On February 15, Binayak's wife Dr. Ilina Sen, who is a sociologist and professor of Gender Studies at the Mahatama Gandhi International Hindi University at Wardha, was invited to open the VIBGYOR International Film Festival 2009 at the Sangeet Natak Academy at Thrissur, Kerala.
Here is the speech she gave at the inauguration of the film festival. Within its very short compass, the speech manages to raise questions about the quality of justice in the state of Chhattisgarh and indeed in the country and the pattern of development that we as a country have chosen for ourselves.
The thematic focus of this year's festival was food sovereignty, an issue that has been close to both Binayak and Ilina's work with Rupantar since its founding.
Meanwhile, another session of Binayak's trial has come and gone. Once again the witnesses appeared and failed to support the case for the prosecution. This time, yet another jailer came forward to confirm what his colleague had confirmed last month - that it would have been impossible for Binayak to carry documents from Narayan Sanyal out of the jail without the knowledge of the jailers. Why one needs a witness to confirm this is beyond me, when it was already clear since Binayak's arrest that all meetings had occurred with the approval of the highest police authorities, and all documents handled by Binayak from Narayan Sanyal already had the stamp of aproval of the jail superintendent. In relation to charges in the second charge sheet regarding Binayak receiving large sums of money into his account from suspicious sources, the deposition of the bank officials failed to substantiate this charge.
This trial is expected to go on indefinitely until all the charges - including frivolous one relating to phone calls Binayak is supposed to have made to our mother (for goodness' sake!) - are shown to be without foundation. By which time, the state would no doubt have come up with a third charge sheet....
And so it goes. That's 21st century Indian justice for you.
The differences between the American Guantanamo system and ours are that (a) in Binayak's case, they have not waterboarded or otherwise tortured him; and (b) the Americans had to devise legal fictions such as illegal alien combatants and create special presidential edicts that do not apply to American citizens to entrap foreign citizens into a carceral trap from which release would be extremely difficult, whereas we Indians have gone one better - we manage to put our own citizens who are dissidents and suspects or just plain innocent into a Kafkaesque judicial trap, within our own existing system of laws. The only prospect of release, if it is permitted at all, is through the never ending charade of a legal process.
My, aren't we clever!
Over to Dr. Ilina Sen...
I feel greatly privileged and suitably humbled to be with all of you today and to inaugurate the fourth edition of the Vibgyor International documentary film festival. We have all worked and waited for this day; personally for me this represents a recognition of the work of Binayak Sen and his comrades in Chhattisgarh to be able to build a better world for the tribals and toiling people of the region. I am grateful to the human rights activists in Kerala who have agreed to step up the campaign for Binayak’s release.
Binayak Sen has today become an icon for the right of people to hold dissenting political and public opinion, to have the right to chose the kind of development model they want for themselves, and for the rights of all to basic legal safeguards in accordance with the constitution. He is in jail now for over 20 months because he was a vocal opponent of the Salwa Judum, a state sponsored vigilante militia let loose on the people of South Bastar in the name of curbing Naxalites. The fact that he visited a Maoist prisoner in jail has been used to fabricate a case alleging that he was involved in anti national and seditious activity. While we strive for the freedom of Binayak, it is important to remember that he is not the only one imprisoned in this way under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. Over one thousand persons are languishing in the various jails of Chhattisgarh, labelled as threats to Public Security, under this Act. It is symptomatic of the malaise of our system that the first arrest under the act was of a class 12 girl student, whose male friend is supposed to have had unsuitable political views. These large number of arrests and the general repression has driven much of the public dissent underground, and many people live in fear of speaking their minds. However, whatever is happening to the intelligentsia is being felt and lived many times over by the tribal people of our state.
The Adivasi people of Chhattisgarh are the inheritors of great natural resources and a rich cultural life. However, with the creation of the new state and its push to ‘develop’ the mineral resources and open them up to world markets, a saga of loot and plunder has begun. Lands are being acquired for ‘projects’ in total circumvention of constitutional safeguards like the mandatory consent of the gram sabhas under the fifth schedule operative in these areas. Once again it is symptomatic of the malaise that it was the now ill reputed firm of Price Waterhouse Cooper which was invited to draw up the Vision Plan for the state of Chhattisgarh, and not the spokespersons of peoples’ organizations in the state. Our government showcases adivasi culture through its presentations of tribal music and dance at the Republic Day Parade; however, this will not by itself save the adivasis from extinction, which the salwa judum and the policies of the government seem determined to achieve.
I want to end with saying that the situation I am describing is not only limited to Chhattisgarh. Many indigenous areas, in India and all over the world, are facing a similar situation. Documentary film makers have in the past played an important role in sharing the stories of these areas with the world. The challenge for them to continue to do so, and to remain the keepers of our conscience remains.I am sure the challenge will be accepted frontally not only by the established documentary film makers, but also by the younger generation waiting to grow with the times.