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Making an Example of Binayak Sen

by Mukul Dube, 1 January 2011

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(To appear in Republic Day special issue of "Mainstream" weekly)

Give a lathi to a dim-witted psychopath and his new ability to break heads and limbs with it will soon have him drunk on power. He will want ever bigger lathis with which to wreak more destruction.

In its action against Binayak Sen the State has been that imbecile villain. It seems reflexively to have selected the most destructive weapon in its arsenal: the charge of sedition.

It is beyond comprehension how a physician who works for the poor, and who attempts to prevent their further exploitation and further violence against them, can bring down the edifice of State. Yet that is what a court of law has declared to be true.

The judgment of the Raipur sessions court against Binayak Sen is unlikely to stand up to scrutiny, given that a crucial piece of the “evidence” appears to have been fabricated by the Chhattisgarh police and that other parts were described by the Supreme Court last year as circumstantial. For the present, though, the man is a sentenced criminal in prison.

I think it is wrong to hold Chhattisgarh alone responsible, or a judge of a lower court. We must consider also Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s frequent presenting of Maoism as the “greatest menace”, etc.; Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s threat to hound those who even obliquely express sympathy for the Maoists; Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi’s ostensibly neutral statement in which he says, in fact, that the judiciary cannot be wrong; and the recent echoing by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee of his chief’s line. The matter is much larger than Chhattisgarh: the Central Government is not an onlooker.

There is every reason to believe that an example has been made of Binayak Sen. By trying and sentencing him, the State has sent out this message to others who voice dissent: “Behave yourselves, or this is what will happen to you too.”

There are, in Chhattisgarh, thousands of ordinary people, mostly poor and unknown, who are being held without trial. Unlike Binayak Sen, they do not have well known friends and supporters across the country. There are few who are willing and able to fight for them. They may not be tried for sedition, but they may simply be killed – as has happened already to several.

It is time to turn the tables: to make an example of an example, as it were. If a well organised campaign to bring justice to Binayak Sen is successful, a message will be sent back to the State: “See what we did for one of your victims. That is what we will do for all your other victims. Behave yourselves.”

1 January 2011