Posts Tagged ‘Mahatma Gandhi
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.
Last Tuesday, January 4, was the birthday of a man I met for the first and only time at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences one year ago, in December 2009. It was a brief meeting. He was there to give a lecture, and I, to attend it. I wanted to interview him later, so I introduced myself and took his number.
That interview did not materialise, but for the past couple of weeks, this man has been in my thoughts. His name is Binayak Sen. Regular readers of this column must be wondering where am I going with this — where’s all the funny stuff? Well, this week, I have only one joke to share.
Frankly, it is a terrible joke, the worst one I have heard in a long time. But it is an old joke, a joke that must be told, and it’s a one-word joke. Here it is: s-e-d-i-t-i-o-n.
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