On November 2, 2007 eleven security personnel were killed in a blast and indiscriminate firing by Naxalites near Tonguda village close to the Pamed Police Station in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, not far from the Andhra Pradesh border. Grey-hounds from Andhra were brought in for combing operations. It is known that this area has been subjected to Salwa Judum earlier, a form of civil war, by the BJP Government on the Adivasi villages of Dantewada district. The investigations of numerous human rights organisations in Dantewada have brought to light extensive human rights violations earlier.
The recent incident also shows that the situation is in no way under control. It so happened that I had reached Raipur on November 3, 2007 morning in the hope to visit Dr Binayak Sen, the State General Secretary of the PUCL, in the Central Jail, where he has been held without being granted bail since May 14, 2007. Under the heightened alert, I was refused permission to visit Dr Sen on behalf of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, of which he had been a convenor in the State for several years. Dr Sen, a well-known pediatrician and an alumnus of the Vellore Medical College, also a recipient of its highest award—the Paul Harrison Award—in 2004, has been supported by a red alert of Amnesty International and numerous protests by activists, including international luminaries like Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen and Arundhati Roy. He has run a clinic for the poor in Bagrumnala, district Dhamtari since years, was the founder doctor of the Shaheed hospital conceptualised by the legendary trade union leader, Shankar Guha Niyogi, and his main crime appears to be that he has raised his voice consistently against the human rights violations under Salwa Judum. Medical activists are keeping up the functioning of the clinic in Bagrumnala. Though no shred of evidence has been produced whatsoever, Dr Binayak Sen is depicted as a hard- core Naxalite by the State Government.
Apart from reporting on human rights violations, his “crime” is to have visited prisoners in the jail as part of his responsibility as the General Secretary of the PUCL, for which of course he had police permission. He was in particular visiting Narayan Sanyal, a senior leader of the CPI-Maoist, who has been in jail in Raipur since April 2006. There are strong indications that Dr Binayak Sen is being framed. But while the Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world very honourably lost sleep over the case of Dr Mohammed Haneef, a Bangalore doctor, who was framed in Australia during the month of July 2007 as having been involved in the blast case at Glasgow Airport, we have not heard of him losing sleep over Dr Binayak Sen. Following are excerpts from an interview with Binayak Sen’s wife, Dr Ilina Sen, a senior activist in the women’s movement and Head of the Women Studies Department of Mahatma Gandhi International University in Wardha.
Question: How did Binayak Sen get involved with Narayan Sanyal?
Dr Ilina Sen: At the end of December 2005 a message came to the PUCL that a senior activist with Maoist background had been arrested. Journalists were not aware what this was about. When Binayak contacted Home Secretary B.K.S. Ray, he said after a few days that the arrest had been made by the Andhra Pradesh Police. At that time, the fact finding on Salwa Judum in Dantewada district by the APDR, PUCL Chhattisgarh, PUDR Jharkand and Indian Association of People’s Lawyers had already taken place. (See PUCL website of October/November 2005.)
Sanyal’s brother contacted Binayak and sought help to locate Narayan Sanyal. He reached Bilaspur on January 1, 2006 and on January 2 the habeas corpus was filed. The Chhattisgarh Police denied any knowledge, but the Andhra Pradesh Police said he had been picked up on the Andhra side, in an area bordering Dantewada. He was held in Andhra without charges till April and then released, only to be re-arrested in Chhattisgarh. Binayak took interest in Sanyal also as a doctor, because he needed a hand surgery which could not be done in the jail. This surgery was finally done successfully outside. N. Sanyal’s brother, who had brought clothes to his brother and money for the lawyer, suffered a heart attack in late 2006 and could no longer visit him. Instead, Piyush Guha, a business-man in tendu leaves from Kolkata, brought money to be given to the lawyer.
Question: What led to Binayak’s arrest?
Dr Ilina Sen: I had recently joined the Department of Women’s Studies in the M.G. International Hindi University in Wardha as HoD. On April 30, 2007, I took our daughters to Kolkata to visit Binayak’s mother. Binayak was to come on May 2. This was a family holiday planned long in advance. On May 1, 2007 Binayak held his clinic in Bilaspur. He also went to meet Piyush Guha in a hotel at 8.00 pm. The room was locked and the reception said Guha had gone out and was expected back soon. Binayak went out to take a meal, but on his return he was told that Guha had checked out without information. Binayak searched, but could not find him. He went to Kolkata as planned. On May 4, Guha’s wife called to say her husband had disappeared. Binayak referred her to the PUCL State President in Chhattis-garh, since he himself was on holiday. Guha was missing since May 1, but only on May 5 the PUCL reported it to the Chhattisgarh Police. The police said that a suspicious looking man had been arrested on way to Raipur station with a bag in which Rs 49,000 were found, Naxal literature and three handwritten letters from Narayan Sanyal; Guha is supposed to have said that Binayak gave them to him. Obviously, Binayak could not have met Guha, because he had disappeared and Binayak himself had come to Kolkata on May 2.
On May 9, friends from Raipur phoned us saying the police had put out a version that Dr Sen and his family were absconding in Kolkata. Due to this situation, his lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj had advised anticipatory bail. This could only be physically done in Chhattisgarh. So Binayak came to Bilaspur on May 14 and was arrested in Sudha Bharadwaj’s office.
Question: What is the incriminating evidence in the case?
Dr Ilina Sen: So far, not a shred of incriminating evidence has been produced. The police wanted to search our apartment on May 16, but since I am the owner and I was not present, the flat was sealed. I came on May 16 and insisted in court on May 17, 2007 that independent witnesses must be present. Already our farm house had been searched without any proper warrant. So I got a court order to bring independent witnesses for the house search and this took place on May 19. The police walked off with the hard disc of the computer, which was examined in Hyderabad. The result came on June 16, but it has not been made known. The charge- sheet was given on the 89th day after arrest. Ninety days is the limit. Binayak is supposed to be a hard- core Naxalite but the allegations made are of a completely general nature and without evidence. The postcards from Sanyal found in our house were written with permission of the jail authorities to the PUCL Secretary. The police says that Piyush Guha had three letters from Sanyal in his bag when arrested and he is supposed to have alleged that these were given to him from Binayak. Now the situation has worsened because there has been a tip-off to the police on October 31, 2007 that Narayan Sanyal had a cell phone in his underwear and a charger in his bathroom. He is said to have swallowed his SIM card.
Question: How do you experience the conditions in the jail?
Dr Ilina Sen: The food is terrible. Binayak has lost 17 kg of his weight. Half of the food supplements relatives bring are taken away by the police during fleecing. The roof leaks. Visits are only once a week for half an hour. One of the worst things is the court lock-up. The prisoners are herded to court in crowded vehicles. Binayak is kept separate for high security. The families are kept outside and yell to convey messages to the cages in the court room. Our children get very depressed by this situation.
The police suggested video-conferencing of Binayak’s case, but we refused that, because then he does not even have access to a lawyer.
Question: From November 1 to 7, 2007, the Chhattisgarh State Utsav is taking place, commemorating the formation of the State. What is your comment on “good governance”?
Dr Ilina Sen: It is a police raj. e- Governance (open source based) is advertised in view of the 2008 elections. But it is clear that the so-called peace campaign of the Salwa Judum has escalated the violence. The Utsav had to be stopped because of the ambush on the police, in which eleven policemen lost their lives. The exhibition at the Utsav displayed the guns captured from Naxalites and the police had a stand where the public could train their guns on Naxals (on mock-up screen) and practice to shoot them. The enormous poverty in the interior villages and the repression through Salwa Judum has to be addressed democratically. There is no indication of this either under the BJP Government, or in the Congress party.
Question: How do you see the situation of people’s movements in the State?
Dr Ilina Sen: The situation of the people’s movements is a tragedy, due to the overwhelming repression. Sangharsh aur Nirman was the slogan of the CMM under Niyogiji, but today where is the Mukti? The CMM and other activists are carrying on bravely and have supported Binayak with vigils and dharnas. The units in Bhilai, cultural groups and children’s groups have held up his memory as a doctor. The chargesheet depicts his medical work as negligible and just a cover. But doctors from Shahid Hospital in Dalli Rajara and Jan Swasthya Sahayog are running the clinic in Bilaspur without fail. The Jan Mukti Morcha has organised dharnas and burned the Chief Minister’s effigy. There has been an impressive expression of solidarity from the Medico Friends Circle, the Alumni of the Vellore Hospital in Tamil Nadu, the British House of Commons, Amnesty International, Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen, Arundhati Roy and many others.
But the situation is very depressing under globalisation. The culture of Chhattisgarh is crumbling. Raipur suffocates under the veneer of glittering shopping malls and consumerism, while Hindutva tries to synthesise the cultural pluralism and streamlines the indigenous culture into sanskritised Hinduism. There is a climate of militarisation, which suffocates democracy and leads to proliferation of armed resistance. The draconian laws in force in this State, like the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 and the UAPA of 2004, had to be signed by the President when they were passed, though the first one is only a State law. This shows how extreme the situation is. They need to be revoked, because they are only used to suppress any dissent, for example against privatisation of water (Sheonath river), non- implementation of labour laws, alienation of tribals from jal, jangal aur jammeen, struggle against mafia in land, water and liquor and corporate and contract business. A large number of organisations like the PUCL, PUDR, APDR, AIPL, CAVOW, ACHR, and International Association of People’s Lawyers have conducted independent inquiries, documenting hundreds of unaccounted for killings, rapes, burning of thousands of homes, destruction of livestock, grains and clearing of hundreds of villages, amounting to displacement of almost two lakh persons.
Question: What is your appeal?
Dr Ilina Sen: It is necessary to look at the facts. The chargesheet is full of general allegations without substance. Binayak has even been depicted as a Christian Missionary. Mr Sanyal is resourceful enough on his own. Binayak only did his duty as the General Secretary of the PUCL and as a doctor. He is widely known and respected as a doctor and human rights activist. Mr Piyush Guha has recently been implicated in an old bombing case in Purulia, in which there was never mention of him earlier. The arbitrariness of the State and the police is alarming. The case must be watched when it comes up in the Sessions Court. A nationwide campaign for restoration of democracy in Chhattisgarh would be very helpful.