UPDATE OF MAY 1 2008: See this update on the first day of the trial from the Chhattisgarh branch of the People's Union of Civil Liberties of which Dr. Sen is an office bearer. Download pucl_trial_update_30.4.'08.pdf
Justice in India is notoriously slow - unless you happen to be a large company or a celebrity employing expensive lawyers.
Nearly a year after his arrest on May 14, 2007, Dr. Sen's trial began today in the face of mounting opposition to his continued incarceration, and increasing recognition of his life's work in promoting health with social justice. The trial will continue till May 3, after which, if necessary, the case will be adjourned till after the summer holidays. I understand the prosecution is bringing eighty-five witnesses to testify to his alleged membership of a terrorist organization to wage war on the state. Today, the court had time for only one of them. The defence lawyers reportedly demolished his testimony without much difficulty, showing it to be entirely concocted. Tomorrow there will be two witnesses. The day after two more, perhaps. And so it goes...for all eighty five of them. And we are supposed to be glad that our justice system works.
The court also initially restricted access by his supporters to the trial to allow only one. This flies in the face of the principle of a public trial recognized in all democracies. Eventually all were allowed in after a security inspection at which one visitor was discovered carrying a foldable knife. The local media were instructed by the authorities to make much play of this, and they duly complied. Was he an agent provocateur? It wouldn't surprise me if he was.
Dr. Sen was left waiting outside the court in the 50 degree Celsius heat (presumably under armed escort) for the two other accused to turn up. Eventually, after some prodding by Kavita Srivastava, the Inspector General of Police agreed to hasten their appearance.
Yesterday, Sahara TV aired a half-hour program on its national channel about Dr. Sen, his work and his imprisonment, locating these in the context of the social conditions in Chhattisgarh. But the democratically elected government in Raipur blocked access to the programming.
I leave it to the reader to judge whether these are only the latest in a long line of measures that indicate the Stalinist direction that the state has decided to adopt in its zeal to mislead the public about the growing crisis in the country.
It is mildly encouraging to note that the reliance of the state on draconian laws to silence those who could mediate in solutions to the conflict has drawn a gentle rebuke from the former Director of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW, the foreign intelligence agency in India) as well as even the current Chief Justice.
Meanwhile, my brother rots away in jail., even while the difference between the Chief Justice's position and his own on the need to stop Salwa Judum and state abuse of human rights appears to vanish. And even while a former Director of Intelligence suggests that locking up people like Dr. Sen is a mistake. There are those who argue that no matter how saintly my brother may be, the law must take its own course. I too see no alternative to this. But where I differ from them is that they will not admit the possibility that the state itself may have turned criminal in supporting the Salwa Judum, as the CJI himself suggested in his hearing of the PIL against the state of Chhattisgarh.