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Controversial verdict infuriates Indians

The Raipur District Court in the North Indian State of Chhattisgarh sentenced 61-year-old Dr Binayak Sen to life imprisonment on December 24, 2010 for sedition, giving flimsy and fabricated evidence, fake witnesses and contradictory statements by the police.

As well as civil society groups, intellectuals, members of the judiciary and international organisations, 22 Nobel Laureates expressed disgust over the verdict. The judgment is likely to undermine the credibility and reputation of the Indian justice system and the judiciary.

The main allegation against Dr Sen was that he passed on three letters written by the jailed, under-trial suspect Maoist Narayan Sanyal to unspecified people in Kolkata. Mr Sanyal is an aged and ailing prisoner at the Raipur Central Jail on unproved charges.

Upon the request of his brother, Dr Sen, who is also the National Vice-President and Chhattisgarh General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, applied to the authorities to visit and treat Mr Sanyal.

The jail authorities supervised the meetings, providing evidence in the Court that it was impossible that there could have been any exchange of letters.

Delayed bail

The fact that the prisoner was a suspected Naxalite gave the State Government an opportunity to imprison Dr Sen, an outspoken critic of the BJP-run Chhattisgarh Government.

He had condemned the Government’s human rights violations against its own tribal population on May 14, 2007 under the state’s Public Security laws.

Soon after his arrest in July 2007, he applied for bail at the Raipur Sessions Court and later at the Chhattisgarh High Court.

But the Supreme Court granted bail only on May 25, 2009.

The patriot who had devoted his entire professional life to the untiring service of the poor, a record acknowledged by the Paul Harrison Award bestowed on him by his alma mater is now in jail, charged with sedition.

What is sedition?

The sentence against Dr Sen was pronounced despite and Supreme Court ruling that only acts that directly incited people to violence could be regarded as sedition.

The law on sedition, enacted in 1870 by the British Government, was frequently used against those who questioned the legitimacy of Colonial rule.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (in 1897 and 1910) and Mahatma Gandhi (1922) were among its famous victims.

During the debates on the First Amendment to the new Constitution (1951), Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru objected to Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code.

Speaking in Parliament, he said, “This Section is highly obnoxious and should have no place both for practical and historical reasons.”

Daylight Robbers

If at all Dr Sen was a courier, who was accused of delivering three letter (although he did not, according to jail authorities), what would one call Suresh Kalmadi (Commonwealth Games Organising Committee Chairman) and the disgraced former Telecommunications Minister Aandimuthu Raja and scores of other politicians who have allegedly swindled large sums of money using their public office?

How would the law enforcing agencies bring to justice Indians who have amassed wealth through corrupt means and deposited them in Swiss banks?

According to a Swiss Banking Association Report, the total deposits placed by Indians in Swiss banks were a whopping $US 1456 billion in 2006, far greater than the combined deposits of the other ‘Top Four,’ including Russians ($US 470 billion), Britons ($US 390 billion), Ukrainian ($US 100 billion) and Chinese ($US 96 billion).

The elite outraged

Prominent leaders, legal counsel and ordinary people were outraged by the Supreme Court verdict against Dr Sen.

Former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar said that there could not be a “greater nonsensical judgment than this.”

“I am ashamed to have been a part of the judiciary, which has delivered such a ridiculous judgment,” he said.

Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee described the ruling as “shocking.”

“The evidence against Dr Sen seems flimsy. The judge has misapplied the section.

In any case, the sentence is atrocious, savage,” he said.

Eminent Economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen said, “The Rights activist Dr Sen has been unjustifiably prosecuted”.

Prominent lawyer Ram Jethmalani offered to defend Dr Sen, saying that the case was weak and politically motivated.

Punishing Dr Sen for conspiring to commit sedition is unreasonable and unjustified, besides being unconstitutional,” he said.

Former Chief Justice A M Ahmadi said he was taken aback by the judgement.

“The fundamental right of freedom of expression has been held equal to terrorism. Carrying letters and handing it over to somebody else is not a strong ground to convict someone,” he said.

Amnesty International, which saw the arrest as harassment of a Human Rights activist, declared, “His detention is breach of international law. The State and Federal Governments should immediately drop these politically motivated charges against Dr Sen and release him,” a statement said.

Historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in the Hindustan Times that “Dr Sen had never fired a gun.”

“He probably does not know to hold a gun,” he said and condemned both the State and the Maoist violence.

His conviction should be challenged,” Mr Guha said.

Distinguished life

Dr Sen graduated in medicine with distinction in 1972 when he was just 22 years old, winning a Gold Medal and obtained his Master of Medicine (MD) in 1976 from the Christian Medical College, Vellore in Tamil Nadu.

He refused to heed to his father’s desire to go to England to study qualify for the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP).

“I will acquire the knowledge to practice medicine in my own country,” he said.

Later, he abandoned the post of Assistant Professor studying for PhD in Public Health, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University to take up a position at the TB Research Centre and Hospital at Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh.

About two years later, he joined the independent radical Trade Union Leader Shankar Guha Niyogi (killed by the industrialists of Bhilai in 1991) and devoted himself selflessly to serving the daily wage labourers of the Bhilai factories and mineworkers and their families in Chhattisgarh.

While working with the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (established by Mr Neogi), Dr Sen helped the organisation to set up a health centre with 25 beds.

Today, ‘Shaheed Hospital’ has 150 beds run for and by the mineworkers.

Dr. Sen later worked in Raipur and stated an NGO called ‘Rupantar,’ focusing on community health and ecologically sustainable agriculture. He championed the cause of independence for women and formal and informal education for adults and children.

In 2004, Dr Sen was honoured with the Christian Medical College Paul Harrison Award for lifetime service to the rural poor.

The Indian Academy of Social Sciences presented him with the ‘R R Keithan Gold Medal’ in 2007, describing him as “one of the most eminent scientists of India.”

The Global Health Council in Washington DC selected him for its ‘Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights’ in 2008.

The Citation said that his work should be recognised as a major contribution to India and to global health.

Unbounded corruption

India’s politicians, bureaucrats and officials have the dubious reputation of being the most corrupt in the world and the sum of money looted by them since the Country’s independence in 1947 would be unequalled in the world.

It is even more depressing that this ill gotten wealth has been stashed away in countries, which have strict confidentiality clauses.

As I wrote this piece, I was appalled to learn that the Liechtenstein banks had declined the request of the Indian Government to provide details of the deposits of Indians in their accounts.

Secrecy clauses have also precluded accessing the names of the beneficiaries of the infamous ‘Bofors Deal.’

Should Dr Binayak Sen, who sacrificed his life in the service of the poor be in prison, while thousands of others who have looted the people of India be allowed to go scot-free?

The Indian Government and the Judiciary should reverse the decision and reinstate the faith of Indians and others around the world in the judicial system.

Amit Sengupta is a former political activist with strong views on issues affecting common people. He lives in Auckland. The above article is exclusive to Indian Newslink ©

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