of this anomaly is that if the option of the lesser punishment (imprisonment up to three years) had been exercised, the trial court would have been legally obliged to release him on bail even while convicting him.
For, Section 389 of CrPC stipulates that the court “shall” grant bail to the convicted person for the purpose of filing an appeal if the sentence is three years or less and the accused is already on bail.
While steering clear of the sentence issue, the high court made much of Binayak Sen’s failure to speak up against Maoist violence. It lamented that though he was “in the forefront of exposing atrocities of police”, Binayak Sen “has not made any demand to these (Maoist) organizations to refrain from violence”.
Underlying this lament is the high court’s concern that “men in uniform are also human beings and citizens of this country”. However apt this judicial concern for slain security men may be, Binayak Sen’s silence on such atrocities can hardly constitute sedition or any other offence for that matter.
V.R. Krishna Iyer
Every instance of criticism that seeks to expose a government’s operation against the people and their liberties is not a bid to overthrow it. That is not sedition but a patriotic mission on account of public commitment.
The life sentence imposed on Binayak Sen on a charge of sedition has provoked much vocal, even militant and hostile, public opinion. The judicial verdict is seen widely as being unjust, contrary to the people’s conscience, and as an act of violence to public justice. It has invited severe mass criticism as an outrage.
It is nobody’s case that Dr. Sen can be above the law or that the courts can ignore the evidence on record and rely merely on rumour or reputation or other arbitrary irrelevance. Nobody challenges the obligation and the duty of the court to act only on the evidence before it, but that does not apply to mercy power or privilege beyond the record. There is a clemency jurisdiction that can act on other benign considerations and show compassion beyond the technical ambit of the law in order to do justice. Mercy is nobler than law and it can have priority over law. This is a finer function of public conscience that does not destroy the conviction but deals only with the sentencing. The law remains; so too any guilt.
The court’s decision based on the letter of the law is not undone, but a larger vision and certain sublime considerations prevail. Good things done with admirable motivation ought to be given recognition in giving a fair deal to an accused. Mercy is more than law or narrow judicial justice. This clemency factor is a dialectical operation that not the courts but members of the highest executive, like a President or a Governor, alone can exercise. This special jurisdiction is particularly relevant in Dr. Sen’s case at this stage.
Injustice continues and along with it further exposure of the legal and justice system in States like Chhattisgarh among other regions WHERE THOSE WHO WORK AMONG THE ECONOMICALLY WEAKER SECTIONS IN RURAL AND URBAN INDIA ARE BEING INDISCRIMINATELY LABELED AS MAOIST OR NAXALITE TO PREVENT DEMOCRATIC DISSENT.
It is reported that the alleged Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act , which is an act to protect private and mining companies among other interests and not public interests was drafted by the Chhattisgarh Law Deparment when one of the Judges hearing the bail plea was Law Secretary of the government .This needs to be verified as this would be a ground of OFFICIAL/INSTUTIONAL BIAS as the Judge should have recused himself if this was so .
Dr. Binayak Sen is allegedly Seditious, but not the Justice in the nearby State of Madhya Pradesh who recommends that Brahmins should study the Kundali or horoscope of children before ascertaining their entitlement to NUTRITION THAT IS THE BRAHMIN SHOULD DETERMINE THE RIGHT TO LIFE OR DEATH OF A CHILD BORN IN MADHYA PRADESH AND OTHER REGIONS OF THE COUNTRY.THAT SUCH AN OPINION COULD BE EXPRESSED REFLECTS WHAT IS THE SITUATION IN THE COUNTRY , THE EXTENT OF THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC REACTION WHICH THE MASS MEDIA AND TV ARE ENCOURAGING THROUGH ADVERTISEMENTS ON CHANNELS AUTHORISED BY THE CENTRAL AND STATE GOVERNMENTS.
Those of us who have been highlighting that upper caste/upper class rule has returned to India and has seized all institutions of the state in the last 20 years are not exaggerating , even as Khap Panchayats on the doorstep of Delhi are resorting to anti-Dalit activity and there is social apartheid against minorities all over India .
The Constitution of India is being subverted and NOT BY DR.BINAYAK SEN BUT BY POLITICAL PARTIES IN GOVERNMENT IN DIFFERENT STATES SUPPORTED BY THEIR FINANCIAL BACKERS . WE NEED A BROAD FRONT OF ALL THOSE OPPOSED TO UPPER CLASS/UPPER CASTE DOMINATION IN ADMINISTRATION AND IN POLICIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY .
FOR THIS BROAD PPOLITICAL FRONT THERE IS A POLITICAL CHARTER WHICH CAN BE IMMEDIATELY ADOPTED WHICH IS CHAPTER IV OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA , THE DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY WHICH SHOULD BE THE MANIFESTO OF THIS POLITICAL FRONT .
In the meanwhile Sudhir Dhawale the Dalit activist falsely called a Maoist continues to be detained in Maharashtra . It appears that everyone in agrarian India where economic and social distress continues is allegedly Maoist , when the reality is different .
It appears that the government is insisting on giving the label of Maoist even to those who are Constitutionalists indifferent to the consequences of such a policy .
However what we need is a broad front to protect democratic rights and to implement the Directive Principles of State Policy.
BY RAMESH GOPALAKRISHNAN*
Ilina Sen says she has no plans to go to Bilaspur this Wednesday. That’s the day the high court in this central Indian state of Chhattisgarh will resume hearing on the appeal filed by her husband, the acclaimed Indian human r rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen.
Dr. Sen is appealling against the life-term sentence handed over to him last month by a district court here which convicted him for sedition and conspiracy against the State. Unsure when he would be released following the hearing, or whether he would be released at all, Ilina says she plans to meet him two days l later in the relative quiet of the prison here.
The conviction and the unusually harsh sentence handed down to Dr. Sen, a proponent of peace and non-violence and pioneer of medical work, have drawn wide protests in India and in the international arena, including condemnation from intellectuals, social activists and workers, medical professionals and artists.
Dr. Sen’s case is a truly test case for India. And the world will be watching this week to see the result.
Read the rest of this entry »
The incarceration of Binayak Sen reminded me of the sophist philosopher Thrasymachus’s definition of justice in Plato’s Republic. Challenged by Socrates to define justice he says: “I proclaim that might is right, and justice is in the interest of the stronger…The different forms of government make laws, democratic, aristocratic, or autocratic, with a view to their respective interests; and these laws, so made by them to serve their interests, they deliver to their subjects as ‘justice’, and punish as ‘unjust’ anyone who transgresses them.”
This is the nature of justice meted out to Sen who has spent a lifetime working among the adivasis of Chhattisgarh. Sen is the national vice-president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties and general secretary of its Chhattisgarh unit. As an activist, he has time and again spoken against state imperialism in the context of the people living in the forests of Chhattisgarh.
Not many in the cities are fully aware of the harsh life in these areas. The truth is that the adivasis who are the original inhabitants of these forests are steadily being ousted from their habitat. With their beliefs and culture repeatedly challenged, they are left with three stark choices. One, to fall in line, grab some peripheral reservations in jobs offered by the state, learn to tolerate the perpetual harassment and exploitation of their women and watch their culture destroyed in the name of development. Two, seek shelter deeper into the forests, and wait for the forest guards and rangers, aided by insensitive revenue officials, to slowly catch up and destroy their huts, crops and drive them away again. Or, three, stand up and protest against state oppression.