The 22 Nobel laureates who recently appealed to the Union government, asking that well-known Indian health care and human rights activist Binayak Sen be released from jail, have no respect for law, according to the Chhattisgarh government.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Ironically, the law that the state seeks to uphold here is widely seen as a draconian one — that because of its imprecise definitions of what constitutes unlawful activities is known to be highly prone to abuse by powerful interests. Sen, who is vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and has recently won the prestigious Thomas Mann award (2008) for his health care and human rights work, was arrested last May under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly aiding the region’s Naxalite movement. As the Nobel-winning scientists and economists also stated, the laws in question are not in accord with international human rights standards.
But human rights standards are evidently not a matter of huge concern while the state seeks to extract the most from its immense resource wealth — even as the local communities remain marginalized with little hope, given the failure of governance in the region. That this has been the ample base on which the Maoist extremists have built their increasingly violent and disruptive movement is quite lost on those governing the state. They are instead focused on supporting counter- violence with the Salwa Judum.
It is not just civil rights activists such as Sen who have been increasingly vocal about the excesses under the Salwa Judum. The Planning Commission had set up an expert group on development challenges in extremist-affected areas in 2006. It submitted its report last month, in which it said encouragement of such vigilante groups dehumanizes people and above all represents abdication of the state itself. Importantly, the group added that it is undemocratic and counterproductive to penalize those who seek to contact affected people and speak or write about their observations.
Sen belongs to the class of those who not only work at the grass-roots level for the tribal communities, but also express serious concern about the excesses of the state. Instead of treating this class as a security threat, the state needs to listen to it and learn how to earn the confidence of the locals. Alongside, as the expert group said, it needs to mount development work on a scale equal to the dimensions of the problem. Jailing people such as Sen only shows an undemocratic and counterproductive state response.
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