Posts Tagged ‘editorial
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!
The Irish Times – Thursday, January 13, 2011
Opinion & Analysis
THE CONVICTION for sedition and the life sentence imposed on renowned Indian paediatrician and human rights activist Binayak Sen is a serious stain on India’s democratic credentials. It also appears to be a flagrant breach of legal precedent established by the country’s own supreme court.
The trial has prompted widespread concern from rights groups, the media, academics, and medical colleagues in India and internationally. The British medical journal, the Lancet , has rightly described the trial as “Kafkaesque”, the sentence, “a travesty”. The latter is “so over the top and outrageous that it calls into question the fundamentals of the Indian justice system,” India’s the Hindu newspaper argued.
Dr Sen, an outspoken critic over three decades of both rebel violence and state repression, particularly against the tribal Adivasi people, was convicted on December 24th by a Chhattisgarh state court under the vague terms of penal code provisions prohibiting words or actions which promote “hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection” towards the government. A legacy of colonial times, the clause was used to convict Mahatma Gandhi, and Nobel-laureate Arundhati Roy was recently threatened under it for a speech on Kashmir. The offence was ostensibly curtailed, however, when the supreme court ruled in 1962 that, given a constitutional protection of free speech, unless violence was incited sedition could not be found.
Prosecutors produced no evidence of incitement by Dr Sen but instead relied on dubious claims that he acted as a courier between an ailing, jailed Maoist leader he had been visiting and a supporter outside prison. The meetings, which took place in the presence of officials, were undertaken in Dr Sen’s capacity as both medical doctor and local representative of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Defence lawyers claim a “smoking gun” letter, purportedly from the Maoists and urging Dr Sen to investigate police atrocities in a Maoist stronghold, was forged by police.
Dr Sen’s real “offence”, and that of many others under arrest in the Chhattisgarh region, appears to have been to try to draw attention to brutal government-backed vigilantes, the Salwa Judum, who raided rebel-dominated villages in the mid-2000s, forcing tens of thousands to abandon their homes. The “if you’re not with us you’re against us” paranoia of the state government has produced a serious injustice. Dr Sen must be freed and the role of the authorities investigated.
India: Towards Universal Health Coverage
Published January 11, 2011
This Series of papers on India’s path to full health coverage reveals that a failing health system is perhaps India’s greatest predicament. The papers in this Series reveal the full extent of opportunities and difficulties in Indian healthcare, by examining infectious and chronic diseases, availability of treatments and doctors, and the infrastructure to bring about universal health care by 2020. The Series brings together a rapidly growing body of evidence to show that Indian health is in crisis. As the country with the largest democracy in the world, India is well positioned to put health high on the political agenda.
One notable absentee from the launch of the Series on Jan 11, 2011 is paediatrician and Comment author Binayak Sen. He remains in prison, an appalling situation discussed in an Editorial in the Jan 8-14 issue of The Lancet.
The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 11 January 2011
Securing the right to health for all in India
The debates around securing the right to health for all in India are at a complex and sensitive stage. In India, we have gross inequity in health-care delivery. The huge inequity is evident, on the one hand, in flourishing international medical tourism, and high-technology biomedical interventions done cheaply, and, on the other, minimum levels of health care being unavailable to those unable to pay.1
The health status of people transcends the health-care sector, and the social determinants of health, such as food, water, sewerage, and shelter, still elude large numbers of the poorest citizens in India. Between the early 1990s, when the process of economic reforms began, and now, the yearly per head consumption of food grains in the country has drastically deteriorated.2 The latest National Family Health Survey (2005—06) provided grim evidence of very slow improvement in infant mortality, persistently low rates of child immunisation, and shocking rates of malnutrition.3 Inequity in social determinants of health and health care in a market-based system itself becomes a pathogenic factor that drives the engine of deprivation.
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26 December 2010, 12:18 pm
Deccan Chronicle, December 26th, 2010
It has to be a travesty of any notion of civilised justice that Dr Binayak Sen, who has spent three decades providing health care to the poor tribal communities of Chhattisgarh, should be sent to prison on any charge at all. In societies that respect dedicated service, and which seek to strive towards the idea of equity and fair play, someone like Dr Sen ought to be honoured with the highest distinction society can offer instead of being hounded by petty-fogging dispensers of formal justice who have obviously not heard of the philosophy that underpins law and justice.
The Times of India 27 December 2010
The life sentence imposed on globally acclaimed human rights activist Binayak Sen on the charge of sedition is easily the most scandalous abuse of a colonial remnant in independent India. Judging by the intensity of civil society’s outrage, the verdict by a trial court from Chhattisgarh might provide impetus for a fresh review of the arbitrary manner in which this provision continues to be invoked to gag dissenting voices.
‘The evidence produced against Sen is unconvincing.’
The conviction of celebrated human rights activist Binayak Sen for treason by the Raipur sessions court on Friday has raised question about the country’s system of justice. Sen, along with two others, has been awarded a harsh life sentence for allegedly aiding and abetting Maoist activities. But the evidence produced against Sen is very unconvincing and there are strong reasons to believe that it was manufactured or doctored to implicate him in a false case. He has been hounded and persecuted by the police and the authorities in Chhattisgarh for long and has suffered much for his commitment to the welfare of poor tribals in the state. He was even denied the normal right of bail after he was arrested in 2006 and it was after spending nearly two years in jail that he won freedom at the intervention of the supreme court.
Kashmir Times, 26 December 2010
An innocent man, human rights activist Binayak Sen, may spend the rest of his life in prison because he dared to go against the stream and talk about the state’s oppressive policies in Maoist areas. Perhaps dissent doesn’t qualify to be democratic enough. That is why we suddenly see the liberal use of sedition charges being slapped on people who do not agree with the State, or have a different point of view. Laws like sedition and Official Secrets Act, remnants of an imperial past, have been used for years to muzzle any kind of criticism or opposition by powers that be. But such charges were never invoked as a matter of routine. If they were, it didn’t much appear in the limelight. The problem today is not just the ruthless state. It is also how discourse, in media or academic circles, is manipulated and monopolised. It is tailor made faithfully toeing the official line without a whimper, forbidding informed opinion from percolating down to the masses.
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Doubtless as it is a victory for the human rights movement, civil society must salute the Supreme Court for its intervention that coincided with the assumption to power of a new national dispensation. The release on bail of Dr Binayak Sen (coram: Katju and Verma, JJ) carries a very timely and resounding message for the Chhattisgarh government and to an equal degree the Centre that for the past two years had ignored appeals from the world over for his release. Of particular interest must be what he has had to say after stepping out as a free man. He fears vindictive action by the Chhattisgarh government. To indulge in a fresh bout of repression will be as criminal as detaining him for the better part of two years without trial and without convincing evidence. Yes, he used to visit the jail, but as a doctor to treat the inmates many of whom were/are Maoists. The Chhattisgarh government has violated the law, doubtless encouraged by the imperviousness of the national government.
As a physician, Dr Sen has now ripped apart the grotesque abuse of human rights through the jail’s institutionalised bribery. The inmates have to bribe medical assistants for an injection, doctors do a favour by feeling the patient’s pulse and the medical fraternity has to be paid to be recommended for hospital admission. Dr Sen makes an understatement when he laments that “there is no human dignity in jail”. The subtext is a travesty of medical ethics, the Hippocratic oath and all that therein is. All this and more as part of the state’s counter-mobilisation against the Left radical. Dr Sen’s alleged offence of handing over one Maoist’s letter to another, while on a professional visit to the jail hospital, is small beer compared to the contrived and criminal indifference of the doctors. Despite successive victories in the elections to the state assembly, Dr Sen’s detention has been a blot on the BJP’s image, as damaging as its reckless handling of the Maoist movement. Quite the most suicidal option was the creation of Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored resistance oufit. For every Maoist killed, two are born. Just as for every Maoist freed, the administration probably makes sure that two are clapped up. Killing the Maoist as a form of public activity and arresting without proven charge do not add up to a policy. The Chhattisgarh BJP’s handling of the Maoists has been disastrous and morally-defeating. Dr Binayak Sen’s plight symbolises state repression.
The Hindu - Editorial
It is a symptom of the troubled times Indian democracy is passing through that the release on bail of an eminent human rights activist and medical practitioner, Dr. Binayak Sen — something that is routine for even individuals of questionable repute accused or convicted of heinous crimes — should be an occasion for relief and joy. Nobody is questioning the right of the State police to file a case and to have insisted on the custody of Dr. Sen when evidence first surfaced about his alleged involvement with the banned Maoist party. But the denial of bail was mean and vindictive and intended to serve no purpose other than to punish the accused by the sheer weight of process — he spent two years in a Chhattisgarh prison. Certainly there was no question of Dr. Sen fleeing, since he had voluntarily turned himself in for questioning when he first learned the police were looking for him. The fact remains that none of the witnesses the police produced before court were able to corroborate the official charges. No wonder it took just two minutes for the Supreme Court to set him free on bail.
Welcome though the release of Dr. Sen is, it is essential that public attention continue to remain focussed on the appalling state of affairs in Chhattisgarh. The State government’s vigilante anti-insurgency campaign known as Salwa Judum is currently under the scanner, thanks to a PIL pending before the Supreme Court. A specially commissioned report by the National Human Rights Commission has catalogued scores of gross human rights violations and the apex court, by way of interim instructions, has asked the State authorities to provide compensation to the victims of Salwa Judum and facilitate their rehabilitation. Not only has the Raman Singh government dragged its feet on this crucial matter, it has also targeted the activists and the NGOs that are trying to help the internally displaced tribals who want to return to their native villages. On May 16, for example, the State authorities demolished the premises of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in Dantewada run by the respected Gandhian, Himanshu. The pattern that is emerging from the State’s actions is very clear: Chhattisgarh does not intend to tolerate any criticism of its policies. It is imperative for the re-establishment of the rule of law and the protection of the basic rights of the people that Salwa Judum is abandoned so that the tens of thousands of people whose homes and livelihood have been destroyed by the cycle of vigilante and Maoist violence are given a chance to return home.
By Antara Dev Sen
Home > OP Ed
It took two years of sustained shaming to get Dr Binayak Sen out on bail. The state had been stoutly ignoring the worldwide chorus of appeals and angry protests since the doctor and civil rights activist’s arrest on flimsy charges back in May 2007.
Now the Supreme Court has finally ordered his release from custody on a personal bond, on grounds of ill health. While this is lovely news, it is not really a victory of civil rights over state repression. In fact, that the state had managed to keep Dr Sen behind bars for so long without evidence, ignoring the international outcry and unrelenting national protests for two years, shows us what our wonderful democracy has been reduced to.
No, I am not being churlish at a moment of jubilation. Just cautious. Remember that Dr Binayak Sen is just the most high profile of many civil rights activists around India who are being harassed, tortured and even killed by government agencies for speaking up against state repression. Remember that the horrific terror laws they are held under are still firmly in place. Remember that Dr Sen had been protesting human rights violations of the tribals in Chhattisgarh by a state government keen to label critics Maoists and kill them in fake encounters, that he was arrested following his investigations into the murder of villagers by the police and state-supported Salwa Judum. The vicious Salwa Judum that carries out ethnic cleansing in the tribal areas (many say to further corporate agendas in this resource-rich belt) and had reportedly clapped almost 50,000 people in concentration camp-like conditions. Remember that more than a year ago, the Supreme Court had declared that band of vigilantes illegal.
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