As India's slow justice system occupies national attention a well known writer says the working of the judiciary must stand up to public scrutiny from lay people.
Author Dilip D'Souza's new book, "The Curious Case of Binayak Sen", examines the questionable life term for sedition awarded to the doctor and human rights activist from Chhattisgarh despite doubts being cast on the evidence against him.
"I didn't set out to build a case defending Sen. My idea was just to examine the case that was built against him and see what I could learn. I firmly believe the working of our judiciary can and must stand public scrutiny from lay people like us; and in fact the greatest respect we can offer our judiciary is such scrutiny. It's in that spirit I started writing this book," D'Souza, a 52-year-old writer from Mumbai, told IANS in an e-mail interview.
Sen, 62, was arrested in May 14, 2007, in Raipur and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Chhattisgarh court Dec 24, 2010, for allegedly supporting and sympathising with Maoists. In April 15, 2011, the Supreme Court released him on bail.
The book, written in simple language, delves into Sen's life-altering training in rural healthcare at Vellore's Christian Medical College, his years treating the poor at a mining area hospital, his commitment to ending malnutrition and the writer's several meetings with Sen. It then logically examines the charge-sheet and evidence against Sen, highlighting the anomalies. He also writes on sedition and dissects the judgment.
Asked if he wanted the weaknesses of evidences as pointed out in the book to help in Sen's case, D'Souza said: "Of course! It surprises me that these weaknesses - and there are more, not in the book - did not figure in his case. It is this weakness of evidence that is the greatest criticism of the case against Sen."
But D'Souza said he does not exactly know the reason behind Sen's arrest. "I can only offer conjectures: his work and criticism stepped on too many toes."
Throughout the book, published by Harper Collins, D'Souza also tries to show how lack of dedicated doctors in rural areas is slowly killing the poor.
"To me, concerns of community or rural healthcare are a fundamental part of Sen's story. They are what made him what he is; they are also part of the process by which Naxalites (Maoists) have come to find such a lot of popular support."
Sen, who heads the Chhattisgarh unit of rights group People's Union for Civil Liberties, was branded a Maoist courier for passing on three letters by jailed Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal to businessman Piyush Guha.
Asked if Sanyal and Guha too were wrongly sentenced to life with Sen, D'Souza said: "I haven't examined their cases at all. Perhaps I should, or someone should, and write a book about them."
In the book, he says sedition is misunderstood in India, referring to the Kedarnath vs State of Bihar case. How?
"With sedition, there is the whole issue of freedom of speech, and what the place is for a law like that in a democracy. But Kedarnath made it very clear: to establish a case of sedition under the law, there must be a direct incitement to violence. That is, someone accused of sedition under Section 124 A must be subjected to this test: did they incite violence? If they don't pass it, it's not sedition. It's that simple. I don't believe Sen (and many others accused of sedition) pass that test."
Asked why Sen's lawyers could not see through the apparent flimsiness of evidence, he said: "He had some fabulous lawyers. I don't know why more was not made of all the shoddy evidence presented to court. To me, the evidence alone should have been reason to dismiss the case. Still, better late than never?"