By Subhash Gatade
26 July, 2007
Does anybody remember the Delhi bureau chief of Kashmir Times, Mr Iftiqar Gilani who was hounded by the BJP government on fraudulent charges under the draconian Official Secrets Act supposedly for possessing some ‘secret’ documents. Interestingly when it was revealed that all the ‘secret’ documents purported to be in possession of Mr Gilani were easily available online, then the law and order people had no other alternative than to release him.
The world very well knows that why Mr Gilani was treated in such a humiliating manner. The only ‘crime’ the accredited journalist had committed was that he happened to be son in law of a famous Kashmiri leader.
Today the same fate awaits Dr Binayak Sen – a paediatrician by training and profession and a human rights activist by choice. This receipient of the famous Paul Harrison award for work in community health has received a new identity. – A menace to public safety – The Chattisgarh police whose own record of human rights violations would shame even the KPS Gills, has used the provisions of the draconian Chhatisgarh Special Public Safety Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act ( a substitute for POTA ) to detain Dr Binayak Sen in the wee hours of 14 th May. And the recent high court order has even refused him a bail.
It has been more than twenty five years that Dr Binayak Sen left his job at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi to dedicate himself to serve the poor and the downtrodden in Chhatisgarh. It was the time when a new workers- peasants movement was taking shape in Chattisgarh ( which was then part of Madhya Pradesh) under the leadership of the legendary leader Shankar Guha Niyogi. The martyrdom of more than eleven workers in Dalli-Rajhara in the immediate aftermath of the assumption of power by the Janata Party government was a news all over the country. Binayak Sen never looked back and continued working for the people despite many highs-lows of the movement. He played an important part in the formation of Shaheed Hospital at Dalli-Rajhara, a hospital run by the workers for the other downtrodden sections of society.
To further his concern for the really needy Dr Binayak donned many roles. He worked on community health projects, ran a clinic, also ran a organic farm near Raipur and was also adviser to the Chhatisgarh government for its community health project called ‘Mitanin’. He found himself drawn into the fledgling human rights movement in the state when violations of human rights saw a quantum jump. But for his intervention ( of course alongwith other members of the civil liberty movement) the rest of the world would have never known the killing of twelve innocent tribals at Santoshpur by the security forces of the state supposedly to curb the Naxalite ‘menace’. (31st March 2007) He was instrumental in forming an all India fact finding committee of civil liberty organisations to look into ‘Salwa Judum’ a campaign of arming tribals started by the government and using them as mercenaries. The report brought out by these organisations was an eye-opener. It showed how the state government has even allocated budget for this campaign which it calls a ‘spontaneous response of the tribals towards the Naxalite ‘menace’.
It was only last year that Dr Binayak Sen, – alongwith other civil liberty organisations and activists – had taken the initiative to organise a Convention in Raipur. The aim of the convention was to highlight the precarious human rights situation in the state, but an important item on their agenda was to focus the attention about a sinister move by the Chhatisgarh government to silence every dissenting voice. In fact Raman Singh led government had already made decisive moves in the direction of enacting a new law ‘Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act’ (2006) which had several provisions similar to the (now lapsed) draconian POTA.
It was rigthly pointed out that the proposed act CSPSA not only included violation of the principle of certainty in criminal law (including vague definition of membership and support to terrorist organisations) but also absence of pre-trial safeguards (including insufficient safeguards on arrest, the risk of torture, obstacles to confidential communications with counsel). An important provision which rather made it worse than POTA was the ‘virtual impossibility of obtaining bail as there is no provision for remedy of appeal or review of detention.’
Little did any of the organisers or the participants to the convention had the premonition that Dr Binayak Sen himself would be charged under the act, detained for months together by denying bail on flimsy grounds.
Despite campaign by democratic rights activists which were joined in by voices of medical fraternity from the world over, the powers that be seem to be least concerned about his detention. For the powers that be it is not a matter of concern that world renowned intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Romila Thapar and several others have expressed their ‘opposition’ to this unwarranted detention of Dr Sen. For them it is not a big thing that 1500 doctors spread in different parts of the world who have been acquainted with the work of their fellow doctor have appealed to the Chhatisgarh government that he be released immediately and all false charges against him be dropped forthwith.
It should be added that ‘Medico Friend Circle'(MFC) – a thirty year old organisation of doctors who are working to make health services more accessible to the poor and who have consistently opposed the corporate control over people’s health, recently held a press conference in Raipur to oppose Dr Sen’s detention. In fact they showed the media a thirty minute CD based on the work of Dr Sen, who is closely associated with MFC’s work since his youth. In fact more than thirty well-known medical professionals spread in different parts of the country made it a point to be present in the Press meet and declare their solidarity with their comrade.
But leave dropping charges or releasing him, the courts are is not ready to grant him bail.Dr Sen has been charged with ‘a prima facie case that the applicant was involved with some banned organisation’ .The high court did not deem it necessary to grant interim relief despite knowing the fact that ‘ the said meeting between leader of a Maoist organisation and Dr Sen took place in the jail premises themselves’ in the ‘presence of jail officials’ and the letters which the police claimed to have seized from Mr Sen’s house were sent from the jail themselves with due stamp of the jail officials.
The Chhattisgarh PUCL has termed this order of the Chhattisgarh High Court as “unfortunate” as the Court has not appreciated all the material facts and evidence of the case as presented by the legal counsel for Dr. Binayak Sen during the arguments. It has also decided to move the Supreme Court so that the highest courts of the country can decide on the merit of the case. It has also resolved ‘to take stock of the alarming situation in Chhattisgarh with regard to ruthless use of repressive laws and anti-democratic actions of the State Government and, in turn, formulate future strategy and action plan to defend democracy and restore the rule of law.’
These days media is agog with news of another innocent doctor called Dr Haneef who has been apprehended by the Australian police. It is for everyone to see to what extent the Australian police went in proving that he is a ‘terrorist’. It is a mark of the vibrancy of the Australian civil society that people there have stood up in Dr. Haneef’s defence. The consistent campaign by the civil liberty organisations with due support from the media has helped expose Australian government’s highhandedness in l’affaire Haneef. It is a matter of time that Dr Haneef would be released.
One just wishes that much like their Australian counterpart, the civil society in this part of the globe also wakes up to the innocence of Dr Binayak Sen and tell the powers that be that ‘We want him out’ !
If the Australians can fight for the human rights of an Indian, should the Indians maintain a conspiracy of silence when one of their own is being brutalised by the state.