Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Whatever Happened to the ‘Other Binayaks’? Civil Society’s Failure to Stand by the People Targeted by the Indian State

The Indian ‘civil society’ –constituted by the articulate section of the middle class and representing a wide spectrum of ideological affiliations– has been shocked by the recent conviction of Dr. Binayak Sen. There have been vocal protests all over the country against the unfair implication of Dr. Sen in charges under the draconian UAPA as well as Chhattisgarh Public Safety Act, and the recent court verdict handing him a life imprisonment. For the so-called civil society, the defense of Dr. Sen stems from his untiring service to the people as a highly respected and socially committed medical practitioner who have spent an entire lifetime amongst one of the most marginalised and exploited sections of India – the adivasis of undivided Bastar. He took up the responsibility of fighting for the democratic rights of prisoners –including the Maoist political prisoners– imprisoned in the jails of Chhattisgarh, and demanded that the state provided them with all the rights they are entitled to, including the right to a fair trial and timely medical treatment. In the last few years, when the Indian state launched Salwa Judum to crush the growing revolutionary movement in central India, being a democrat and a prominent activist of the country’s civil rights movement, Dr. Sen was among the first to oppose the fratricidal war instigated by the ruling classes to further its own vested interest. He exposed the fiction propagated by the state and a pliant media that Salwa Judum was a ‘spontaneous movement’ of the adivasis against the Maoists. For becoming a formidable impediment to its nefarious designs, the state decided to crack the whip on Dr. Sen by framing him in cooked-up charges, and threw him in prison.

In its opposition to Dr. Sen’s conviction, the ‘civil society’ has missed the woods for the trees: Barring a section of the diehard reactionaries, there is a general consensus in the civil society that Binayak Sen’s arrest and the sentence against him is without any basis and is therefore entirely unjustified.The corporate media which is otherwise complicit in its silence to such witch-hunt, and more often justifies state repression by parroting stories concocted by the police, has also given space to the defenders of Dr. Sen. The widespread protests and a strong opposition in the ‘public sphere’ against his life imprisonment too is a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the blatant violation of the democratic rights of the citizens by the Indian state, particularly in the context of its ongoing war against the people. The civil society has consequently voiced its concern over ‘the death of democracy’, ‘the trial of Indian democracy’, ‘miscarriage of justice’ etc. by citing Dr. Sen’s fate. However, a close look at the recent programmes and utterances of this so-called civil society or the civil-society organisations make it very clear that barring a few honourable exceptions, they have failed to address the fundamental questions raised by Dr. Binayak Sen’s conviction and life imprisonment.

The civil society has failed to highlight the causes Dr. Binayak Sen fought for, or to emphasise the context in which he has been wrongfully targeted. By separating Dr. Sen’s lot from that of the people he worked with, or by underplaying the demands of the people which Dr. Sen gave voice to, the majority section of the civil society has ended up complementing the work of the state. While the state has removed him physically from the people, the Indian civil society has removed Dr. Sen from his cause, his mission and his political conviction. Dislocated in this way from his context, Dr. Sen is then presented to us merely as an individual, as a charismatic figure and a cause-célèbre, far removed from peoples’ movements and their aspirations. What remains to be fought, then, is the mere ‘human rights’ of Dr. Sen, and what becomes the casualty in the process is his politics. He would have never been found to be involved in anti-state activity if he were a good doctor working among tribal for their welfare. The struggle for the freedom of Dr. Binayak Sen will be grossly flawed and inadequate if the political content of his decades-long work is erased, removing him from the adivasis, the working people, their movements.

This becomes all the more obvious when we notice the deafening silence and utter failure of the same civil society in addressing the unjust punishment of Binayak Sen’s two co-accused in the same case. It has been conveniently overlooked that along with Binayak Sen, Narayan Sanyal and Piyush Guha have also been given ‘life term’ in the same case and by the same judge on similarly framed-up charges. Narayan Sanyal, the co-accused of Dr. Sen is in Raipur jail for the last five years, the prosecution having failed to conclusively prove his involvement in any ‘illegal’, ‘criminal’ or ‘violent’ activity. There is no proof whatsoever that he was guilty of the numerous charges slapped on him by the police. Setting aside the uncomfortable issues of proof and evidence, the trial-court judge simply observed that he is a ‘Maoist ideologue’, and that it is enough to keep him in jail for life! The question is, can anyone be punished –let alone life imprisonment– merely for upholding an ideology? Has the belief in Marxism or Maoism itself become a criminal offence? What happened to the constitutionally guaranteed right to political freedom? The civil-society has not raised these questions so far. The truth, however, is simple: the state and the ruling classes can and will take away even the right to follow an ideology if it talks of the liberation of the oppressed people. If Binayak Sen represents the progressive and democratic stream of the Indian democratic rights movement, Narayan Sanyal represents the revolutionary movement inspired by Naxalbari which has taken firm roots among the oppressed people of Bastar. That is why even at the age of 76 years Narayan Sanyal is a threat to the state, as is every genuine revolutionary. From hundreds of ‘encounter’ killings, illegal detentions and torture to imprisonment of nearly ten thousand ‘Maoists’ in various Indian jails –an unprecedented number of political prisoners in India– the state is cracking its whip. The so-called civil society has been on the whole silent on the state’s persecution of revolutionaries, barring a few exceptions like the cold blooded killing of Azad and Hem Chandra Pandey, when the state’s acts became too blatant to defend.

Piyush Guha, unlike Binayak Sen and Narayan Sanyal, has no political or ideological affiliation. Even today, the police have not presented any palpable evidence against this small-time tendu-leaf trader from Bengal, which the court chose to overlook while pronouncing his punishment. The alleged ‘courier’ of ‘Maoist leaders’ was kept in illegal custody and tortured for five days and imprisoned for the last three and a half years. Even though there are obvious disparities in the story made up by the police to justify his arrest, there is hardly any protest from the majority of the Indian civil society against his wrongful conviction as well. Piyush Guha is just one among thousands who have been made to undergo state repression after being presented as ‘Maoists’ or sympathizers, even though they have never been found to be involved in a criminal activity. Barring a few civil rights organisations such as Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and Bandi Mukti Committee (BMC) of Bengal, the rest of the civil society has maintained a calculated silence on the two convictions.

And similar are the stories of many others. Earlier this month, Sudhir Dhawale, the well-known Dalit rights activist and editor of Marathi magazine Vidrohi was arrested at Gondia and charged with sedition (Sec 124) and under Section 17, 20 and 39 of the UAPA. He was returning after addressing ‘Ambedkar-Phule Sahitya Sammelan’ near Wardha. The Maharashtra police has linked him up with Maoists, and as ‘evidence’ produced seized literatures which are nothing but the writings of Marx, Lenin, Ambedkar, and Bhagat Singh. Likewise, Asit Sengupta, the editor of the internationally reputed journal ‘A World to Win’ was illegally detained and later arrested by Chhattisgarh police in January 2008. On the same day when Binayak Sen, Narayan Sanyal and Piyush Guha were given life imprisonment, Asit Sengupta was convicted and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment for his work as an editor and publisher. Kopa Kunjam, an activist of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (Dantewada) who was working to resettle displaced adivasis in Netra village has been falsely implicated in a murder case. Similarly, nine activists including Kartam Joga of the Adivasi Mahasabha who were campaigning against land-grab in Lohandiguda have been implicated and jailed in fabricated charges.

The spokesperson of PCPA in Lalgarh, Chhatradhar Mahato and its treasurer Sukhshanti Baskey were arrested and imprisoned for more than a year. The police have taken recourse to slapping false charges including the draconian UAPA and tried to make malicious propaganda against them to establish their charges, all of which were later found to be baseless. Similarly Prasun Chatterjee and Raja Sarkhel of the Gana Pratirodh Mancha were arrested under UAPA and are still languishing in jail. The police charged them of being Maoist sympathizers. In West Bengal the first custodial death under UAPA was also recorded as Swapan Dasgupta, the editor of Bengali People’s March who was booked under UAPA and was suffering from cancer died due to criminal negligence of the Police who refused to transfuse him blood citing ‘security reasons’! More than 200 people including many women have been picked up from different places of the Jangal Mahal in the last two years and booked under UAPA or with the charges of sedition and ‘waging war against the state’ for daring to resist the decades-long repression and poverty that has been normalized in region for years. A similar kind of state repression prevails all across Jharkhand, Orissa, AP, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. In Orissa alone there are 700 people in different jails including 120 people in Rourkela and 200 people in Koraput

The ‘civil society’ is silent on the ongoing fake-encounter killings: The killing of Lalmohan Tudu the president of PCPA, Sidhu Soren Secretary of PCPA along with five others by the police in fake encounters took place in West Bengal last year. In Metla forest in Lalgarh five people were shot dead by the CRPF and it was staged as an ‘encounter’. Wadeka Singhana, the president of Chasi Mulia Advasi Sangha was killed in cold blood along another activist of the organisation in 2008. Around 130 people have been killed in ‘encounters’ in Orissa. The Andhra Police also staged the notorious and cold blooded fake encounter of Maoist spokesperson and PB member Azad and a journalist Hem Chandra Pandey. The Supreme Court recently was forced to raise serious doubts on this particular encounter as the ‘evidence’ provided by the police were flimsy.

Thus, while a section of the ‘civil society’ and the corporate media does choose to rightly highlight one blatant and obvious case of state repression like that of Dr. Sen, no such concern is visible for thousands other less-known people who are undergoing imprisonment or are already dead. The civil society has been silent on not only of the Maoists, but also of the religious and national minorities. The state had blindly hunted down innocent Muslims, linked them up with non-existent ‘terror modules’, invented ‘masterminds’ and persecuted the entire community as potential ‘terrorists’. Countless Muslims have been harassed, tortured, illegally detained, implicated and in cases like the Batla House fake encounter, even killed. Many RSS leaders like Indresh Kumar, who have been clearly named by Aseemanand are still at large while the incarcerated innocent Muslims are still languishing in jail. The same is true for civil society’s position on the oppressed nationalities, where their movement for self-determination including secession from India is being crushed by most authoritarian means by the state. Repression of their political movements – be it in the North East or Kashmir - is however reduced by the civil society to violation of human rights or demand for withdrawal of draconian laws, etc.

The civil-society presents the conviction of the three merely as an aberration, where one reactionary judge in a lower court can be blamed for meting out an unacceptable verdict. This however is yet another evidence –for those who still justifies the present oppressive system– of the fascist nature of the Indian state or its various organs. Sandwiched between a fascist state and people’s heroic resistance, they have played time and again an opportunist politics of creating a false and impossible dream of ‘democratising the state’. The parliamentary ‘Left’ parties like CPI(M) have also revealed their fascist colours by becoming the most faithful ally of UPA and BJP in this war against the people. CPI(M) thus wants ‘proportionate punishment’ for Binayak Sen and has justified his earlier denial of bail. But when these murderers speak anything on Binayak Sen’s arrest, it tantamount to nothing but crass hypocrisy. Their electoral ally CPI(ML)Liberation however has no other choice but to celebrate such double-speak. Liberation (and AISA) which on papers ‘condemn’ CPI(M)’s gross carnages in Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh or off late in Netai have allied with same CPI(M) in Bihar elections and saw ‘new possibilities’ in such opportunist alliance. So they have no other options but to welcome, as they did in their last pamphlet, the opportunist stand of CPI(M) on Dr Sen! And that is the reason why Liberation cannot speak beyond Binayak Sen. Because then they have to accept how inherently fascist this Indian state is; how entrenched feudal forces are and how futile parliamentary politics is! Then they also have to stand unconditionally with the resilient masses who are fighting this fascist brahminical system tooth and nail. But that is a politics Liberation has left behind way back. It thus finds its alliance with the social fascist CPI(M), the reactionary Nitish Kumar, and with the apolitical civil society and NGOs.

It is time the ‘civil society’ realize that there is no ‘democracy' for the vast majority in India. The state repression is not rooted in undemocratic functioning of today’s UPA government, or any government of the day. In the name of dialogue and peace, what they have practiced is nothing but NGO-styled strategic intervention. Peace or dialogue can never be talked about in abstraction. People on the other hand are struggling against a system of inequality, oppression by the ruling classes of India.We hope that the Indian civil society will to overcome its limitations and will try to integrate more closely with the ongoing peoples’ movements in the country.

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