Posts Tagged ‘AFSPA
ENGAGED CIRCLE -binayak sen
Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 20, Dated May 23, 2009
When truth is imprisoned and men reign over the law, India should stir up a storm, not watch unfazed
A FAMOUS STORY links two great Americans. When the United States invaded Mexico in 1846, Henry Thoreau, the great naturalist, refused to pay his taxes in an act of civil disobedience against the US and was sent to prison. His close friend and mentor from Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson came to see him in jail. Emerson quipped, “What are you doing inside?” The reply made Emerson blush. “What are you doing outside?” asked Thoreau.
Dr Binayak Sen, one of India’s noblest doctors, imprisoned by a cowardly Chhattisgarh administration because he exposed their crimes, might well speak to us in the manner of Thoreau were we to visit him. On May 14 it will be exactly two years since his unlawful arrest. There are times when jails become one of the few places of honour left in the world. After all, where would you like to find yourself if robbers and murderers were masquerading before the public as magistrates, judges and hangmen?
India today finds itself crouched in one such corner of shame. While well-known serial killers gamely garner tickets from national parties for elections and mass murderers sagely deliver their homilies from our television screens, women and men of integrity and courage must lurk and slide in the dark alleys of our cities or in the forlorn jungles of the land. It is a state of affairs which would have appalled and nauseated decent citizens a generation ago, let alone the heroes and heroines of our freedom movement. The sad truth is that as a civilisation, India’s standing in the world has suffered a precipitous fall during the last several years, even as our elated elite’s vainglorious aspirations to superpower-hood never miss a morning to announce themselves. Are they out of step, or are we? Time will tell, though it is as much up to us to determine which way the die of destiny will roll.
After six decades of freedom from colonial rule, India is still a largely poor country. One of the most severe forms of deprivation suffered by the poor is with respect to health, particularly so in a time when the cost of healthcare has shot up so dramatically. In such a context, it is worth asking how many Indian paediatricians one can name who have given 30 years of their lives as a volunteer in unstinting service to the needy poor in the countryside. At a guess, the actual number is in three figures and the name of Dr Binayak Sen figures prominently among them.
|Truth Trapped (above) On 2 February, 2008, Sen was taken in a police van to Raipur’s sessions court|
|Photo: SHAILENDRA PANDEY|
LETTERS AND APPEALS from Sen’s mother, 22 Nobel Laureates, Ex-Chief Justice of India — V.R.Krishna Iyer, Noam Chomsky and hundreds of other people of eminence in public life from around the world only reveal their ignorance regarding facts of the case. The Chhatisgarh government obviously knows better where justice lies. Thus, Dr Sen continues to languish in prison despite a serious cardiac condition.
One Rowlatt Act was enough to precipitate Jallianwalah Bagh nine decades ago, causing an intensification and acceleration of the Indian freedom struggle. A slew of far more invasive laws in ‘independent’ India — the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Unlawful Activties Prevention Act, to name just a few of the many that have been passed in recent years — draws a cowardly, paralysed silence today.
By Aseem Shrivastava
“How many does it take to metamorphose wickedness into righteousness?
“One man must not kill. If he does it is murder. Two, ten, one hundred men, acting on their own responsibility, must not kill. If they do, it is still murder. But a state or nation may kill as many as they please, and it is no murder. It is just, necessary, commendable and right. Only get people enough to agree to it, and the butchery of myriads of human beings is perfectly innocent.
“But how many does it take? This is the question. Just so with theft, robbery, burglary, and all other crimes. Man-stealing is a great crime in one man, or a very few men only. But a whole nation can commit it, and the act becomes not only innocent, but highly honorable…
“Verily there is magic in numbers! The sovereign multitude can out-legislate the Almighty, at least in their own conceit. But how many does it take? Just enough to make a nation.…Alexander the Great demanded of a pirate, by what right he infested the seas. By the same right, retorted the pirate, that Alexander ravages the world. How far was he from the truth?”
- Adin Ballou, American social reformer and abolitionist (1803-90)
A famous story links two great Americans. When the United States invaded Mexico in 1846, the great naturalist Henry Thoreau, in an act of civil disobedience, refused to pay his taxes as a mark of protest against US actions and was sent to prison for his sin against the state. His close friend and mentor from Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson came to see him in jail. Emerson quipped “what are you doing inside?” Thoreau’s reply made Emerson blush. “What are you doing outside ?”, he replied.
There are times when jails become one of the few places of honour left in the world. Where, after all, would you like to find yourself if robbers and murderers were masquerading before the public as magistrates, judges and hangmen?
When India wraps up its fifteenth general elections in mid May, Dr. Binayak Sen will be completing two years in jail in a cruel inversion of democracy. Held on charges of suspected involvement with Maoist insurgents under the heavy-handed Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), his guilt has not yet been proven.
Why is this award-winning doctor – who for thirty years worked tirelessly for the tribal poor of Chhattisgarh – still imprisoned?
Sen dared to speak out against the atrocities of Salwa Judum, a controversial state-backed militia group, which armed local tribal people and pitted them against the Maoist insurgents in Chhattisgarh, an impoverished state in central India. He led a fifteen-member fact-finding team in December 2005, which published the first in a series of damning reports about the excesses of the Salwa Judum.
The evidence he produced of police involvement in the killing of innocent tribal people in Santoshpur cost him his freedom in late March 2007. The state moved deliberately to silence him. He was detained under the CSPSA and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on charges of sedition, criminal conspiracy, making war against the nation, and knowingly using the proceeds of terrorism. Both these laws allow for arbitrary detention without any right to appeal.
The flimsy “evidence” for his arrest – that Sen allegedly passed on letters from a jailed senior Maoist leader to an aide – is not fully substantiated. Sen had visited the Raipur jail as the state general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to provide legal and medical assistance to prisoners including the said Maoist leader. His request for bail has been consistently rejected at all levels of judiciary since his arrest.
A paediatrician by profession and a gold medallist from the prestigious Christian Medical College in Vellore, Sen turned down lucrative career options to work in the field of community health. After helping set up a worker’s hospital, owned and operated by a mine worker’s organization, he later founded the NGO Rupantar with his wife. The couple have worked through Rupantar for the last eighteen years in training village health workers to provide basic health care in nearly twenty villages in the state.
Sen inevitably got drawn into social advocacy in Chhattisgarh, one of the states that has been particulary affected by the strengthening Maoist insurgency in recent years. The rise of the Maoists has been abetted by the acute governance vacuum in these areas, which are inhabited primarily by impoverished rural and forest-dwelling people, known within India’s complex socio-economic taxonomy as “tribals”.
To counter the Maoists, Chhattisgarh state launched in 2005 a paramilitary force called Salwa Judum that armed underage tribal boys ostensibly to fight the Maoist insurgents in the area. The move resulted in pushing the region into a fratricidal war. Caught in the fray were the poor tribal villagers trapped between the Maoists, on the one hand, and the state-supported Salwa Judum cadre on the other. The combined vested interests of the state and an industrial sector keen on the mineral rich land further fuelled the violence.
Since its inception, the Salwa Judum has emptied 700 tribal villages. The villagers have been forced into temporary roadside camps robbing them of their livelihood of farming and minor forest horticulture. It comes as a saddening surprise that some of the evacuated land is earmarked for Tata Steel and Essar Steel’s proposed steel plants and mining projects.
Sen’s open criticism was an impediment that the state government decided it could not afford. Despite intermittent media outrage and strong condemnation by international human rights organizations at his farcical arrest and trial, Sen continues to remain behind bars. With the second year of his imprisonment now coming to a close, a number of organizations from different parts of India, including the PUCL, have launched the Raipur Satyagraha to step up the campaign for his release.
The Satyagraha - echoing Mahatma Gandhi’s belief in nonviolent resistance – will be a sustained movement, in which leading human rights activists, civil society organizations, lawyers, women’s groups and other supporters will walk every Monday to the Raipur Central jail, where Sen is being held, and court arrest.
Professor Ilina Sen, the wife of the jailed doctor, and Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary of PUCL, have also been raising international awareness about the injustice of his arrest by giving a series of public talks at leading universities around the UK. The talks have also launched a public petition to the Indian Home Minister demanding Sen’s release. The following is a brief interview with Professor Ilina Sen and Kavita Srivastava when they visited the University of Cambridge on 6 March.
In discussion with Professor Ilina Sen, wife of Dr. Binayak Sen:
Do you feel the media has done enough to generate a sustained campaign through its coverage for Dr. Sen?
The media is sensitive to particular events. It has a very short memory span. So when something happened, it would generate interest. For instance when he received the Jonathan Mann Award last year, there was coverage. [Dr. Sen received the Jonathan Mann Award in 2008 for Global Health and Human Rights from the Global Health Council]. The Award was also a serious embarrassment (for India) because it was the first time a South Asian was given this Award and he was not able to receive it but was in prison on the charge of sedition.
How many times has Dr. Sen’s bail been rejected? And are you planning on trying for bail again?
The bail had first been denied by the Chhattisgarh High Court in July 2007. Then on 10 December, 2007, which is the International Human Rights Day, the Supreme Court dismissed the bail petition without any reason. After that, the trial started, charges were framed. But once the material witnesses had failed to substantiate any of the charges, the bail application was put once more to the Chhattisgarh High Court as there was a change in circumstances now with the charge-sheet having been filed and a lot of evidence run through, but nothing proved. Yet, once again in December 2008, the High Court dismissed the application stating that there were no fresh grounds for bail. We are now in the process of going to the Supreme Court once more for bail.
Now that a second year in jail seems to be drawing to a close, have you any other plans to expedite Dr. Sen’s release?
We are now focussing a lot of our campaign activity in Raipur itself. And the shape it is taking is in the form of the Raipur Satyagraha. Large numbers of activists and supporters will walk every Monday through the city of Raipur in Chhattisgarh to the jail where he is being held. Then they will court arrest. We plan to sustain it over a long time now – till he is out. People from mass organizations, writers, activists will support it. It will start on 16 March. We already have the support of organizations like the Asha Pariwar, Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity, NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan), lawyers associations and people like Nandita Das, Mahasweta Devi, Sandeep Pandey, Kuldip Nayar, and maybe Mahesh Bhatt.
Could you tell us something about the Christian Medical College’s support through all this?
They have been very, very supportive. They are doctors from the highest positions in the world. They have been active in writing letters, arranging meetings, supporting the cause and our movement as well as bearing the legal costs of the case.
In discussion with Kavita Srivastava, PUCL:
How is Dr. Sen holding up at the jail?
His spirits are well but his health is not well. He has lost 25 kgs. They had kept him in solitary confinement for some time but now he is back with the lifers. There is nothing much to write about Indian jails, except that he has a bed – a cemented one.
Have you approached the central government in New Delhi and requested its intervention?
We met the Home Minister P. Chidambaram on 23 December. He was very sympathetic but told us, “What can we do?”. [The state government in Chhattisgarh is a BJP government, which has just been re-elected to power for another five years.]
What will you talk about this evening?
I will be talking about the use of draconian laws and how in the name of national security, there are two groups of people in India today, who are being targeted. First are those who are fighting intolerant policy, they are being targeted in the name of nationalism and held under draconian laws on charges like sedition or supporting banned organizations. The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act criminalizes “intent”. This is against any kind of criminal jurisprudence. It is “intent”, not an “act”. The second group are the Muslims, who are being targeted in the name of terrorism. Legislating laws like this in the name of national security represses civil dissent and prevents people from holding views.
What do you hope will be the outcome from your talks at the universities in the UK?
We have come to the UK to build awareness about Dr. Sen’s unjust arrest. We want to highlight that Binayak is a “prisoner of conscience”. His arrest has nothing to do with territorial boundaries. It is about the subjugation of human freedom – freedom to think, dream and have hope.
Countering Fascist Forces: Defending the Idea of India
25-26 October 2008
The urgency to intervene in defence of democracy, secularism and justice has never been more pressing than in the conditions prevailing in the country today.
The rise of communal fascism has emerged as a threat not only to its immediate victims but to the very long-term survival of India as a unified nation of diverse religious, linguistic and ethnic groups. The mysterious and condemnable acts of terrorism that have shaken different parts of the country have engendered a climate of fear, insecurity and fuelled the politics of communal division.
In recent months, vicious attacks have been mounted across India against religious minorities by Hindutva fascist organizations and communalism has even become the dominant tenor of public discourse. In Maharashtra the regional chauvinist forces of Bal and Raj Thackeray, both offsprings of the Hindutva politics of hate, has targeted north Indians in a bid to drive them out of the state.
The BJP, RSS and their allies in the Sangh Parivar have mounted a vicious campaign against the Christian community across India. Orissa and over 10 states have seen violent attacks on the Christian community, their institutions, religious places, property and businesses on the basis of fabricated stories and hate campaigns.
Throughout the country Muslim youth are being targeted, without any or little evidence, as responsible for the various bomb blasts taking place in the country. There is a concerted attempt by the Indian police, intelligence agencies and certain political parties to portray all members of the Muslim community as ‘terrorists and extremists’ – to be arbitrarily arrested, tortured and killed in fake encounters. Sections of the media instead of investigating the truth are blindly parroting these sensational and unsubstantiated claims.
Even more disturbingly the accused are being systematically denied their basic right to legal defence by some bar associations themselves which have threatened, expelled and even violently attacked lawyers brave enough to take up these cases. The Indian judiciary has failed to take suo moto cognizance of such attacks as being contempt of court.
All this while hard evidence available against Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Sangh outfits of their direct involvement in terror attacks is not only being ignored but actively pushed under the carpet by the Indian state. The Hindutva terrorist groups like the Bajrang Dal are openly claiming responsibility for this communal violence against Christians and are yet being allowed to go scot-free.
There is a growing feeling among religious minority communities that the Indian state and judiciary is biased against them and unwilling to provide impartial justice even in cases such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid. No action has been taken on the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission report following the anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai of 1993. On the other hand some members of the judiciary are now willing to be puppets of communal forces, a dangerous trend set by the Nanavati Commission, which has exonerated the Narendra Modi government of responsibility for the Gujarat Genocide of 2002.
Instead of confronting these fascist forces the Indian state is cracking down hard on ‘soft targets’ like human rights and social activists. The fundamental rights of life, liberty, freedom of speech, religion and dissent guaranteed to all citizens by the Indian Constitution are being shred to pieces right in front of our eyes.
Entire swathes of the Indian North-East and Kashmir are covered by the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that authorises even the lowest soldier to shoot and kill civilians on mere suspicion of their being ‘militants’. In Chhattisgarh, large numbers of citizens continue to be detained using the highly restrictive Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA). Those defending the rights of the poor, Dalit, Adivasis and other marginalised people are being falsely branded as ‘extremists’ and ‘anti-nationals’. The state sponsored, unconstitutional ‘Salwa Judum’ campaign, which has unleashed horrific violence on innocent tribal populations over the past four years in the name of countering Maoism, is being justified by none other than the National Human Rights Commission itself.
All this is happening even as the forces of imperialism led by the United States, under the pretext of the so-called Global War on Terror, are busy re-colonising entire nations from Iraq to Afghanistan and are now targeting Pakistan in the immediate neighbourhood of India. The global media is contributing to this politics of hatred by demonizing Muslims worldwide and frightening ordinary citizens into giving up their basic democratic rights everywhere.
Within the country, the pattern of elitist development has turned a vast majority of the population into second-class citizens, reinforcing with misguided policies the apartheid of the ancient and racist caste system. The ghost of the East India Company, buried long ago, is being resurrected in myriad forms and those who run the Indian state are willfully abetting the return of a neo-colonial order.
It is a state of affairs that calls upon all those who value Indian independence, democratic rights and social justice to come forward, take responsibility and resist the onslaught by fascist and imperialist forces on the foundations of our national values and existence. We also urge all anti-communal activists and secular political parties to forge alliance to defeat fascism and communalism. We, the delegates and participants of the National Convention on Countering Fascism: Defending the Idea of India in New Delhi held on 25-26 October 2008 resolve as follows to:
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25-26 October 2008
Constitution Club Lawns
The urgency to intervene in defence of democracy, secularism and justice has never been more pressing than in the conditions prevailing in the country today. The rise of communal fascism has emerged as a threat not only to its immediate victims but to the very long-term survival of India as a unified nation of diverse religious, linguistic and ethnic groups.
In recent months, vicious attacks have been mounted across India against religious minorities by Hindutva fascist organizations and communalism has even become the dominant tenor of public discourse. Instead of rising to the challenge and confronting these fascist forces there is total apathy and indecisiveness among those in power. It is almost as if a silent coup has already taken place and India is on the verge of becoming a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
The RSS and organizations under its umbrella have mounted a vicious campaign against the Christian community across India. Over 10 states have seen violent attacks on the Christian community, their institutions, religious places, property and businesses. The Hindutva terrorist groups like the Bajrang Dal are openly claiming responsibility for this communal violence against Christians and are yet being allowed to go scot-free.
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Saturday 2 August 2008, by K B Saxena
Indian Doctor in Jail: The Story of Binayak Sen—A Report to the Nation by Doctors in Defence of Dr Binayak Sen
Publishers: Doctors in Defence of Dr Binayak Sen, Promila & CoPublishers in association with Bibliophile South Asia, New Delhi and Chicago; pages 112; price : Rs 250.
Democracies are considered the world over as a superior form of polity when compared to authoritarian regimes due to their ability and confidence to face multiple and complex challenges particularly in a culturally diverse and socially unequal society. This is on account of the former’s institutional structures of participation, accountable governance, resolution of conflict through dialogue and accommodation and commitment to universally recognised rights and freedoms. But how would a democracy be described when it demonstrates its incapability to understand, much less to deal with, political violence from its disenchanted and alienated social groups, turns to extraordinary laws curbing civil liberties, acquiesces in unaccountable governance for enforcing security, despises advocacy of human rights and legitimises matching counter-violence to meet this challenges? The history of modern political theory has come to describe such a State as fascist which, while retaining the democratic institutional arrangements, descends into authoritarian practices through both legal and extra-legal practices in dealing with its citizens. The book under review, which revolves around the detention and continued incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen, brings out the typical features of such a State when it finds the work of this public health professional providing health care services to Adivasis in a remote block a threat to its security.
DELHI, JULY 26-27, 2008
Venue : Garhwal Bhavan, Panchkuian Road, Opp Videocon Tower, New Delhi
(near New Delhi Railway Station)
In order to seek moral legitimacy for their existence in the present neo-liberal era, governments increasingly are resorting to sideline the constitutional provisions of civil liberties, right to association and freedom of expression in the name of global action against terrorism. The Indian government has joined the US in this global campaign. Man Mohan Singh has also said, on more than one occasion, that naxalism is a bigger threat than terrorism. The other side of the coin is that citizens get killed or face repression at the hands of police when the state machinery brands anybody a naxalite or a terrorist and violates all norms of human rights.
Binayak Sen, the General Secretary of Chattisgarh People’s Union of Civil Liberties and national Vice President of the same body, an organization established by late Jayaprakash Narayan, and a doctor who used to run a non-governmental people’s health care programme is presently the target of Chattisgarh government. Binayak had started exposing some of the misdeeds of the state machinery in persecuting people by invoking the fear of naxalism. He is presently languishing in jail in spite of national and international protests.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act completes 50 years as Indian law
While people couldn’t care less and the State continues to revel in the impunity granted to the armed forces, well-meaning social activists, journalists, academicians and young human rights activists demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 at a Seminar held in New Delhi on 22nd May 2008 –marking the 50 years of the legislation. The event went totally unreported in the Indian media. The author files this report and comments on various aspects of the draconian law.
50 years ago, on 22nd May 1958, in the face of rising political dissent in the North-east, India decided to add fiction to its laws -the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Though enacted only for a year, it has continued since. It contravenes the fundamental principles of jurisprudence, Indian law, particularly the right to life and right to a fair trial and international standards, particularly the derogable and non-derogable provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a signatory.