In the facade of Democracy

Article 19(1)(a) of The Indian Constitution says that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression, what it does not say is that if you practise that right, you will pay – BIG TIME! The Binayak Sen case is not only symbolic of the above but also the despotic abuse of authority that has been taking place for so long now, that it can be added as a right of the tyrant public officers, to the constitution of India. Reading Binayak Sen’s case felt like watching a typical court room drama scene from a movie in the nineties where the sadistic prosecution lawyer flicks his oily strand of hair, adjusts them with his hand turns to the podium with the saucy look on his face knowing that the other party is dead meat (atleast in that scene).  Paraphrasing the famous filmi dialogue, “Kanoon andha hai!”, pun intended it definitely holds true in Binayak Sens case where the ‘kanoon’ has very conveniently turned a blind eye and rewarded him with life imprisonment in return of human activism.

Talking facts, section 124A for sedition was added to the Indian Penal Code during the British rule, way back in 1860. It served the very convenient purpose of the British government to punish and get rid of the various freedom fighters who stood against the foreign rule. Thus this act is not only extremely obsolete but defeats the very purpose of a democracy along with crushing our fundamental right to freedom of speech. If there still exists such an act, it must be carefully looked into before passing any judgement. The apex court itself states that bigger the punishment, the more careful the investigative process should be. But in the case of Binayak Sen, Narayan Sanyal and Piyush Guha the court seems to be treading a path of its own, oblivious of the adverse consequences that not only the accused (now declared as ‘criminals’) but also the country will have to face. So even though our country is growing at a supernatural pace economically and the GDP might be sitting pretty on cloud nine, when it comes to human rights development we shamefully rank among the lowest. It is common sense that for a wholesome development of any country to take place, human development should act as the foundation to the economic growth. Sadly enough, that doesn’t happen in our country. We press so much on academic excellence, financial growth and making money that we conveniently ignore human development and its various facets. It is not a problem restricted to our dingy court rooms but is endemic within the society at large. We respect power more than responsibility. That is why we don’t salute to a guy in khadi carrying an ordinary jhola, we salute to ambassadors with red lights stuck to their heads. It doesn’t come as a surprise when journalists like Arundhati Roy and Binayak Sen are charged with sedition and all we do is sit infront of the idiot box and watch in silence. It not only thwarts their efforts but also scares away those who want to follow in their brave footsteps.

What further nags me is the chutzpah with which the presumptuous judgement has been passed. There have been various cases of sedition filed in the past, but none punishable or atleast the degree of punishment seemed fair. There seems to be a similarity between some of the previous cases on sedition and the Binayak Sen case but the judgements have been poles apart. He gave up his private medical practice and has been working for the upliftment of those below the poverty line since the very beginning of his career. He has been fighting against tuberculosis and malaria in various villages. Today the health workers of his clinic serve as much as 247 villages. Chhattisgarh has always been the focal point of his concern as the state stands among one of the most malnourished populations of the country. Ironically the state has signed one of the largest numbers of corporate memorandums for the purpose of digging out of state minerals, the only thing that the poor tribes of Chhattisgarh depend on for survival. Apart from poverty the state needs to deal with naxalism as well, atleast it should. So it did. The state deployed Salwa Judum for the purpose of curbing naxalite activity. Something like AFSPA, but with less powers.

In retrospect the government of Chhattisgarh has defies rationality. If your people are malnourished and dying it becomes your obligation to help them be better employed (along with other health and social facilities) by using the vast mineral deposit that the state is blessed with. But what relation does business has with common sense? The mother of all business is profit and Chhattisgarh should not just be a rich in minerals state, but a rich state. In addition to the Salwa Judum has been perpetrating atrocities on the tribal people. High numbers of custodial deaths, fake encounters and rapes have been taking place in the name of People’s Peace Movement.

As the president of the PUCL and moreover as a ‘human’ being Binayak Sen demanded an explanation for all the atrocities taking place in the name of development. PUCL demanded the agreements between the government and the private companies to be made more transparent so that the ideal beneficiaries of these deals, the poor and destitute are aware of what they are in for and what is in for them. But the whistle-blower got a blow himself. He was arrested in 2007 and has spent two years in jail. The FIR accused him of acting as a messenger between Narayan Sanyal (a member of the politburo of the banned organization, CPI(Maoist) and Piyush Guha (an ordinary business man). PUCL was referred to as a Maoist front organisation, 97 prosecution witnesses were produced (most of them policemen) and Binayak Sen was put behind bars.This is definitely not the way a democracy works, I am sure a 5th grade student would also realise but a district judge, 97 witnesses, the home-minister and the government could not.

Binayak Sen is no average person. A guy who gave up his private practice for the goodwill of the underprivileged and stood up for their rights at every step definitely doesn’t deserve such treatment. And if the government of this country doesn’t understand the simple way, we are not afraid to take the highway!

Himanshi Chaudhary