The Great Indian Democracy, strange as it may sound to us still triumphantly waving our ink-marked fingers in the air, is not only about the freedom to vote and such genuinely wonderful things. It’s also about being told what’s going on when someone is arrested and kept locked away beyond the reach of queries and counter-queries for a little over two years.
On May 14, 2007, Dr Binayak Sen, paediatrician, public health and human rights activist, was arrested for violating the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. He had allegedly acted as a courier for a Naxalite detained in Raipur Jail and had then absconded. We needn’t believe Dr Sen when he denies the charges, maintaining that his interactions with the Naxal leader in the capacity of a physician had taken place under the supervision of jail authorities and after being given permission by them. Also, just because he is a good, caring doctor and has been defended by the likes of Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen shouldn’t force us to believe that he was, as he said, on pre-announced leave and had returned to Chhattisgarh when he heard that he was an accused.
But we do have the right to know three things now that Dr Sen has been finally granted bail by the Supreme Court: one, what evidence was provided to establish his ‘crime’; two, why was his ‘crime’ considered a non-bailable offence; and why have we been kept in the dark about the exact nature of the crime he allegedly committed in 2007?
With Dr Sen out on bail, one hopes that this murky fog hanging above Democratic India is cleared once and for all, if for nothing else but for the sake of the clarity of law and how it’s wielded in this land. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh’s response to the court’s direction on Monday wasn’t reassuring: “Let the law take its own course. We have full faith in the judiciary,” he said, adding, “The bail has nothing to do with the ongoing trial in the court.”
Singh is right. The apex court has granted Dr Sen bail for reasons of ailing health and not because of any new evidence kept in the dark or otherwise coming to light. But as the law, that billowing skirt on which anything and anyone rides to create their own sceneries, puts it, “If it appears to such officer or court at any stage of the investigation, inquiry or trial, as the case may be, that there are not reasonable grounds for believing that the accused has committed a non-bailable offence, but that there are sufficient grounds for further inquiry into his guilt, the accused shall, subject to the provision of Section 446-A and pending such inquiry, be released on bail...”
So, was Dr Sen not granted bail for two years for some specific reason that we should perhaps be told about now?
Considering that it is his health that has made the law have a change of heart, could we please be told about whether there are indeed “sufficient grounds for further inquiry into his guilt” or not? Let us just view a few other dots alongside the ‘Binayak Sen Dark Circle’ that’s been there for the last two years so that someone can attempt to join some dots. On March 31, 2007, several adivasis at Santoshpur, Chhattisgarh, were killed by police forces who alleged that they were Maoists.
A week before Dr Sen’s arrest, these bodies were exhumed after an order by the state Human Rights Commission who acted on eye-witness ‘complaints’. Subsequent autopsies revealed that some of the victims bore close-range bullet wounds in their heads and waists while the others were hacked to death by axes. Like other ‘suspicious, no-questions-asked killings’ before in the area, Dr Sen had highlighted the fact that Santoshpur’s dead were not violent Naxals but innocent adivasis. Can his two-year-long incarceration have had something to do with his desire to see murderers in police uniform brought to justice, the same institution that sent him packing for two years?
On May 9, 2007, a police official told the media: “It’s certain that some police personnel crossed the limits and killed innocent villagers branding them as Maoist militants... Now the government has to decide whether the police involved in killings should be arrested or not.” The government had, indeed, decided the very same day. Who said that justice in India drags on for years on end? Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ramvichar Netam went on record to say, “The government will not arrest the policemen involved in the killings.” Five days later, Dr Sen was detained for “passing on letters” from a jailed Naxal and, by extension, waging a war against the State.
I sincerely hope that we get to hear even half as much from Dr Sen as we got to hear from, say, Ajmal Kasab via the media. And let us, newly-charged democratic people of India, be told about whatever happened to those policemen who were there in Santoshpur on March 31, 2007. As those who’ve been vaguely intrigued about Dr Sen’s ‘crime’ for the last two years, we promise to keep an open mind.