Narayan Sanyal is a 74-year-old man with white hair parted to one side and fibromatosis in both hands. His arrest memo notes that he wears dentures, has spots on his body and smokes cigarettes. “My health is not going well, arthritis is a new thing catching up, age is telling,” he writes in a letter addressed to a ‘Dear friend V’. This letter and two others became crucial evidence in the conviction last week of Mr. Sanyal, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and eminent doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen.
Behind their conviction lies a curious paradox to which the Chhattisgarh police has never given a satisfactory answer: Why was Mr. Sanyal — whose Maoist connections led to charges against the co-accused in the first place — himself never charged with sedition or conspiracy to wage war or even with belonging to or supporting an unlawful organisation until well after Dr. Sen’s arrest under those serious offences?
On Christmas Eve, the Raipur Sessions court delivered a surprisingly harsh sentence in the case of The State of Chhattisgarh versus Pijush Guha, Binayak Sen and Narayan Sanyal, where B.P. Verma sentenced all three to life imprisonment for “conspiring to commit sedition.”
This latest ruling on a sedition case isn’t so much about the narrowing of the space of expression in India (there are far more illustrative cases here, here and here) but more about the wide application of the sedition law to convict when the supporting evidence is questioned by the defence.
Prosecution teams seem to have figured out that in cases involving “Maoist issues” – a poor investigation can easily be supported by planting “seditious” documents and pushing for sedition.
Through the course of this post, I shall try to collate some my coverage over the last two weeks to give you all a sense of how the trial proceeded. As always, I this piece serves as a starting point for further discussions. I would urge readers to post comments with links to articles that they found interesting (along with their own thoughts of course).