Free Binayak Sen! Resist the Crackdown on Dissent and Democracy!

The arrest and detention of paediatrician and human rights activist Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh indicates the desperation and extent to which the BJP government is willing to go to quash all forms of democracy in its quest to implement neo-liberal policies.

Renowned academic, doctor and public health activist, Dr Binayak Sen, who established the cooperative Shaheed hospital in Dalli Rajhara for mine workers, was at the forefront of civil liberties activities as the General Secretary of PUCL Chattisgarh against gross violations of the rights of the poor at the hands of state. He was trying to focus national and international attention on the large-scale repression of the people through the Salwa Judum and managed to expose some of the fake encounters staged by the state agencies. As a punishment for his vigilance, Dr Sen was arrested on May 14, 2007 under the PSA and the UAPA supposedly for “disturbing public order” and for having alleged links with banned Maoist groups. And how were these links established? With the outrageous allegation that Sen met a senior Maoist leader in the Raipur Central jail more than 30 times in recent months. The preposterousness of these charges is evident from the fact that these meetings were held under the supervision of jail authorities and for the upkeep of the rights of the detainees.

Dr Sen was detained without any evidence against him and subsequent search by the police at his house have only led to newspaper clippings, CDs on fake encounters, and letters from victims of state repression, which is being posted as “incriminating documents” against him. That all these material is available to the general public makes the newspaper reading public of Chattisgarh also potential suspects and possible future detainees, going by the logic of the investigating agencies in the state. The Act he is charged along with additional allegations of sedition makes it possible for the government to keep him under detention for an unspecified period, without any evidence.

Furthering its agenda of attack on civil liberties activist, the President of PUCL in the state, Rajinder Sail was arrested with a warrant over an old “contempt of court proceedings” case fished out from the cold storage when he became active over the detention of Dr Sen.

The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (PSA) introduced by the BJP government in the state and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act introduced by the UPA government at the national level has given unbridled powers to uniformed men and their fellow thugs in Salwa Judum with state protection to pursue their trigger happy, torturing, encounter-staging ways. The notoriety of these Acts is impelled by the low accountability of the officials and policemen caught in these Acts and follow the history of POTA and TADA in clamping political dissent without a shred of evidence for years on end without trial.

The trend of cracking down on civil liberty groups who speak for the rights of political detainees and against fake encounters or custodial torture is not confined to Chhattisgarh alone. Around the same time as Sen’s arrest, a former student of St. Xavier’s College, Arun Ferreira, was arrested in Maharashtra on charges of being a Maoist. Produced in court in Nagpur, his complaints of custodial torture were ignored and the magistrate in fact allowed police to subject him to narco-analysis, widely held to be torture in another form. When his friends and former college mates from Mumbai told the press they would visit him in Nagpur, the Police Commissioner of Nagpur announced that he would arrest anyone who came in support of Arun! Similarly a Superintendent of Police stationed in one of the ‘disturbed districts’ of Chhattisgarh gave instructions to his men to target journalists, individuals who were overzealous about the question of human rights. The government’s aggression is hinged on the convenience of declaring areas “Naxalite affected”, stepping up activities of Salwa Judum thugs in these areas, displacing the tribal populace and banning all forms of protest there so that it can pursue its policy of handing over the loot of resources to private–multinational groups. In the course of the misery faced by people here, the state government has already signed 30 MoUs (memoranda of understanding) with notorious business houses for mining and ravaging the resources of the local-tribal people.

Democratic voices and people’s movements in India and beyond have demanded of the   BJP government that:
- Dr Binayak Sen be released immediately and unconditionally and harassment of other activists in the state be stopped

- The Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2006 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 2004 introduced by the UPA government must be repealed

- The Salwa Judum must be disbanded

- The MoUs with the business houses in the government declared disturbed areas must be cancelled