Prisoners of conscience  

Posted by Praveen in , ,

"Even if a 1000 sinners go unpunished, an innocent man should never be punished". This is supposed to be one of the unwritten laws of judiciary. But the Indian govt and judiciary seems to believe in just the opposite. Mass murderers walk free through our streets. Cold blooded rapists contest elections. Corrupt officials get a pat on the back and promotion to boot. Less said the better, about corrupt politicians. So how will we fill up the jails? Easy it is! Use one of those words like terrorism or maoism, frame a case against someone who's not even remotely connected with any of these and put him in jail. It helps that no one in India will ever question if a person is arrested in connection with one of these 'isms'. And matters are made easier when a section of the media is ready to give breathless coverage and conduct a 'virtual execution' of the 'traitor'.
Binayak Sen-Prisoner of conscience

'Sedition' is the buzzword nowadays in judicial circles. Dr.Binayak Sen is the innocent victim of this ugly word, which is twisted to suit those at the top. And his crime? Treating the poor and down trodden Indians living in naxal hit villages and then speaking out against the notorious salwa judum, the supposedly anti-naxalite people's army of Chattisgarh. Binayak Sen is also the national vice president of People's Union for civil liberties, which was one of the organisations that spoke out against the Judum's atrocities in the name of fighting naxals. Innocent villagers were killed and women raped by the special police officer's(SPO) of the Salwa Judum. The Judum started as a people's movement to fight naxals but later morphed into a monster which is even worse than the naxals.(Read this Tehelka article to know about some of their atrocities). Binayak Sen speaking out against this state sponsored terrorism ruffled a few feathers. And they hit back with a vengeance, arresting him in 2007. He was branded as a naxal and as a threat to national security. This, even after he spoke out against the violent ways of the naxals. After almost 3 years in jail, the Raipur court sentenced him to life imprisonment 2 weeks back. Another victim of the sedition charge is Sudhir Dhawle, the editor of vidrohi magazine, who was arrested this week. This well known human rights activist was also arrested on charges of having close links with naxals. Yet another case of the mighty state trying to silence those who speak uncomfortable truths happened with the Karnataka police framing false cases against K.K.Shahina, Tehelka's reporter who wrote a report on how the police paraded false witnesses in the Madani case. They even branded her a terrorist, allegedly because of her name which symbolised the community she belonged to. And, of course none can forget the other high profile victim of the sedition drama, Arundathi Roy.
Sudhir Dhawle protesting against the injustice meted out to Binayak Sen. Ironic that, he himself was arrested on the same charges soon after this!

K.K.Shahina, a honest reporter who was branded a terrorist!

All these instances point to a police state becoming increasingly uncomfortable with its citizens speaking out against its wrongdoings. I used to think that human rights activists are a burden to the society with their negative approach to the government. The mainstream media also did contribute to this blinkered view of mine. But, over the last few years, with the emergence of alternate news sources, the campaign of misinformation run by the state and its cronies is slowly unravelling. Without these bunch of activists who bravely question the injustices and stand up for the rights of the silenced, our country will be in deeper danger. I still regard Arundathi Roy's views on azadi and afzal guru with utter contempt. But there are other issues that activists including her have spoken out about, which deserves to be heard and acted upon. The plight of the kashmiris reeling under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act[AFSPA], the plight of the tribals driven away by mining corporations, the plight of the poor Indian citizen tormented by the police and many other similar cases need to be discussed in the civil society.

The sedition law stated in section 124A clearly states that "Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section." All the above said cases fall under this particular category. There was never an attempt to excite hatred, but an expression of disapproval in the way the state behaves in particular scenarios. The sedition law dates back to the days of the British empire, with appropriate changes made after independence. There are suggestions in various circles to repeal the law itself. A better idea would be to use it wisely. But the way the government is using it to silence its critics sets a dangerous precedent. Its these disagreeing voices which acts as corrective forces and balances the democracy. By shutting them up and selling its propaganda, the Indian state is edging closer to show signs of an autocratic state. Its time more voices spoke up. A lone wolf is easy to hunt down, but not a pack of them.

your crusader Praveen