Sunday, May 18, 2008

Some thoughts about Binayak Sen

Much has been written about Binayak Sen's incarceration, most recently by Harsh Mander in today's Hindu. I know next to nothing about the case and a superficial trawling of the net has produced little more than what has already been reported. In general my sympathies lie with those who have been unfairly found to be at the wrong end of the full majesty of the law (and frequently the majesty is found to be without clothes). In this respect however, there are a couple of facts that I couldn't help noticing. Even assuming that the Chattisgarh High Court has a partisan view of the matter, why is it that the Supreme Court of India has seen fit to reject his bail application? Assuming that the Supreme Court is not equally partisan (after all, in recent times, the highest court of the land has seen fit to overturn or put a stay on numerous decisions of the Government) is there something more to this case than meets the eye? Secondly, in the list of Nobel Laureates who have signed the petition to free him, a conspicuous missing name is that of Amartya Sen. For someone who has always been at the forefront in the defense of democratic values, his absence from the list of signatories is indeed odd. (Curiously, there are a couple of well known physicists in the list -- Cohen-Tannoudji and Charles Townes - I wonder how much they really know of this case). The comrades are, of course, mostly absent from the list of those calling for Dr Sen's release (unless one counts an editorial in The Hindu asking that he be released). This is not surprising considering that they are fighting a bitter battle with the Naxalites in Nandigram and elsewhere and there is clearly no love lost between the 'M' and the 'M-L' . I would appreciate any information or links to information that people might give, which will cast some more light on this issue, beyond what the press and internet (at least superficially) have to offer. However, whatever be his transgressions, there seems no justification for his incarceration for 10 years and all reasonable minded people should agitate against it. For some differing perspectives, look at Gyanoprobha This is a blog run by Gautam Sen, brother of Binayak Sen. It is necessarily a one sided view of the issue but has some pertinent viewpoints with which it is possible to agree. It also has links to differing views which is refreshing. Another article by Dr. Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, blames the Government, Salwa Judum as well as the Naxalites for the uncontrolled violence throughout the state. As she says How does blowing up policemen, shooting at a Collector, attacking camps and destroying schools and transformers, lead to any change in the system?. More recently, I would say, how does attacking innocent train passengers and killing the driver help in furthering the cause of the adivasis, in whose name the Naxals seem to speak. Aside: Leaving out Kashmir, an interesting fact which appears to be true is that Naxal violence has killed more people in India than Islamic terrorism. Frequently Naxal massacres and raids on villages number in the hundreds, compared to numbers in the tens in the case of Islamic terrorism related killings. Are there any sites which give comparative figures? The Naxals also seem better at PR -- many in the intelligentsia think that their cause (and hence their large-scale killing of innocents in their many raids) is more just than that of say, the jehadi terrorists.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

The question is, what exactly is Binayak Sen accused of? Beyond "links with Maoist rebels" I see nothing concrete on any side. Is this sufficient to jail a man for a year? I believe many members of the PUCL have had "links with Maoist rebels" in one way or another. Sen denies supporting them in any way; he only says he gave one of them medical attention, which he says was their right (and surely we all agree), and nobody has accused him of doing more than that.

I'm afraid I don't share your high opinion of the Supreme Court. Many of their "public interest" rulings in Delhi were questionable, and in particular I am yet to see a clear rebuttal of the charges against former CJ Y. S. Sabharwal. Meanwhile they are quite happy to put dissenters, like Arundhati Roy, in jail for "contempt". (As did the Delhi High Court to Sabharwal's accusers.) In other words, it is contempt, in their view, to question anything they do.

Anant said...

It is clear that on one in his or her right mind can defend blowing up trains, police stations and killing drivers and constables. It solves nothing and adds only to the climate of uncertainty from which state agencies can further benefit in carrying out repression. Why not treat each such incident as a proper law and order problem and have it investigated and bring those responsible to book? Is that not what the long of the arm is for? What is instead done, is to simply wipe out all sorts of individuals and simply cover it up in the name of fighting naxalism. In any case, I do not see the link between criticizing the activities of Maoist groups and trying to understand the Binayak Sen case. Why muddy the waters by bringing up the Naxal issue when talking about Binayak Sen? It should be a separate post. It has been repeatedly stated in numerous places that there is simply no case against Binayak Sen that can actually stand up in a court of law. There is no evidence of any wrong doing. He is being detained under what really are black laws. This is simply repression, from beginning to end. The Supreme Court in not admitting the bail petition has upheld the constitutionality of the black laws. In our set up, the Supreme Court can only interpret the Constitution and the laws enacted by Parliament and State Assemblies. So the mis-carriage of justice is not so what the Supreme Court has done, but about what kind of laws are being passed by our Legislative bodies.

Rahul Basu said...

Anant: The reason for conflating the two issues is that Binayak Sen has been accused of acting as a courier between Narayan Sanyal and the cadres during his 33 visits to Sanyal in jail. That is the legal case -- whether true or not. So one cannot say the two are independent issues.

In any case, as I say in my blog, being a sympathiser to a cause, however misguided, should not earn a person 10 years in jail, if there is no evidence of direct involvement.

It is also not enough to say that the Supreme Court was just implementing and interpreting the laws set up by Parliament and Legislatures. The Court is also supposed to go into the validity of the case against the allegedly guilty person by weighing the evidence. If there is indeed no evidence of wrong-doing as you say, why was the bail petition not admitted?

It would be nice to have some answers rather than rhetoric.

Anant said...

Thanks for the comment. One would be amazed to know that the bail petition for such an important case was dismissed in about a half-hour by the Hon. Supreme Court. As far as I know, no reasons were given by the court. Yes, I know that the Court is supposed to rule on the principles of justice of such laws. But it chose not to! Under such laws, a person can be detained for 3 years. I don't know how being a `courier' can be a cognaizable offence. Tomorrow if I take a matchstick from a Maoist, can I also go to prison? It is getting to be a Kafaesque nightmare?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

The courier allegation is discussed here (among other places). The letters (unsigned and innocuous) were recovered neither from Sen nor from Sanyal but from a third party; that person said in court that he was made to sign a blank declaration, presumably used to implicate Sen, after five days of torture.

The Supreme Court should at least have addressed all this in denying him bail.

Anonymous said...

I find it quite amazing how the liberal left glosses over the atrocities of the Naxalites. As Rahul mentions nothing exemplifies the gap between the woolly-headedness of the pseud-left and the pragmatism of the hard-left better than the Naxalite conflict. Having just returned from Nandigram, I find it amazing how the blogosphere has chosen to completely ignore the Naxalite-religious-fundamentalist nexus that is evolving there. Chandan Mitra has vaguely mentioned the likelihood of such an axis but it is actually rapidly turning out to be something very real. The Naxalite apologists have had their day in court. As for Binayak Sen let the law take its own course. Cohen-Tannoudji may want to consider dealing with racism in French academia before butting into something he has very little knowledge of