[Ppnews] Indian Poplitical Prisoner Binayak Sen

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 15 12:37:49 EDT 2008

May 15, 2008

The Case of Binayak Sen

Indian Jailbirds


A year on and Dr. Binayak Sen is still being 
detained in a Chhattisgarh prison. Sen is a 
public health specialist and national Vice 
President of the People’s Union for Civil 
Liberties.  In April this year, he was conferred 
the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and 
Human Rights.  He is due to receive it at the end 
of this month.  The Global Health Council was 
polite in its letter to the President of India 
and the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.  ‘Please 
consider finding the means to allow him to receive his award in person.’

The Chhattisgarh authorities barely stirred.  For 
them, the good doctor is knee deep in the 
Naxalist campaign waged by the Communist Party of 
India (CPI).  In providing medical treatment to 
Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal in the Raipur 
jail, Sen purportedly aided and abetted Sanyal’s 
‘anti-national’ activities.   The charges were 
more than suspect: the meeting had taken place 
with the full knowledge and permission of the Deputy Superintendent of Police.

With his detention on charges of sedition, Sen 
joined an assortment of human rights activists 
who are filling India’s jails.  Journalist and 
civil rights activist Lachit Bordoloi was 
arrested in February for his links with the 
United Liberation Front of Asom.  Praful Jha, a 
journalist from Chhattisgarh, was arrested in 
January for alleged links to the CPI.  Ditto 
Govindan Kutty, editor of the monthly journal 
People’s March based in Kerala and fellow 
journalist Prashant Rahi.  Allegations of torture 
abound.  While India seduces the West with its 
economic prowess, it is gradually strangling its political dissenters.

The government in New Delhi gives the impression 
of being under siege.  In some ways, it is.  A 
spate of bombings over the last few years, the 
deadliest being the attacks in Jaipur in March, 
have rattled officials.  In his National Day 
speech in August 2006, India’s Prime Minister 
Manmohan Singh saw Naxalism and terrorism in 
general as the two biggest threats to India’s 
internal stability.  Such threats are being 
countered with a vigor that is alarming the human rights fraternity.

Anti-insurgency campaigns tend to be fraught with 
crude euphemisms.  Law makers and law enforcers 
often resemble a cadre of creative writers: they 
seek to draft statutes that inculpate rather than 
clarify; they charge suspects with inventive 
crimes.  In such a climate, the Indian Penal Code 
and the Criminal Procedure Code have been relegated as inconvenient hurdles.

Such campaigns are also characterized by a 
conspicuous use of ‘irregular’ activity.  If 
insurgents wage war with cloak and dagger (or in 
the case of the Naxalites, axes), the authorities 
will respond in kind.  Enter the civilian militia 
organization, Salwa Judum, part of Sen’s prison dilemma.

When it first appeared on the Indian political 
scene in 2005, the group was described as a 
spontaneous uprising against the Communist Party 
of India, a manifestation of indigenous (or 
adivasi) dissatisfaction with Maoist repression. 
A closer inspection by the PUCL in April 2006 
revealed a ‘state-organized anti-insurgency 
campaign’. Sen has been vocal in condemning it.

With government assistance, ostensibly to combat 
Maoist insurgents, the Salwa Judum milita has 
proven its mettle against tribal minorities.  Its 
violence in Dantewada District within 
Chhattisgarh is undisputed, a mixture of threats, 
retaliation and a scorched earth policy.  Tens of 
thousands of residents have been displaced, 
relocated to ‘relief camps’.  These are potential 
deathtraps, given the dearth of 
amenities.  Authorities underline Maoist excesses 
and measures – those of the Salwa Judum are 
hailed as proportionate counter-measures.

The authorities have various legal weapons at 
their disposal, the Chhattisgarh Special Public 
Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA), and the particularly 
brutal Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 
1967.  These have been collectively known as the 
‘Black Laws.’ The previous statute covering the 
subject, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, had 
been given a pasting by activist groups.  Its 
abolition in 2004 was cold comfort to 
reformers.  The legislative debris of POTA was 
merely absorbed into the ‘Black Laws’ of 2004.

The CSPSA, a creature of the Bharatiya Janata 
Party, broadened the criminal emphasis on 
‘unlawful’, targeting those with tendencies to 
disrupt public order.  Reportage on supposedly 
‘terrorist’ groups and activities is strictly 
prohibited, so we are none the wiser as to what 
is actually going on amongst ‘terrorist’ 
organizations.  The UAPA facilitates lengthy 
detention periods without trial and a requirement 
for reasonable evidence.  Secrecy and concealment 
of government abuses is thereby assured.

Sen’s detention has sparked outrage.  22 Nobel 
Prize winners have expressed ‘grave concern’ at a 
jailing which violates the freedoms of opinion, 
expression and association protected by the 
International Covenant on Civil and Political 
Rights.  But many will follow his footsteps as 
prison benchwarmers.  The catalogue of abuses by 
the Indian government, at federal and local 
level, will only grow.  And Sen is unlikely to be 
Washington on May 29 to receive his award.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at 
Selwyn College, University of Cambridge.  He can 
be reached at: <mailto:bkampmark at gmail.com>bkampmark at gmail.com.

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