And now it's the turn of Dada's wife Dr. Ilina Sen (whom I call Boudi), if the rumours being disseminated in Raipur for the last few days are to be believed. The spread of this rumour was first reported, as far as I am aware, by Praful Bidwai last week, and was subsequently repeated in e-mails circulating in the activist community. The Raipur police was reportedly about to arrest her as soon as she arrived in Raipur. Boudi was in New Delhi at the time, and took anticipatory bail. She has since arrived back home to Raipur, but I have been unable to contact her. The charge against her was that the allegedly "incriminating" material that was recovered earlier was found in their apartment, which is in her name. Boudi has considerable standing in the academic and activist community for her work, both as a scholar and a founder of Rupantar, a NGO that does medical, biodiversity and educational work in the surrounding villages, and has collaborated in various rural welfare programs with the state government. But as we saw with Dada, such things matter little when the state wishes to harrass its citizens.
A major demonstration protesting Dada's arrest has been organized for tomorrow. Unfortunately, it coincides with another demonstration in support of Amit Jogi, the son of the previous Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and currently held in Raipur Central jail on a murder charge. Therefore, the demonstration in Dada's support is likely to be swamped by the much greater attention drawn by Jogi's supporters. After observing the son's blog, where he has recorded Dada's arrest, it strikes me that it may be possible for the two demonstrations to be mutually supportive, but there may be political complications in doing so of which I am unaware. Although the Jogi's have by and large been supportive of Dada and Boudi in the past, I don't know how their relationship stands currently.
Besides, although it's very difficult for me to make an accurate assessment of the situation in Raipur from the conversations that I am having daily, it seems to me that the police are likely to have done a thorough job of smearing Dada's name, showing him in posters appearing all over town as a criminal. The local media too by and large would probably have played their usual role of faithfully toeing the government line. The people among whom he worked - mainly tribals and peasants and factory workers - live mainly in the villages and slums. Apart from a few sympathetic academics, activists and professionals, respectable middle class people probably don't meet him much, and may be largely unaware of his work, despite the fact that he and his family live in a middle class housing estate. To the extent "respectable" people know anything about the Salwa Judum movement, they probably see it as a force for the good, securing poor hard-working tribals against the depredations of the Naxalites. The public perception of Dada in Raipur town may therefore be at best mixed, and may even have turned against him. In the circumstances, it would be fairly easy for the state to portray him as a terrorist.
If the above speculative surmises have any truth at all, then the activist community - vocal and energetic as it is - faces the difficult challenge of changing the current perceptions among an uncaring public not only of Dada himself, but also of the conditions that make his work necessary. There is always a danger that the energies of activists are engaged in mustering support mainly among the politically aware minority who are already predisposed to be sympathetic to Dada and his work. In the process, it would be easy to lose sight of the far more difficult and longer-term task of addressing themselves to changing the perceptions of the silent or unsympathetic majority. The only way Dada can obtain justice is if the government itself, under pressure of public opinion, recognizes that Dada's medical and political work is needed for removing the violence of severe deprivation and expropriation that is engendering the violence of people pushed to the wall. Till that recognition comes, Dada will continue to be treated as an actual or potential terrorist.
For an understanding of the current situation in India that forms the backdrop for Dada's and Boudi's work, see this analysis by novelist turned political activist Arundhati Roy. For an understanding of the international environment within which India is trying to "shine", see this longish analysis by Michael Parenti.