RAIPUR: Within 10 days of India's top intellectuals, academicians, lawyers and retired bureaucrats issuing a strong demand for the release of activist and human rights advocate Dr Binayak Sen, charges were framed under the Indian Penal Code and other acts at the February 2 hearing of the fast track court at Raipur. Dr Sen is the national vice-president of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL). He has now been accused of providing logistical support to the banned CPI (Maoist).
Dr Sen has been languishing in jail since his arrest in May 2007. He has now been booked under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) 121A (conspiracy to commit offences punishable under Section 121 i.e. war against state) and 124-A (sedition) of the IPC as well as the relevant provisions of the Unlawful Activi ties Act, 2004 besides under Chhattisgarh Public Safety Act.
Activists had visited Chhattisgarh from 18–22 January 2008 to press for Dr Sen's case adn had met the Governor and state police chief, besides meeting Dr Sen himself in the central prison at Raipur. Some members of the group also visited areas in the districts of Bastar, Dantewada and Bijapur.
Among the activists who formed part of the delegation were Amit Bhaduri, Professor JNU, social activist Medha Patkar, Magsaysay Awardees Sandeep Pandey and Arvind Kejriwal, retired DU professor Uma Chakravarty (who has also done commendable work on 1984 pogroms), former Ambassador Madhu Bhaduri, DU’s Nivedita Menon, Panjab University’s Gopal Iyer and media activist Manish Sisodia.
The team collectively issued a statement saying: "The charges filed against Dr Sen under the IPC, CrPC and the Chhattisgarh Public Safety Act (CPSA) are unwarranted and unconstitutional. The CPSA enables the government to interpret the rendering of simple humanitarian acts as unlawful. The Act defines “unlawful activity” so broadly that every act of vigilant citizenship can be construed as unlawful and anti-national. Thus it is clear that Dr Sen is being targeted in his capacity as General Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattishgarh. The reports produced by the PUCL have highlighted the anti-constitutional violence legitimized by the state through the Salwa Judum campaign."
Campaign to free Dr Sen has caught up in India though it makes little news in Punjab or among the Punjabi Diaspora. This is in pattern with the functioning of many humna rights bodies which fail to come to each other's aid because of lack of understanding, man power, resources and the machinations of the Indian state.
Dr Sen's arrest and the latest developments make it clear that the government is eliminating the possibility of a strong civil society that can act like a middle ground between Naxalites and the government. Dr Sen represents a voice that is critical of the anti-people policies of the government. Incidentally, the Indian Social Science Congress at its annual convention held in Mumbai in December 2007, had felicitated Dr Sen with a citation honouring him as a committed Gandhian.