DEMANDING RELEASE OF DR. BINAYAK SEN
DEMANDING RELEASE OF DR. BINAYAK SEN
Newsletter Jan – Apr 2008
A paediatrician, public health and civil liberties activist, Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested on 14 May 2007, at Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh by the Chhattisgarh police. For the past eleven months, he is being held at the Raipur central jail falsely charged under two laws: the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004 — accused as being member of an unlawful organisation and also for waging war against the State under Section 14/124 A of the Indian Penal Code. Dr. Sen’s arrest and imprisonment is a case of critical relevance. It has to be seen as an invasion by the State violating the democratic space available for political dissent. More so, in the context of new draconian laws like the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA) that violate the fundamental rights of the people in this country.
Dr. Sen is the national Vice-President of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the General Secretary of its state unit. As a medical professional and as a civil rights activist, he has been working with the marginalized sections of the community in Chhattisgarh for the past 30 years. His years of work among the adivasi community made clear to him the deeper connections between absence of fundamental human rights and basic health facilities among the poorest of this community. His contribution to a meaningful development of public health for the poorest sections of people in Chhattisgarh, its peasants, adivasis and workers is of immense value and has been recognized by awards and honours he has received including the Paul Harrison Award from the Christian Medical College, Vellore in 2004 and the Keithan award by the Indian Academy of Social Sciences in December 2007 (which he was not allowed to receive in person). Dr. Sen and PUCL Chhattisgarh have been in the forefront to bring out the public apathy of the Chhattisgarh State towards the adivasi communities in the area and they have investigated the starvation deaths of adivasis and most recently, exposed the role of the Chhattisgarh State in the custodial mass killings of adivasis in March 2007 at Santoshpur.
When the police claimed to have found ‘incriminating evidence’ against him, no such documents could be produced in the court. While many hard-core criminals are allowed bail, the State is trying to portray Dr. Sen as a Maoist and has been consistently denying him bail. Regular hearings in the case against him will commence on 30 April. By 14 May 2008, Dr. Sen completes one year in prison without bail and denial of bail to him by the Supreme Court of India shows that the Indian State has some specific interests to safeguard in not letting him out even once. Both the visual and print media of the country did not give needed attention to his case and to some extent the local media in Chhattisgarh has played an active role in portraying a negative image of Dr. Sen. However, the last few months have seen innumerable protests against his arrest and the use/ misuse of the CSPSA, the UAPA, and sections like waging war from different organisations and individuals including medical professionals, development activists and democratic rights and human rights activists.
For the past many years, the state of Chhattisgarh has been experiencing a war-like situation. People of Chhattisgarh are victims of an aggressive corporate onslaught. These projects are supported and forcibly implemented by the Chhattisgarh State taking away the livelihoods of thousands of adivasis and other sections of the society while displacing them. This model of development focuses on the exploitation of the rich forest and mineral resources in the area. On the other side are people living for decades under extreme conditions of poverty without access to basic needs including health and education. The argument that new companies and projects in the area will bring employment and livelihood has hardly convinced the local people. A complete withdrawal of the State from providing the basic necessities and also its direct and blind collaboration with big private capital have convinced the tribal communities that such corporate projects are not going to address their survival issues. In this context, the local people have attempted to strongly resist their displacement and the sale of their land to the big companies.
The government’s desperate attempts to implement major mining projects in the area have led to increasing conflicts between the local people and the State machinery. One major role is played by the Maoist movement which has been active in this region for several years. To target Maoists and to pre-empt possible opposition from the people, the state government initiated Salwa Judum. Salwa Judum is an extra judicial force organised by the State consisting of the local mafia. Tension increased in the villages and Salwa Judum acting with the State police began a war of terror on the local people. As a result thousands of families from 644 villages were displaced and are forced to live till today in police camps. In these violent wars huge number of villagers are being kidnapped, murdered and raped by both the Salwa Judum and the paramilitary forces. In this context, while hearing a petition challenging the setting up of Salwa Judum, the Supreme Court recently said that arming local people in such a fashion is unacceptable, that the State will be abetting in a crime if these persons kill others.
Dr. Sen and PUCL, Chhattisgarh revealed the truth about numerous such incidents through their investigative reports. It is clear that these findings were in conflict with the interests of the mining mafia and the State machinery and their revelation would certainly lead to unmasking this nexus. Dr. Sen is accused of supporting the Maoist movement in the area. PUCL’s opposition to operation Salwa Judum is being portrayed as its support to armed struggle. The state has been targeting him armed with the draconian laws of the CSPSA and UAPA.
Dr. Sen is certainly not the only one arrested. There have been many such arrests in the past year, where increasing number of civil liberties, human rights and democratic rights activists from different parts of the country are being arrested and put in jail for supporting people’s struggles against corporations taking away their livelihood. These arrests are an attack on democracy and fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens of this country. It reveals the nature of the Indian State which is siding with big corporate interests to crush civilians who are demanding their rights to define and decide the form of development they would want. These struggles of people are only going to intensify. The people of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and many other places and activists like Dr. Sen are paying a heavy price.
Earlier this month Dr. Sen has been put in solitary confinement. Now the court is insisting on not allowing his supporters and friends to be present during his trial. One can only imagine the plight of other under trials if this can be the stance towards a much publicized case.
A campaign has been initiated from different arenas - the civil rights and democratic rights groups in support and solidarity with Dr. Sen in these past eleven months. Committee for the Release of Dr. Binayak Sen, Delhi (which Saheli is also a part of),Chennai, Vellore, Bangalore etc., Medico Friends Circle, People's Health Campaign, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU, Jamia Samvad, a student platform at Jamia Millia lslamia university and other platforms and individuals are consistently organising events and contributing to fighting the court case of Dr. Sen. Be it through a cultural programme on the right to dissent and protest, medical camps for daily wageworkers, holding of a seminar on State Repression and Democracy in India or initiatives to hold regular Free Binayak Sen Medical Camps for the urban and rural poor. Also, the Indian Association of Women's Studies at its XII Conference held in Lucknow in February 2008 passed a unanimous resolution condemning draconian laws like the UAPA and the CSPSA, and demanding his immediate release. There are also plans for a national level coordinated campaign on 14 May 2008 in solidarity with Binayak and many others like him to support the cause of democracy and fundamental rights in this country. We, at Saheli demand the unconditional release of Dr. Binayak Sen and demand the repeal of UAPA and CSPSA immediately.
For more information on the campaign, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also check the following websites:
www.freebinayaksen.org, www.mfcindia.org, www.pucl.org, www.pudr.org