Almost as if to wreak revenge on the activists who opposed the Salwa Judum and fought for for Binayak's release, the BJP government in Chhattisgarh practiced its usual brand of "good governance". On May 28, the district authorities demolished the premises of the Vanavasi Chetna Ashram, an NGO established in South Bastar by Himangshu Kumar seventeen years ago to develop an awareness among the adivasis about their rights, and advocate for them in their encounters with an uncomprehending and arrogant state machinery. It was the VCA that created a Human Shield project to protect tribals from the tender attentions of our national 'security' forces as the tribals returned to their villages after they were driven out by the Salwa Judum. Yet even the promise of the Chief Secretary for protection, or the force of law, couldn't save their office from destruction.
This is "good governance", BJP style. Their defeat in the elections seem to have touched a reflective nerve in this otherwise thuggish political party, but in Chhattisgarh it is "business as usual".
In his ruminations about human rights and good governance, Nitin Pai, among others, was insistent that human rights activists like Himanshu and Binayak should be emphatic in their condemnation of the Naxalites, otherwise they can't be taken seriously as advocates of law and order and peace. Nitin should take heed of Himanshu's argument, and one made by Binayak too in different ways: "The government accuses us of being Naxalites, but Naxals are out to prove that the system can’t work. We are strengthening the system, bringing trust back into it by asking questions, holding it accountable. We are friends of the system — it is the system that is destroying itself from within.”
In siccing its bulldozers on the ashram, and in keeping Binayak in jail for two years without being able to prove its charges, the Chhattisgarh administration seems to be determined to prove the Naxals right.
Far from the national gaze, the establishment practises a dangerous malevolence when confronted with its anti-people policies, reports SHOMA CHAUDHURY from Raipur and Dantewada. Photographs by SHAILENDRA PANDEY image
ONE YEAR ago, before the campaign on his behalf had gained m o m e n t u m , TEHELKA did a cover story on Binayak Sen — doctor and human rights activist, jailed on false charges under the draconian Chhattisgarh (People’s) Public Security Act (See TEHELKA: No Country for Good Men). On May 25, when Supreme Court judges Markandeya Katju and Deepak Verma took just sixty seconds to undo an injustice that had been wilfully perpetuated by the State for two long years, it should have been an occasion for another cover story, more celebratory, documenting among other things, Binayak’s wife, Ilina’s Herculean legal struggle for his release. But Binayak and Ilina’s story is merely symbolic of a much bigger, on-going and faceless struggle. And so, even as the human rights community exploded in joy with the May 25 victory, 400 kilometers from Raipur, another big battlefront was being opened.
It is two days after 59-year-old Binayak Sen got to go home. May 28, scalding, red dust everywhere, a hot loo blowing. A man in a white lungi and kurta sits under a leafy tree, listening to ten Gond tribals tell their story of how two nights earlier their village was looted. Every ration burnt. Every goat taken, every hen kidnapped. Not even a little chick left behind. The tribals have trekked from faraway Kamanar village in the hope that this man in white will help them access the ear of the State. It is a difficult proposition because it is the State that has looted the village: How do you lodge an FIR with the police when it is the police that have stolen your chickens?
As the man listens, his mobile rings. It is Raju, another tribal boy from village Lingagiri. Raju’s sister had been raped and shot through the mouth some time earlier, their father killed by a bayonet slicing through his stomach. Raju is calling now because there is no rice to eat in the village, people are dying of hunger. The man in white promises to do something. Send rice. Call the district collector. Do anything he can to try and staunch the inhuman civil war going on in central India below the radar of national media.
THIS IS Dantewada, a remote district in the south Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. The man in white is Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian human rights activist from Meerut who has been working in Dantewada for 17 years. And the war is an old triangular one: between the State, the Naxals, and the tribals — cleft violently from within by the infamous government-sponsored Salwa Judum.
As he listens to the troubled stories swirling around him — trying to give it voice, trying to draw the nation’s attention — a vast debris stretches behind Himanshu. He himself has been brutally looted a few days earlier. On 17 May, a day after the Lok Sabha election results, a police force of over 500 surrounded Himanshu’s Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, ten kilometers from Dantewada town. He was given half an hour to wrap up two decades of work. Then, the bulldozers moved in. They broke everything: home, dispensary, dormitories, training halls, kitchen, telephone towers (sanctioned by the government itself), swing, even a lone hand-pump that was the only source of clean water for the villages around. “Like skimming malai from milk”, says Veena, Himanshu’s wife.
As the bulldozers stamped the ashram out, it began to rain. Himanshu and Veena sat under a tree with their daughters — Alisha, 12, a student of Rishi Valley School, and Haripriya, a spunky 7-year old — and watched. Alisha began to cry. “I told her, if you do good work, you have to be ready for the tough times. I am glad they saw it happen. It was good training for my daughters,” says Himanshu. (It was good training for others too. The police caught two students from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru who were visiting for field work and beat them. They yanked a journalism student, Veronica, by the hair and beat Javed Iqbal, a young freelance photographer from Mumbai, who had been travelling in the interiors, photographing the State’s assault on its villagers.)
WE VISIT the ashram site ten days later. Demolished is a poor word. Erased is more accurate: erased with an implacable anger: an obscene violence. There is nothing there but crushed cement and strewn papers. A tiny pink crocus that has escaped the bulldozers droops in the heat. For 17 years, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram had functioned as a kind of fine nerve connection between the tribals and a forgetful State. Come from distant Meerut and Delhi, painstakingly learning Gondi, Himanshu and Veena had focused on teaching tribals about their entitlements, traveling on foot into villages deep inside the forests, slowly tugging isolated communities into the democratic system. Building concepts of community monitoring: what government schemes had been announced in their name, how were they to access them, how were they to hold corrupt officials to account, how were they to file FIRs and applications, how were they to demand teachers in their schools. “Our work was to strengthen democracy at the roots,” says Himanshu, bending down to pick up a paper fluttering in the rubble. It’s a pamphlet teaching tribals how to vote. Another sheaf of papers lying in the dusty ground documents which children are in school, and why others are out. “The government accuses us of being Naxalites, but Naxals are out to prove that the system can’t work. We are strengthening the system, bringing trust back into it by asking questions, holding it accountable. We are friends of the system — it is the system that is destroying itself from within.”
Rani Devi is one among a few tribals standing mutely at the site. “I don’t feel like eating,” she tells Himanshu. “My head has been spinning since this happened. I feel dizzy. You have to rebuild the ashram here.” There are other tribals standing around whose own homes have been burnt nine or 10 times by the police and Salwa Judum vigilantes. They know what it is to be raped, driven out of their homes, live on the run, live without food. They know what it is to be booked under false charges and what it is to be beaten when you go to complain about an injury. Their stoic silence — their unspoken understanding as they look at the wasted remains of the ashram — tells you they also know how to live without the hope of justice. The demolition of the ashram is part of the State’s illegal war against its own people. Part of a wilful intimidation of human rights workers
The demolition of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram is part of the Chhattisgarh state’s on-going and illegal war against its own people. Part of a wilful and cynical intimidation of human rights workers who dare to ask questions. Binayak Sen and Himanshu Kumar are part of a continuum: their stories matter because they approximate the stories of hundreds of other anonymous tribal men and women who do not command our attention because they cannot speak English and live below the line of who the metropolis considers Indian.
Himanshu — a man of irrepressible positivity and a humblingly ready smile — came to Dantewada in 1992. His father, Prakash Kumar had given up college in 1942 to join the Quit India movement; he met Gandhi in Sewagram in 1945. Later, he joined Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoomidan movement. “My father helped give away over 20 lakh acres of land in Uttar Pradesh,” says Himanshu, “but he and I do not possess one acre between us.” Inspired by his father and men like Vinobha Bhave, Himanshu started out under a tree in Dantewada, asking tribals questions about their lives and needs, slowly helping them heal ailments like diarrhoea, snake bites, malaria and pneumonia. As their trust grew, the local gram sabha offered Himanshu a patch of land and built him a mud hut to live with them. For 13 years, there was no trouble as Himanshu and Veena — unusual daughter of a garment exporter in Raja Garden, Delhi, and a woman of equally inspiring positivity — went about their advocacy work. The trouble began in 2005, when the Chhattisgarh government started the Salwa Judum.
Early in 2005, a young anganwadi worker called Sonia from Kamalur village was brutally beaten by the police on the pretext of being a suspected Naxal sympathiser. They hit her with poles then tied her hair to rope and dragged her through the mud. Broken, fractured, she came to the ashram seeking help. Himanshu hesitated. He had two young daughters himself. If he took up her case, he knew he was walking towards a dragon’s lair. “For the first time, I was afraid,” says Himanshu, “but Veena urged me on. You call yourself a human rights worker, she told me. After that, we have not looked back.”
Like Binayak, Himanshu began to protest against the excesses of the State, in particular the police and Salwa Judum vigilantes. He sent Sonia’s story to the National Women’s Commission: chairperson Girija Vyas did not think it worth investigating. Since then, Himanshu has sent hundreds of complaints to the Human Rights Commission. Their response? A committee led by the police to investigate police atrocities. Himanshu then also sent at least 1,000 complaints to the Superintendent of Police (SP) in Dantewada. He refused to file FIRs. (In fact, when Himanshu took up a recent false encounter case in Singaram, where 19 tribals were shot dead by the police, SP Rahul Sharma brazenly told the Bilaspur High Court that he had refused to file FIRs because Himanshu always lodged false complaints — forgetting that it is for the courts and not the police to decide whether a FIR is baseless or not.)
Like Binayak, Himanshu’s advocacy brought him increasingly into hostile radar — erasing his past reputation for humanitarian work. In 2006, suddenly — 13 years after he began to work here — the state government sent him a notice declaring his ashram an illegal encroachment. Himanshu produced all the relevant papers. The issue went to court. In January this year, the government suddenly cancelled his FCRA and choked off his foreign grants. Himanshu had to let go of almost a hundred full-time workers. On May 16 — as the country was celebrating Indian democracy and the mandate for a stable government — Himanshu was suddenly handed a notice that his ashram was up for demolition the next day — illegally, since it was a Sunday. He called Chhattisgarh Chief Secretary P Joy Oomen and reminded him that the issue was still in court and that the next hearing was on June 17. Oomen assured him the ashram would not be demolished. The next morning the bulldozers moved in.
THERE IS a reason for the State’s precipitous intimidation of Himanshu Kumar. After the growing outcry against the Salwa Judum in 2008 the Supreme Court had ordered the State to dismantle the camps and militia. The Chhattisgarh government promised to do so and in February 2009 told the court that the Salwa Judum is ‘slowly disappearing’. On the ground, no such thing has happened. The truth is, the Chhattisgarh government is now sitting on a situation that it does not know how to control.
In the four years since the Salwa Judum was launched, more than 600 villages have been forcibly evacuated. Many tribals have been driven into relief camps. Others have fled into the jungles or to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh to work as construction labour. But tired of living in fear and on the run, many are now slowly returning to their villages. Himanshu has started a “human shield” programme to help them return and rehabilitate: this involves volunteers from his group living with the villagers till life has been restored to some normalcy. “We reject the theory that every tribal is either a Naxal or part of the Salwa Judum,” says Himanshu. “We are trying to tell the tribals about the Supreme Court order, and urge them to return and start farming.”
Nendra village was the first such experiment. Others have slowly followed. Basagoda, Avapalli, Dimapur, Lingagiri, Dholaigura — Himanshu calls it the “peer effect”.
But all is not well. The men and women from Kamanar village sitting under the leafy tree, telling Himanshu about their kidnapped goats and hens, are merely the tip of a growing social malaise. Their attackers comprised both police and tribals from the Salwa Judum camps. “The tribals in these camps have become criminalised,” says Himanshu. “They have no source of income in the camps. They have no land, they cannot farm. Looting has become their only employment.” What makes them more deadly is that they have the sanction of the police. The police do not dare file a single FIR against the SPOs — the tribal ‘Special Police Officers’ the State has armed. If they do, the SPOs, fattened with the power of the gun, will turn on the police. “The government has divided tribal society dangerously,” says he. “It will prove a historic mistake.”
IT IS PRECISELY this sort of statement the government wants to intimidate Himanshu from making. On 26 April, 19 houses in Badepalli village were burnt by the Salwa Judum. The urgent call for rice from Lingagiri is proof that the relief committees the Supreme Court had ordered have not kicked in. The ration shops have not been restarted. Himanshu is the only vocal witness to State failure here: the government wants to snuff the witness out.
But the will to fight intimidation is the first lesson a human rights worker learns. The night their ashram was demolished, Himanshu and Veena moved in with their daughters and their core workers into a makeshift house just a few kilometers away, ironically just a little way down a three-way cross-road: one road leading to Dantewada jail, one to the old ashram, and one to a new beginning. Here, while Veena cheerfully sorts through the debris of 17 years — a daunting mess of cupboards, mattresses, computers, and files rescued from the ashram — Himanshu, without a trace of bitterness, has already begun work anew. Back where he started 17 years ago — under a tree.
His father, 82, a dignified old man, has come to give him moral support. He sits calmly, uncomplaining, amidst the heat and mess. “I fought in the freedom movement. I know truth always prevails, but it takes time and much sacrifice. Himanshu is my only son. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know the road he is on is right. The more consciousness he generates among the tribals, the more they will be able to claim their right to life.”
MINUTES AFTER he emerged from jail, Binayak Sen told waiting media that there is a state of war in Central India and his battle lay in replacing that war with peace. The fight against the immoral intimidation of the State is a big part of restoring that peace. It is what kept his wife, Ilina going for two years as she fought to get him out of jail. “The McCarthyism was really hard at first,” says she. “I am a very private person and valued my anonymity. But suddenly everyone was talking about us and looking at Binayak and me as these big Naxal leaders. I have lost a lot of innocence in these two years, but I have come out stronger. Today, I know I can win.”
But fatigue can be an insidious thing. Two baseless years in jail can make any warrior want “to lower their pitch”. The battles Himanshu and Veena and Binayak and Ilina — and countless other human rights workers — are fighting are not their own. They have made it their own because they are fighting to preserve our democracy, fighting to articulate “a particular perception of reality”, as Binayak puts it. Fighting — to quote Binayak again — to dismantle the “structural violence” that perpetuates inequity and poverty. The fact that they do not lower their pitch cannot be taken for granted. India needs to strengthen the jurisprudence in favour of human rights workers and magnify their voice. Men like Binayak Sen and Himanshu Kumar are voluntary ICUs at the most wounded edges of our society. If we crush them, we will not even hear the echoes of the greater tragedies, and greater wars brewing beyond.
Kavita Srivastava is a colleague of Binayak in the PUCL, being the General Secretary of the Rajasthan state unit. She has been one of those who have stood by Binayak and Ilina through the many twists and turns that his case took, and one of the most active advocates of his release.
Recently, I saw her debating Binayak's release with Maxwell Pereira on Times Now TV. (But I'm unable to tell you, even after watching the clips several times, what the question was that was being debated. And perhaps that was the intent - to raise a cloud of obfuscation. The anchorman Arnab Goswami's style of conducting a debate seemed to lend itself admirably to this objective). Goswami began by suggesting that the Supreme Court order to release Binayak on bail was hardly the great victory that his supporters were making it out to be, because it was granted on grounds of health, and did not signify that there was anything wrong with his trial, or with the charges brought by the prosecution.
Kavita's account effectively underscores the point that the judgment delivered by Justice Katju could be interpreted as an indirect rebuke to the state of Chhattisgarh for holding Binayak for two years when nothing in the prosecution's case could be substantiated. Here is her narration, slightly edited for greater clarity.
I was inside the Court on 25th of May, when the matter of Dr. Sen’s bail came up in the Supreme Court. Just before we entered we were given the counter that the Chhattisgarh Government had filed the previous evening. It was the same old things. Profiling Binayak as a naxalite sympathiser, as one sharing the same ideology, claiming that his being doctor was just a cover for his work with the maoists. That really disturbed us. In an hour’s time at about 11.15 am we went in.
Our case number was 32 on the cause list. When our number was announced, the two senior counsels Shanti Bhushan representing Binayak Sen and Mukul Rohtagi for the Chhattisgarh State got up. The senior judge Justice M. Katju spoke. His first comment, even before any of the counsel’s had spoken was: “We know that Dr. Binayak Sen has been in jail for two years, bail should be granted”.
Shri Mukul Rohtagi promptly spoke up and said: “Your lordship, I would like to bring to your notice the facts of the case….”. He was interrupted in mid sentence by Justice Katju who told him: “Take your seat…….we are aware of the facts of the case”, and in the same breath: "Bail is granted on furnishing personal bonds to the satisfaction of the trial court. Next Case…”
It was actually Justice Ashok Bhan’s order on its head. On 10th Dec, 2007 the Ashok Bhan and DK Jain infamous one line order said “The SLP is hereby dismissed”.
At least I was in a state of shock. It had happened too fast. Had the court really granted bail?
We were still wondering what the outcome of that brief moment had been when one of our friends in court looked at my confused state, raised his fist with a sense of victory and said “celebrate”. We got out and met our lawyers and we knew that bail had been granted on the merit that Binayak had been incarcerated too long and that the Supreme Court trusts Binayak so it had asked the lower court to leave him on a personal guarantee, no securites, no conditions, no ground - medical or any other.
That evening when we finally got the certified copy to send to Raipur we read another line in the SC order which further confirmed that the court was in a hurry to ensure the release of Dr. Sen. It said: “..and this court doth further order that this order be punctually observed and carried into execution by all concerned.”
Maybe that is why the Court refrained from giving a longer more reasoned order, as that would have further delayed the release.
I had mentioned this even in an earlier debate on the Times Now news channel on the 25th evening itself when the anchor Arnab Sen kept saying that Binayak had been granted bail on medical grounds. I feel the need to set the record straight again.
The attitude of Justice Katju who did the speaking during the hearing which lasted 30 to 40 seconds, was clear from the first sentence that he made that Binayak had been kept two years (as if meaning too long).
The case papers that were drafted by our lawyers and presented to the SC were built on the merits of case, where not a shred of evidence could be fixed against Binayak even after examining 70 witnesses in the trial. And since the grounds for bail are dependent on whether the person would influence witnesses if granted bail and whether he/she could be trusted and not as one who would disappear, we had presented these dimensions very strongly as none of them applied to Binayak. Supporting the profile of Binayak we had also filed several news reports, appeals by Nobel Laureates, Amnesty International, UK academics and the awards etc. We had of course also filed the medical status report of the Doctor.
The medical grounds were only argued orally by Mr Jethmalani on the 4th May after Justice DK Jain had issued notices to the Chhattisgarh State Government. The Court’s first question to Mr. Jethmalani that day, was whether anything had changed since Dec 10th 2007 when the SLP for bail had been dismissed. Mr. Jethmalini stated that not just the charge sheet but also the trial was underway and more than 70 witnesses had deposed and there was nothing to prove the case of the prosecution. After the show cause notices were issued to the Chhattisgarh State, Mr. Jethmalani brought the health question to the notice of the SC. Let us recall that at the trial court in Raipur the Prosecution had filed an application that Binayak’s health was not as serious as opined by the Raipur doctor who had exmained him on the 24th of March. That had got us worried so the arguments for Binayak's getting treatment of his choice were brought up in the Supreme Court.
The SC order that day was in this sequence: 1. Issue returnable notices to the State Government in two weeks, 2. The case can be listed during vacation if the petitoner wanted 3. That the best treatement be provided in the State at State expense.
The last part of the order actually was heard by all in the open court as “the best treatment be provided by the State at State expense”. When the typed order came the “by” had been replaced by “in”. When we got that order we knew that in the next hearing we would have to make a case for a general bail (not bringing in the medical ground at all).
The morning before the 25th of May, when we were preparing for the hearing, our lawyers had shown us several judgements, including one that was as recent as 18th May where Justice Katju had granted anticipatory bail, arguing that bail should be granted before jail as a person’s civil liberties and reputation had to be guarded. Equally strong were his words in bail matter of the month of March where once again interim bail had been granted. So an element of pro civil liberties, did reflect in these judgements.
It can be said that there is not much to celebrate about either the Indian Judiciary or the Indian State when it has taken two years to grant bail to one who has been falsely implicated. However, I feel that precisely if we had not built a campaign through the Satyagraha, those fiery marches, speeches, hard hitting articles, people appealing globally, including the Nobel Laureates, all those awards to Binayak, and had the complete black and white nature of the case not been highlighted, then maybe I would agree that “we still need fig leaves like heart ailments to bail out our heroic activists who are unlawfully incarcerated”.
But in this case I think it is clear that Binayak was granted bail on the merit that nobody who has no evidence against him can be kept in jail for so long. Particularly in Binayak’s case, since his profile was that of a Doctor and a civil liberties person who challenged the State, the court could perhaps see that he was being penalised for his views.
So let us keep the argument straight that Binayak was granted bail as his confinement was all wrong. Freedom was his right. His medical condition gets addressed once bail gets granted.
The man is out and let us be happy and it is time we got others out. There are still more than 150 of them in Jail.
Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka, one of the earliest journalists to report truthfully on Binayak's imprisonment, interviews him about his plans for the future and his life in prison.
‘I’d Happily Back Out, But It Seems Impossible’
His political concerns are well known. Activist Binayak Sen shares insights into his detention with SHOMA CHAUDHURY
How did your loss of freedom affect you?
(Long pause) As a civil rights worker, never being in jail was a hole in my CV (laughs). But I thought it would be 10- 15 days. If I’d known it would last two years, I’d have been less sanguine. You cannot access any privilege in jail; you are an equal in a way you can never be in the outside world. This may not always be very pleasant, but for me, it was interesting. The physical circumstances were obviously not pleasant, but everyone is coping with the same thing — hot winds, mosquitoes, terrible food — so that didn’t bother me. The jail system runs on corruption. In some ways, this corruption is almost positive because it brings a kind of humanising intervention that the system has completely shut out. So though it’s illegal, almost every inmate has a stove and at six in the morning, you’ll find everyone making dal.
But as you realised you were in for a long haul, did you go through an emotional graph?
Your mind becomes soggy. After a while I couldn’t remember names, familiar words. That used to panic me. We have seven dogs — I couldn’t remember their names. That is how the absence of familiar intercourse impacts you. I was depressed quite often. There were interesting ideas in my head, but I just couldn’t write. There’s an infinite variety of human nature and circumstance on display in jail. This made me think very deeply about categories. You think section 302 is 302 (murder), but it could range from an entirely fabricated case to self-defence to a gang war to a supari (ransom). Yet this range of crime is subsumed under the same legal category. One of my closest friends in jail was a 25-year-old boy who had been arrested when he was 19 for stabbing his father. He had done it as a last resort to prevent his mother from being beaten to death by his drunk father. He’s been convicted to life imprisonment. What’s horrifying is that the authorities are consumed by active contempt for these inmates. Even the most basic human dignity is denied to them. Every evening I saw lambardars beating inmates with lathis and chappals — 10 to a man. There were much worse things as well. But if I complained the authorities looked at me as if I was soft in the head. There are so many people in jail who are innocent, or at least, who carry the idea of their innocence in their heads. And there is nothing ahead for them but this systemic brutalisation. So I had this feeling of helplessness. It was like living through a neardeath experience, watching yourself and your loved ones from a distance — [my wife] Ilina traveling every week by train to meet me for half an hour and then traveling back.
The State wanted to silence you. Have these two years muted your appetite for battle in any way?
I’m not inherently an ambitious person. I’d happily turn my back on all this if I could. My daughters are at an interesting stage of life. Ilina is someone I respect, which is a big thing to say after living 35 years with someone. But there is a very bad situation here —there’s a state of war in central India. It needs to be addressed, and I find myself in a position to address it. Perhaps more than most people in India. That has to be capitalised. I’m a little confused about how to go forward. I’ve always believed that violence can’t be the final arbiter. This aversion doesn’t stem from being some Gandhi romantic (I’ve always been slightly repelled by his bania personality) but because I believe violence is a never-ending cycle. Once you say yes to it, you can’t get out. Both the Maoists and the State have painted themselves into that corner. At the same time, there are millions of people leading stunted lives. As a doctor, especially as a paediatrician, every malnourished child makes me angry. That child, that mother’s uterus doesn’t need to be that way. It makes you feel desperate. These grave inequities are not maintained by default. Someone is keeping them in place using efficient and diligent methods. So at one level, one has to try and stop the military confrontation between the Maoists and the State and replace it with political confrontation or engagement. At the same time, someone has to ask hard questions about this other structural violence that keeps poverty in place. I’d happily back out if I could, but it seems more and more impossible.
Did the scale of the ‘Save Binayak’ campaign surprise you?
I genuinely thought we were small-time people. It appears we are not — that was a huge, humbling revelation. I have to work out with my colleagues what it means, but it places a bigger responsibility on us to keep giving voice to a particular perception of reality. What we’ve done so far is the bare minimum. We’ve never gone out of our way to be abusive or attract State attention. The dilemma is that pursuing ways that will really advance the case is also bound to attract the ire of the State. But we can’t do less because it will not suffice.
Do you regret your visits to Narayan Sanyal?
No, I never knew there would be such a fallout. Everything I did for him was done with the full sanction and permission of the police and State. Also, as a human rights worker, if a man needs legal and medical help, where do you draw the line?