Today, the fourth of January, 2011, is Binayak Sen's sixty-first birthday. He is spending it in solitary confinement in a small cell in Raipur Jail. He is taken out twice a day, each time for a couple of hours. Prolonged solitary confinement is known to break the strongest minds. Binayak spent a month alone during his last incarceration before the Supreme Court granted him bail. He later told me that he felt his mind turning into mush.
This is the punishment that a vengeful and vindictive probationary judge has thought fit to bestow on one who has spent the better part of his adult life in service to the poorest and weakest in our society - dalits and tribal villagers and mine workers - in what is now the state of Chhattisgarh. Under any reasonable system of justice, his record should have served to mitigate any punishment if indeed he was guilty. However, this is Chhattisgarh, where even the Supreme Court’s standards have little force in the judiciary, as the learned judge in Binayak’s case demonstrated. According to a Supreme Court ruling (Kedarnath vs State of Bihar), the charge of sedition, for which he has been sentenced to imprisonment for the rest of his life, requires clear evidence of incitement to violence and disturbance of public order. (See this detailed legal analysis of the case and the evidence presented before the court, by Madabhushi Sridhar, a Professor at the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research University of Law, Hyderabad.) But so keen was the judge to uphold the sanctity of the law, that he chose a much lower standard for the sentencing by simply accepting at face value the fabrications of the police witnesses in the charge sheet, even when they were contradicted by their own depostions in court. After all, why respect a quaint Supreme Court standard when there is a much more forceful message to convey to those who dare to criticize the state's policy towards tribals, in what amounts to a war on the forest people of Chhattisgarh? Why bother with that pesky Fifth Schedule in the Constitution and all those inconvenient Directive Principles, when the very “development” of the state is at stake?
The Binayak Sen that sits condemned in jail, the butt of abuse by nationalist jackals with half a brain and an internet connection, is not the tender, compassionate and learned Dada that I have known for as long as memories serve, the Ranka that our mother knows for sixty-one years, the affectionate Baba that his daughters have grown up with, or the constant life partner that our Boudi Dr. Ilina Sen has lived and suffered and triumphed with for the last thirty seven years. Nor is he the doctor who has empowered countless patients to save themselves from malaria, malnutrition and other ravages. He is the creation of a paranoid state that feeds off the very terror that it creates by its policies. This paranoia has expressed itself through a prolonged, wilful and vicious distortion of the judicial process. The tragic irony is that this is the very same process that Binayak must now trust with producing a remedy.
The internet jackals are now feasting off our Boudi’s anguish, howling at her desire to seek asylum abroad if she cannot get justice in India. Those who traduce Binayak by branding him a Maoist should be aware that both my younger brother, who is a European citizen, and I who reside abroad, have repeatedly encouraged Binayak and his family to leave the country if they possibly could. Despite their world-wide network of friends and supporters, both Dada and Boudi have consistently refused to do so. They have always insisted that if justice is to be sought, it must be in India.
We must cling tenaciously on to the same hope, knowing that we may be eventually disappointed. But we know with even greater certainty that even if the trial court’s verdict is overturned, the delivery of justice must remain dependent on a vigilant and educated citizenry, demanding the transparency and freedom from judicial caprice that is their right. This is precisely where I differ from those who warn us to shut up, since the law has spoken. They would rather have somnolent cattle for citizens, chewing the cud of consumerism while allowing justice to be outraged.
Ask yourselves who has been a more fervent upholder and believer in the law: a state that repeatedy refuses to abide by its own laws and judicial standards, or an individual who has fought compassionately to maintain and extend our Constitutional protections to the weakest in our society? Who has the more credible record in promoting peace: a state that fore decades wields the power of the gun against tribals who resort to violence as a last resort? Or a man who has constantly and publicly reminded anyone who would listen that violence solves no problems, and warned insistently that the prolongation of unremedied injustice inflames people to violence.