When things don't add up

If ever the odds were stacked against anyone, it would be doctor-activist Binayak Sen who has now been sentenced to life imprisonment for sedition by a Chhattisgarh trial court. The investigations that found Dr Sen guilty of waging war against the State have been worthy of Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling detective in the Pink Panther movies. In an effort to magnify Dr Sen's misdemeanours, an email sent by him to his wife who is director of the Indian Social Institute was mistaken to be a sinister communication to the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan. The acronym-challenged investigators then discerned some coded message in a reference to a 'chimpanzee' in the White House.

In a democratic country, none of this should have stood up in a court of law. But the unfortunate Dr Sen was done in by these and other slipshod investigative techniques. The damage does not stop at such shoddy information analysis, it goes further. Dr Sen's meetings with Narayan Sanyal, an alleged Maoist leader who is in Raipur jail, was also seen as part of a larger conspiracy to undermine the State. Though the meetings were allegedly under the supervision of the prison authorities, Dr Sen has not been given the benefit of the doubt that these were not subversive activities. The next piece of evidence is even more puzzling, that of linking Dr Sen with a Kolkata businessman who had a letter written by Mr Sanyal.

As public outrage mounts, a question bound to arise is what exactly constitutes sedition or engaging in activities which subvert the State. Dr Sen's meetings with those who are critical of the State seem to pale in comparison with the fact that those who have defrauded the exchequer have no constraints on their freedom. But this is not about comparative justice. The core of the matter is that till now, the evidence produced against Dr Sen as an enemy of the State is incredibly weak and should not have stood up in any court of law. It's not that we are insisting Dr Sen's innocence. But going by what has been put on the table by the authorities to 'prove' his guilt, he certainly can't be deemed guilty of sedition by any objective court. Dr Sen's sentence of life imprisonment will be challenged. But he has already been a victim of judicial delays earlier when he was denied bail for two years. It would be a further subversion of justice to delay moving on an appeal from him. What is at stake here is bigger than just a man being sentenced to life imprisonment courtesy extremely weak evidence. The way we as a nation deliver justice and decide who is guilty and who is not is being acutely put to test in the Binayak Sen case. We sincerely hope a brighter sense of justice prevails in a higher court.

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