Notes on meeting on arrest of Binayak Sen
-- By Nagraj Adve, PUDR
Thu Jun 7, 2007
Copied below is a note on a public meeting on the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen and on the situation in Chattisgarh, organized by PUCL, PUDR, Saheli, Medico Friends Circle, and Delhi Solidarity in Delhi on 26 May 2007. The meeting was conducted by Pushkar Raj of PUCL.
This note is based on hurriedly taken notes even as the speakers were speaking. Hence there is the roughness of the text but it conveys the gist of a good meeting.
1. *Harish, PUDR*: We need to understand the context for this meeting and for the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen, i.e. the Salwa Judum campaign in Chattisgarh. Ever since the government started the Salwa Judum campaign two years ago, there has been acute repression of tens of thousands of adivasis in Dantewada and other regions of Chattisgarh. Thousands of families have been forcibly displaced and taken to camps by the side of the highway. Homes have been targetted and people have been deprived of access to their lands and means of livelihood. The government has attempted to use the Salwa Judum to suppress the two decades of Maoist struggle in South Chattisgarh. Villages have been burnt and thousands of people have been *displaced. *Much of the news of these excesses have been coming out through the work of PUCL Chattisgarh.
People who had helped us when we had gone there as part of a factfinding were seen as suspect in police eyes. One young journalist who came around with us was removed from his job after there was pressure put on owners and publishers, and his ration shop was closed down.
The CPI (Maoist)'s Narayan Sanyal was arrested in December 2005. He is an old man and PUCL Chattisgarh has been keeping an eye on how he is being treated in custody. Binayak Sen used to meet him in his capacity as a qualified doctor. Now it is being said that he had private vested interests in meeting Sanyal.
PUCL was also responsible for unearthing details of the recent Bijapur fake encounter, in which 12 people were killed in cold blood. Evidence of the fake encounters ? there have been 155 encounters in 2 years ? was coming out for the first time. There has been a demand for a CBI enquiry. Here the police admitted there was an encounter. In most they don't even admit there has been an encounter.
It is in this context of unearthing state repression that Binayak Sen was picked up. Not just him, now Rajinder Sail is being targeted. And also the hospital of the Jan Swasthya Sahyog at Bilaspur. Their ultrasound machine has been confiscated by the police. A hospital needs to maintain monthly records of ultrasound done as per the law. Since their organization had spoken up against Binayak Sen's arrest, they were targeted for not maintaining records, the first hospital to be targeted in this fashion. Anyone speaking up against Binayak's arrest faces the threat of being targetted.
*2. Ilina Sen*: In my state there tends to be trial by rumour. Chattisgarh is the state with the richest land and the poorest people. It contains zinc, bauxite, iron ore and numerous other minerals. Due to globalization, a number of private steel plants are entering the state for the first time. There is a clear link between Salwa Judum and these private companies taking over 5 th Schedule lands. They bypass provisions by having fake gram sabha meetings. Everything is fake, fake gram sabha records, fake cases, fake lands, fake charges.
Essar and other companies are entering the area. People have been taken by force, at gunpoint for granting permission and then it is said that permission has been given. It is difficult, sitting in Delhi, to imagine the situation there. PUCL is the only organization making this public in Chattisgarh.
It was alleged that PUCL is a conduit for letters from Sanyal. Then a trial by media began that PUCL is a Maoist organization. PUCL has been active since the Emergency. They introduced the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act and we felt we would be targettted.
When the police questioned my daughter, she said we have been prepared for this for 2 years. There is character assassination going on, same as in the Dreyfus case. Our telephone was tapped. Then they alleged he was absconding ( *pharaar*). How did the police come to Sudha (lawyer's) office within one hour of Binayak reaching?
Binayak is a doctor who used to treat the poor. But their attitude is you are either with us or against us. You are a Naxal if you are against us. They ransacked the house in the village without a warrant. I filed an FIR only after I came back from Calcutta. Police claim there were hundreds of documents found during the search of our house, but actually there was only letter from Sanyal and that too had the official prison stamp. Now there has been the dramatic arrest of Rajinder Sail. It has become a crime in Chattisgarh to raise human rights, to voice objections to the takeover of adivasi lands.
It's going to be a long fight. Despite all this, if there is attention drawn to the situation in Chattisgarh it is worth it.
*3.* *Rakesh Shukla, PUDR *: Ever since independence whenever there was any people's movement, successive governments have responded by imposing anti-people laws. There is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, there was TADA, there's the Karnataka Organized Crime Bill, the Banned Organizations Act in Andhra Pradesh, the MP Public Security Act. Along with all these the government uses preventive detention. Always vague charges are defined and vague charges are used, vaguely worded.
For instance the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act makes a crime to be merely a member of a banned organization [overturning the tenets of criminal law under which only a illegal act or threat to commit such an act can be punished]. In such acts, there's an advisory board within 15 days, and its members can be any lawyer with ten years experience. Difficult to contact lawyer.
We had opposed Advani's arrest under preventive detention, saying that arrest him under ordinary law. It has been reported that Dr Binayak Sen has been charged with waging war. We tend to focus on extraordinary laws. Perhaps we need to focus more on what is ordinary law, on the IPC. There's no record of the encounters in Bastar. It completely violates NHRC guidelines. No record, no post-mortem, people are killed and their bodies are simply abandoned without any record of what happened.
Mahendra Karma does not represent tribal interests, he is more representative of large private companies. When we went to Chattisgarh as part of the factfinding, we were regularly stopped by Salwa Judum, which operates like a parallel administration. They were there when we met the SDM. Who are they to search us? The administration is under the Salwa Judum. It needs to be made clear that in our joint report we had listed both the killings by the Salwa Judum and by the Maoists; look at our demands, they represent democratic rights civil rights positions, our perspective. We need to focus and campaign against the provision of waging war. It should be removed from the statute books. What then about terrorism (people might say). But look at the most serious cases are what are deemed terrorist acts: Rajiv Gandhi case, General Vaidya's assassination. The accused were finally prosecuted under normal law. These laws can deal with it. We don't need extraordinary laws.
Here we must demand action against the police and we need to oppose and remove waging war and sedition from the statute books.
*4. Sathyamala, Medico Friends Circle*: A question we need to reflect upon is why should a doctor take up human rights issues? There has been considerable support from CMC Vellore but Binayak Sen's work is actually despite CMC.
Medico Friends Circle has been active since the mid-1970s. Two or three years after it was set up, there was a debate in the organization: what should socially sensitive doctors do? Is a critique of health care adequate? One also needs a critique of the socio-economic structure. Poverty is central to the question of health; one needs to examine the social basis of health.
Binayak Sen went to work as a doctor in a rural area. There, most diseases are diseases of poverty. At the time in the 1970s, he encountered people suffering from TB in its severe forms. At that time Shankar Guha Niyogi talked to me about whether one needs a hospital or to work within the community. He felt that a structure was needed and Shaheed Hospital evolved.
It's noteworthy how those who raise issues of deaths and poor public health get targeted. Take Iraq. The recent *Lancet *study on the war has made clear the huge extent of war-related deaths, over half a million. One of the chief epidemiologists who carried out that study, now his life is under threat. He has been refused a US visa, and refused transit in Britain. Any sensitive person/ doctor cannot avoid the question of poverty.
*5. Kavita Srivastava, PUCL*: There is no middle ground left. When we met the DGP on our recent trip to Chattisgarh, he told us, "You are dealing with savage people. They now have a plan to attack cities."
Effectively what is happening in Chattisgarh is a trial by media. The current governor is a former senior-most Intelligence Bureau official in Andhra Pradesh. The Home Minister said, go to NHRC, courts. The Chattisgarh governor said the same thing. Saying he was speaking as an individual, the Governor asked us, why do you [civil rights groups] not speak up when the police get killed?
Re the specific case, there are small signs of hope; for instance the magistrate 1st class faced up to the pressure and refused police remand. Piyush Guha though has been badly tortured, blindfolded.
The first charges against Binayak were only under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, then the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act, now they are adding charges of waging war. The FIR is weak our case is strong. Even the case against Piyush Guha is weak.
The dangerous thing, an assault on our democracy, is that they are stripping us of what one reads, direct what I read. We need the freedom to read what we want to, to preserve that. The fight will go on.