Guest post by MAHTAB ALAM
On Friday morning, when I started for the Supreme Court to attend the bail hearing of Dr. Binayak Sen, like many of our friends and comrades I was not sure of whether he would be granted bail. I was afraid that the case would be adjourned once again, as many of us who are regular visitors of courts expect, aware of the delaying tactics of government counsels, and the history of tareekh par tareekh. Kavita Srivastava, who has been following the case closely and campaigning tirelessly for Binayak’s release along with others, put the spirit back in me. It couldn’t get any worse, she said.
Fortunately, it turned out to be a good Friday. I was happy, as were my friends and comrades. We wanted to scream out of joy and happiness but we restrained ourselves for we were in the court premises and could be booked for ‘contempt of the Court’. Naturally, it was one of the happiest moments our life. Binayak and Ilinia a source of inspiration for hundreds of students and youth like me. I am happy for Binayak, for his family, especially for his mother, for ordinary (read extra-ordinary) people of Chattisgarh and for thousands of his supporters and justice loving people.
Mr. Palaniappan Chidambaram is also happy with the judgement. “I am happy to know that Binayak Sen has got bail from the Supreme Court. I have always believed that if one is not satisfied with a lower court order, one can get reprieve by approaching a higher court,” he told journalists. I think it is important to ask hard questions of the Home Minister because his happiness seems to be disingenuous. Isn’t it because of the policies adopted by him and his ministry, hand in glove with the BJP government of Raman Singh (in Chhattisgarh), that Binayak was sent to jail? Are they even aware of all that Binayak’s family had to bear and undergo for this moment of happiness – bail while the case is pending before a higher court? I believe that Chidambaram and his company have no moral right to be happy, just as Lalit Modi has no right to be part of the anti-corruption movement. Moreover, I would like to ask the home minister, how many people can afford to fight back like Binayak, because there are hundreds of poor and illiterate rotting in various jails on similar charges. Is the Government of India, specially the ministries of Home and Law ready to initiate any process which may provide a chance to these people to prove their innocence? I think these are the hard questions which Mr. Home Minister has to answer before he can say he is happy.
Otherwise, we have no option but to believe that he is just making a mockery of us. I say this because his argument at the time of Binayak’s conviction was, “If he is wrongly convicted, it will be corrected in lawful ways.” And this is not different from what the BJP leader, Arun Jaitaly had said. Like the Home Minister, he had also said that ‘if anyone thinks Binayak Sen is unjustly convicted, they may appeal in higher courts. Why is there so much of hue and cry?” So, when we see the tone of ‘happiness’ of Chidambaram, it conveys a message that, ‘see, did I not say that if he is unjustly convicted, he will be relieved by the higher courts. But you human rights wallahs will never understand. I wonder, what would have been the reaction of Mr. Home Minister in case bail wasn’t granted to Binayak. More interestingly, Raman Singh, the Chief Minister has said, “We respect the decision given by Supreme Court. We have always respected any court’s decision and we will continue to do that.”
What about the observations made by one of the judges at the time of granting bail? The Home minister did not comment on that. Justice C K Prasad said: “We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathiser. That does not make him guilty of sedition.” Drawing an analogy, he asked, “If Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography is found in somebody’s place, is he a Gandhian? No case of sedition is made out on the basis of materials in possession unless you show that he was actively helping or harbouring Maoists.” And as we all know, over the years, thousands of innocents have been arrested on the above ground across the country. The ‘literature’ can be anything, from pamphlets, booklets, CDs, posters to books, irrespective of the fact that it is available everywhere. When Binayak was convicted, I had jokingly said to a friend of mine that if the police were to raid my place, I could also be charged with sedition on similar charges because I had a huge amount of both ‘Naxali’ and ‘Jehadi’ literature. In my library, they’d find selected writings of Chairman Mao, which I had bought from a book stall in front of Cafe-Coffee Day in Lucknow’s glitzy Hazratganj area, and the book Red Sun: Travels In Naxalite Country, written by Sudeep Chakravarti, which contains some parts of the Urban Area Plan of the CPI (Maoists) and, ‘Jehadi’ literature like the book, Al-Jihad fil Islam, on the concept of Jihad in Islam written by Maulana Maududi, etcetera!
For me, it was just a joke but I personally know many people across the country who were arrested, detailed and tortured just because they were found with ‘Naxali’ or ‘Jehadi’ literature. In fact, if you read news related to the arrest of ‘Terrorists’ and ‘Maoists’, in most of the cases, it is stated that they are found with ‘Naxali’ or ‘Jehadi’ literature, which might only be a pamphlet opposing displacement or criticising the invasion on Afganistan! In December 2008, twenty one Muslim youth were acquitted from terror charges. These youth were arrested by the Hyderabad city police after three blasts in Hyderabad in May and August 2007, killing 54 people. The police had booked them under sections 120 (B), 125 and 126 of IPC and had also alleged that they were in possession of ‘Jehadi’ literature. However, the 7th Metropolitan Sessions Judge Radha Krishna threw out the case and acquitted all the accused saying that the prosecution had failed to bring any evidence to prove the charges. During detention, the youth were severely tortured and most of them are still struggling to bring their life back on track. Similarly in Rajasthan, after the blasts in Jaipur and Ajmer, many were arrested on similar charges and harassed.
So, apart from the bail, the observations are landmark, I must confess, and it can serve as a precedent for hundreds of cases where the people are rotting in Jail only because they were allegedly found with ‘Naxali’, ‘Jehadi’ or ‘Seditious’ literature. The judges have made it very clear that even if a person is found with Naxali literature, he cannot be treated as a Maoist. But now, the question arises that are the government agencies ready to work accordingly? Will they stop arresting people who possess some ‘Naxali’, ‘Jehadi’ or ‘Seditious’ literature?
In the coming days, we have to see how Binayak’s case is further handled by the state of Chattisgarh because till date, governments have been very selective in both happiness and ‘respecting’ the courts. The action by both the central and state government agencies alone will tell us how happy they really are and they respect the court up to what extent. So, let’s wait and watch.
(Mahtab Alam is a civil rights activist and independent journalist. He can be reached at activist dot journalist at gmail dot com.)