Talking about human rights violations during elections is like raising one's voice in a hall where the entire audience is shouting without pause. Even otherwise, elections in India are a noisy tamasha. Still I would like to draw attention to the case of Dr. Binayak Sen, a prisoner of conscience, languishing for years in a jail at Chhattisgarh, a state ruled by the BJP.
Why I have brought in the BJP is because the party leaders have said from many rostrums that India has lost its soul since it has stopped bothering about morals and values. I find them no less wanting.
I do not want to introduce in my argument the demolition of the Babri masjid, nor the carnage at Gujarat. They may sidetrack the specific issue I have raised. My plea is confined to Binayak's case lest the party uses other incidents as an alibi to cover up the detention of Binayank under the Public Safety Act or of those who uphold India's ethos of pluralism.
Principles have no meaning for the BJP if it is not willing to follow them. Somehow, I felt that my letter to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh will help Binayak to get better medical attention. I wrote to him because I had come to believe that Raman Singh had a human side despite his personal venom against the Naxalites.
In my letter, I did not argue the merits or the demerits of Binayak's case. Nor did I ask for his release. I would have done so but I feared that in the midst of such requests, the immediate medical help required for Binayak's might be delayed.
I was wrong about the chief minister. He did not even respond to the three-line request to transfer Binayak to the Vellore Hospital for better medical attention. I am disappointed for not getting any response because mine is a non-political voice by a human rights activist.
I can understand that Raman Singh is a busy man because he personally supervises action against the people he considers Naxalites. Since he had re-won the assembly election, I had imagined that he must be having a popular touch for returning to popular. Since I have never visited Chhattisgarh over which he presides I cannot make any value judgment about the state's administration. But there is something called basic courtesy, sending an acknowledgment which is a routine work of a well-run office.
Maybe, Raman Singh is not an exception. Such courtesies are archaic, something of the days gone by. When he has taken no action on the appeal of 20 Noble prize winners to release Binayak, his slight for my letter is understandable.
Yet by not replying, Raman Singh cannot shut his eyes to the unending sufferings of Binayak or the outcry against his detention. I know that the chief minister's pet child is the Salwa Judum, a force he has constituted to let people 'defend' themselves against 'violence' by the Naxalites.
This force is above law and it indulges in all types of activities, including violence, against the Naxalites or those the government regards as Naxalites. What the chief minister has really done is to put adivasis against adivasis, changing a peaceful environment into a land of murder with the authorities playing a negative role. Binayak is said to have written against the Salwa Judum.
|Binayak being led to prison from courts
So what? Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution. The chief minister may have not liked what Binayak wrote. But then the democratic structure that India proudly sustains allows dissent. I am sure that his party agrees with me on this point, although it has to support what Raman Singh does.
The BJP would rise in stock if it were to pull up persons like Raman Singh because they give the impression of being autocratic. The party should realise that Binayak's detention has become an all-India issue. Or for that matter, all world issue.
There is a satyagraha going on at Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. And the movement, 'Free Binayak' is spreading beyond even the Hindi-speaking states. The question is not whether dissent pays, but whether there is any space left for it. The illegitimate use of force is making people desperate.
Binayak and the Naxalites are not synonymous. The ideology of egalitarianism may be common. But the methods are different. There is nothing wrong in aspiring for a society which knows no poverty, no inequality and no oppression.
Binayak is said to have carried a letter to the Naxalites. Even if it is true and even if the letter contained something which the authorities did not like, how Binayak could become guilty of a crime which is punished by endless detention? He is not part of the Naxalites' policy of violence, to eliminate those who are considered part of vested interests.
Binayak has been secretary-general of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) which the Gandhian Jaya Prakash Narayan had founded. Binayak is a human rights activist who has been touched by the poverty he has seen from close quarters. The killings which the Naxalites carry-and they have been at their worst during the elections-is the main difference which persons like Binayak have with them.
He is a doctor who sustains life, doesn't snap it. He has worked among the adivasis for years to help them overcome their illness. He is a barefoot doctor but has felt the helplessness of the poor. Binayak's case causes concern because it shows how a doctor believing that the medicine alone cannot give health to the society can be put behind bars on trumped-up charges.
It is all the more alarming because the state High Court and the Supreme Court have refused him bail without telling people the reasons for it. Hopefully, his case, coming again before the Supreme Court, will see him free.
What is happening to Binayak is a symptom of the disease which is spreading in India. The disease is the government's authority to suppress those who challenge the system.
Even fake encounters are arranged to kill those who are considered 'dangerous'. The entire apparatus of administration reeks with intolerance. The remedy lies in overhauling the system, not in detaining those who point out: the king is naked!