December 24, 2010

The sorry affairs of our states

Over the last couple of months, I’ve often thought if India was a woman; she’d be Dhrupati being stripped to reveal all shame before a full court. Enough has happened in the last few months to keep facebook status updates, twitter feeds and blogspot posts busier than Paris Hilton on her 21st birthday (what with all the globe trotting parties and all). 
Through it all, I’ve steered clear of all commentary and debate. Not because its none of my business, some of it is everyone’s business. Not because I’m not listening in, though like everyone (with the exception of our tax department) not as much as I should. 

The truth is most of these issues are multi layered and complicated and if recent events have taught me anything - it is that most news, by the time it reaches us is a collection of generated lies or deliberate omissions. 

Being as I am, a firm believer in the idea that if you cannot make a difference or do not really know, you should just shut it (that's a joke, yes it is). Anyway, I’m usually the first set of shoulders to shrug and say, “Man, this is India...” 
The trial of Dr. Binayak Sen is not a complicated issue though and it’s an impossible one to ignore. One may even call it a giant farce, being played out right before our eyes. Still if law school taught me in anything in the three years that I pretended to attend, it is the joy of an impartial inquiry. 
Now, I’ve followed this story for a while. After all, it is, according to me, the most prominent source of embarrassment in a long list of embarrassments that the Indian judicial system is currently faced with. So, let us not beat about the bush because time has run out for the doctor who was given a life sentence today.
The story of Dr. Sen’s fight does not begin on May 14, 2007 when he was arrested. It starts in 2005 where Narayan Sanyal (one of the named co-conspirators) disappeared and his family approached the People's Union for Civil Liberties for help. Upon a habeas corpus by the family, it was admitted by the police that Mr. Sanyal was arrested. His brother begins to visit the well-known doctor/ civil rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen in search of help. 

Over the next two years, Dr. Sen does indeed have visits with Mr. Sanyal and even helps facilitate medical treatment of him while he is in prison. 

Then in 31st of March 2007, when several tribals were killed by police forces who claimed they were Maoist insurgents. Eye witness complaints caused the Human Rights Commission to look into the story and in May 2007, several of the bodies were exhumed for autopsies and suffice to say what was revealed was not for the faint hearted. 

Dr. Sen’s report on the matter highlighted that these people were not violent Naxalites as suspected but innocent tribals. Government officials admitted that some policemen had indeed ‘crossed the line’ but no attempts were made to arrest the said officers. 
Lo and Behold! a few days later, Dr. Sen was arrested and detained under the provisions of section 124 IPC (sedition), 120 B IPC (conspiracy) and Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. It’s important to note that at the time, his arrest by the Chhattisgarh police was voluntarily and there was no attempt on his part to abscond despite knowing about his possible detention.  

While the government alleged that Dr. Sen was acting as a courier between Maoist commanders and was a Maoist sympathizer, as late as a month after the arrest, no charge sheet had been filed. Also, despite proving by his conduct at the time of arrest, that he is not a flight risk detainee, Dr Sen was denied bail and remained in custody. 
When a charge sheet was finally filed, it listed 83 witnesses for deposition by the prosecution. During the Raipur Sessions court trial of Dr. Sen, which only began in April 2008, the prosecution dropped 16 of these people on their own accord and declared 6 as hostile witnesses. In a letter written by the Hon’ble former SC Justice Krishna Iyer to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in April 2009, the Hon’ble SC Justice expressed the view (shared by most of the world) that depositions of the remaining 61 witnesses did not corroborate any of the accusations against Dr. Sen. 
Despite repeated appeals from every corner of the world and literally every great mind on our planet, Dr. Sen was not granted bail till 2009 when the Supreme Court allowed his application due to his ailing health. 
At the time of his arrest, his house was raided and searched. A list was made of the documents found. These documents were meant to prove that he was acting as a courier between the Naxalites and various other persons. These documents were signed by the Investigating Officer, Dr. Sen and two search witnesses and then sealed as evidence. 
The prosecution has chosen to rely on various types of documents found in Dr. Sen’s possession including but not limited to Maoist literature and postcards which address Dr. Sen as ‘comrade’. I have endless copies of ‘V for Vendetta’ in my possession. The graphic novel form, movie, the dvd and of course, the .avi on my computer. I really hope the government does not come in and arrest me for owning seditious literature! As for the postcards, what does one call using that as evidence, but McCarthyism? 
Another important piece of prosecution evidence is a letter claimed to be found in Dr. Sen’s residence during the original search. The letter, which is not hand written and does not boast an author’s signature, is said to be a note of thanks to Dr. Sen for his work and an appeal to have police atrocities in the area investigated. According to the prosecution, the letter proves an ongoing dialogue between Dr. Sen and the Maoists leaders (apparently only Maoists own type-writers) 
Firstly, a dialogue implies reciprocity. No one has ever witnessed or provided first hand knowledge of any response given by Dr. Sen to the said letter or any other such contact made by the Maoists 
But more interestingly, when the said letter was produced before the court for the very first time in June 2008, it was creaseless and the paper looked almost new. This letter is meant to be at least two years old. Whether what I’m about to say is relevant is up for interpretation but; I have a credit card bill that’s a week old and the paper has all kinds of folds, is yellowing and tearing at the edges. 
Further, the letter was not recorded in the list of documents as signed at the time of the arrest. In fact, the letter is not signed by Dr. Sen at all, though every other document (including the ‘super incriminating’ postcards and literature) are. 
Let us for a moment take the prosecution’s case at its best and believe that they did in fact forget to enter into the record, this particular piece of evidence, on which they now rely so heavily. But why, when everything that was sealed at that time of the arrest was signed by all the witnesses and Dr. Sen, isn’t this letter also similarly attested? How is it that the Investigating Officer managed to find it and sign it, but failed to obtain Dr. Sen’s signature?
It’s a bitter pill to swallow to say the least, but lets assume all of the above was an oversight and despite its susceptible origins, we should take this letter on record as admissible evidence because it might really be that incriminating and crucial to the government’s case against Dr. Sen. 
I have not seen this letter and what I do know about it, I’ve recorded above. So based on just that much, I have to say - He is a doctor who has been working  to improve health conditions in one of the most poorest regions of India, it would be near criminal to not thank him. As for an appeal for the probe, it is every citizen’s right to probe into their government’s activities in and around their homes. This should be reinforced doubly so, and not discouraged, in areas where there is near martial rule. 
It is no secret that enforcement of any kind can be brutal. Not too long ago, we witnessed through videos from the Afghanistan war, the Iraq war, just how senselessly heinous men can be, during war time. Not more than a few days ago, four people were killed in another part of our country by SSB jawans who opened fire on a mob of people protesting a jawan’s conduct with a woman in the village. 
It’d be a sorry state of affairs for Indian democracy when a man can be sent to prison for being asked to ensure that those entrusted to govern us are doing so correctly and not with an iron fist (or in this case loaded shot guns). 
I’m not the first to say this, but please let me say it anyway; Even if he was physically going into the Jungle camps of the Naxalites and providing them with free medical treatment and treating their gun shot wounds inflicting during action, he did nothing wrong

He is a doctor and he is doing his job. If more people did their jobs, instead of passing on the buck or putting in their two cents where they have no business to do so, the world would really be a better place. Do your jobs and don't shun or alienate the few, who are doing theirs properly. It could really be that simple a solution; Believe it people. 
As for the co-conspirators. Mr. Piyush Guha, one of the named co-conspirators, was arrested a week prior to Dr. Sen and ten items were recovered from his person including three incriminating letters. 

Oddly enough the items found on him were not mentioned on his arrest memo and the seizure memo records only 3 items out of those ten. In court, Mr. Guha could not agree with his detainers on when the arrest took place, stating that it was on May 1 not May 5 as recorded in the already dubious arrest memo.

Still, we know the police did not fabricate anything because all this took place before an eye witness Mr. A K Singh who incidentally also heard Mr. Guha break down and confess his crimes on the spot. Only the police and Mr. Singh cannot decide between themselves where this arrest took place.
The signed affidavit by the arresting officer at that time states that the arrest took place in Mahendra Hotel. Mr. A.K. Singh’s testimony before the Court stated that the arrest took place on station road and not the hotel. Now witnesses are liable to forget small details by the time the cases get to trial, but does anyone really ever forget where they were, when they saw a man get arrested and allegedly break down and confess? 
The prosecution further produced hotel employees to prove their case of conspiracy. The witnesses were meant to depose that Dr. Sen met with Mr. Guha on a regular basis within the premises of the hotel. At trial, both hotel employees were declared hostile witnesses by the prosecution. 
Mr. Narayan Sanyal, the other named co-conspirator is a Naxal ideologue who has been imprisoned since 2005. The prosecution’s case here is that Dr. Sen visited Mr. Narayan Sanyal during his detention , over 33 times in a span of a couple of months. 

These 33 visits they are referring to, were sanctioned by the jailors and government personnel, applied for on the letterhead of the People Union for Civil Liberties and supervised by the jailors on duty at all times. These above facts were corroborated by the prosecution witnesses i.e. the jailors who supervised the visits. So what are we to decide: A doctor visiting a man for whom he is facilitating medical care must have ulterior motives? 
The witnesses could not cite a single instance when document was exchanged between Dr. Sen and Mr. Sanyal and it is on record that the conversations were in Hindi, even though both persons are well versed in Bengali and English and, the guards were not. I have to say, perhaps because I’ve lived with (sorry guys) Spaniards, Israelis and South Indians, that was pretty polite of them.
Conspiracy by its very nature, is a hard act to prove, but it is not impossible feat to do so. Nixon was a paranoid president and still, there was more proof of the Watergate conspiracies than there are of the one Dr. Sen is charged with. 
Then again, I suppose if we can say that the CIA had something to do with Kennedy’s assassination because Lee Harvey Oswald was a former U.S. Marine, it can also be said that a doctor who helps provide healthcare to the poorest of the poor, must be involved in the terrorist activities of a certain group within these people. Is that how it’s meant to work between citizens and governments? It’s tit for tat time now? 
As for what little the prosecution has managed to produce, one doesn’t need to be a legal pandit to take note that most of the evidence against Dr. Sen is circumstantial and you know what, that’s fine too. The law allows for convictions based on circumstantial evidence, IF there can be no other reasonable explanation to these circumstances. Call my glasses rose coloured, but all I see is a good man who cares passionately for his profession and is going through hell because of it. 
We are not talking about a man who has shown any inclination towards violence, nor does Dr. Sen appear to be a man with any great political ambition. This is a man who graduated as one of the top ranking students in his class at the Christian Medical School and after his post graduation rejecting offers from top notch medical institutions, began working with the poor communities in Madhya Pradesh fighting tuberculosis. 
But Dr. Sen and his wife have time and again expressed the view that health care by its very nature is political. They believe that in a politically unstable environment, any medical activity, from training a health professional to providing health care, can take on revolutionary form. 
In other words, they believe that medical professionals can make a big difference during times of martial instability.  Let us ignore the historic proof of that: we will not even mention the story of doctor turned revolutionary Che Guevara. However, after the US and the globe has only recently been entrenched  in a brutal, near government crippling debate on the health care system, is there anyone left who is naive enough to refute their view that health care has a political aspect? 
Looking at what little I do know, which I’ve recorded above, it's needless to say I think  the Raipur sessions court that has judged that Dr. Sen is guilty of sedition and waging war against his country has either judged incorrectly or has done so at the behest of the powers that be. 
Making matters murkier, the order has been delivered right at the time when the appellate courts are on vacation, thus delaying the process of appeals that will and must rightly follow such a move by the lower courts. 
On an international front, with this particular order, the court has ensured that the world will never see India as the same beautiful country that Mother Teresa fell in love with or the great democratic nation that Mahatma Gandhi (incidentally another professional held for sedition and conspiracy by the then British government) once envisioned. 
No, now we are not so far removed from our neighboring countries. One of whom just had a citizen win the Nobel Peace Prize for the very first time. It was also the first time that a Nobel prize winner was entirely unrepresented at the ceremony. Why? because this country whose just received this vicarious honor is also the same one jailing its very same citizen for sedition and conspiracy against the state. 
The incarceration of Dr. Sen is not the first of its kind or even one of a kind. Sadly, it probably won’t be the last such incidental use of the government’s powers to squash those who chose to speak their minds. 
In such cases, to stop my blood from boiling right over, I try to imagine our government as a  little child who lashes out at its overindulging parents when they try and offer constructive criticism. Since every citizen is parent to his or her democratic nation, its pretty much up to us to take a stand. Much like that spoilt brat, if we continue to allow this to happen, our society can only turn out rotten and shallow. 


  1. Now see, I always approve of and commend 'social commentary' and debate so you get more than just a giggle. Without even delving into the details of this case, it suffices to say Dr. Binayak Sen's case is one of those screaming anomalies in an otherwise plodding, yes, but what we - the concerned and well-meaning citizens of this country - had just about accepted as a somewhat functional legal system. Eveything in this case -from the alleged offences made out, the legislations, the investigation, the evidence and trial to the politics and social exigencies in Chhattisgarh (and for that matter, in Kashmir and the North-East as well) begs reconsideration and fierce debate at every level, including and especially amongst the otherwise politically complacent bourgeousie lot. Well done! (And insert your references, please - there are lots of tidbits here that I'm not seeing in the news coverage).

  2. Things that make you laugh are good, because it means you'll remember them :P

    Hold on I'll write down all the articles I read online today from the history.