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Dr. Binayak Sen: One Year Inside April 30, 2008

Posted by Joseph in India.
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Dr Binayak Sen was first jailed a year ago this May. A passive victim of draconian policing in the ongoing war between Maoist insurgents (Naxalites) and government forces in Eastern India, he has however received the prestigious Jonathan Mann award this week.

Dr. Sen was initially jailed on charges of smuggling notes out of jail after visiting incarcerated insurgents, an accusation he strongly denies and that the government has so far failed to bring to court or provide evidence for. The law that they used to arrest him was called the Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act 2006, and on all accounts is like alot of modern ‘anti-terror’ legislation, watery, ill defined and with the appearance of a political tool, to avenge enemies(critics) of the state. Human Rights Watch has even called the law ‘in violation of the Indian Constitution and international Human rights law’.

His jailing has aroused controversy and condemnation from thinkers and activists globally. But it draws light on conflicts that stretch deep into the unseen folds of modern India; both political and economic.

Chhatisgarh is a state privy to this huge turmoil; with rural lifestyles all over India are being uprooted and devastated, as evidenced by the farmer suicides in Maharashtra, documented by Partha Sainath and the passionate protests in Nandigram, West Bengal. Chhatisgarh is also home to huge mineral reserves, and it was the miners of these mines that, amongst others, he assisted.

As a consequence Dr. Sen is characterised and famous for his commitment to the poor and to their human rights, that have not only bought him notoriety but recently trouble. As well as running a clinic for the poor he was also the director of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) in the state.

The military and political conflict in that part of the world is not new, but divides communities and castes today as it has done for decades. The government of late have taken too arming local people into ‘militias’ called Salwa Judum to fight the Maoists, who are popular with the disenfranchised.

The practice of salwa judum was recently the subject of serious criticism from a government appointed panel. Furthermore they have cleared an estimated 600 villages in southern Chhatisgarh moving the afflicted villagers into ‘camps’ more often than not against their wishes.

Human Rights Watch suspect that his criticism of the Chhatsigrah Special Security Act and the human rights abuses of the para military salwa julum are what may have prompted his arrest. It is a climate that the writer and campaigner Arundhati Roy has described as ‘you are either with us or against us’. Peaceful critics are therefore in the line of fire.

Dr Sen has felt the force of what he has fought so passionately against. He lives in the perpetual fear that because of his moral convictions he may never know freedom again.

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