Centre, State are hand in glove'

Print edition : January 28, 2011

Interview with Professor Ilina Sen.

PROFESSOR Ilina Sen teaches at the Women's Studies Department of Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University in Wardha, Maharashtra, and has been closely associated with her husband Dr Binayak Sen's work. She has also been associated with the women's movement for the last three decades. Her statement at a press conference in New Delhi, in which she expressed fear for the safety of her daughters and said she would have to consider seeking asylum in a liberal democratic country, drew a response from Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. Having struggled to get Dr Binayak Sen released from jail, where he spent two years, it is not surprising that Ilina Sen is despondent about the democratic content in the Indian polity. Excerpts from an interview she gave Frontline:

As one involved in issues concerning the poor in Chhattisgarh even when it was a part of Madhya Pradesh, how you do view the conviction and sentencing of Dr Binayak Sen by the Sessions Court? Do you think this was expected given his long incarceration and subsequent release only at the behest of the apex court?

The conviction and the savage sentence of Binayak were both expected and unexpected. They were expected because we have seen Chhattisgarh change before our eyes into a paranoid state, unable to effectively tackle the challenges of governance in areas that are disturbed and where inequity is the highest. The entire case against Binayak was launched as he was one of the few persons who spoke of such issues and human rights violations as a result of state policy. The government made it a prestige case, particularly once the bail was granted in 2009. We did feel they would try to convict him to score a point, but never anticipated that the conclusion would be so vengeful; after all the minimum sentence was three years.

It appears that the People's Union for Civil Liberties and other organisations had protested against alleged unlawful police detentions and atrocities on innocent people in the villages in the name of curbing left-wing extremism. In his defence, Dr Sen had stated that senior police officers had threatened to entrap him. Do you think this is what happened; an entrapment as a punishment for speaking out against police atrocities?

This is exactly what happened. He was a marked person from the day he exposed the real nature of Salwa Judum.

The judgment quotes some prominent newspapers in the region that have highlighted police atrocities. One newspaper compared the Chhattisgarh Public Safety Act of 2005 to the Rowlatt Act. Is this perception shared by many in the State or is this a recent development?

These newspaper reports were actually filed by us as part of Binayak's defence to show that his criticism of the State's policies was completely open and transparent. The report on the Chhattisgarh Act, comparing it with the Rowlatt act, was part of reportage on a PUCL convention. The judge disregarded this evidence only on the technical ground that we had not presented the reporters who had filed these stories.

Do you think the view held by both the Centre and the State government that extreme left-wing violence is the single largest challenge to internal security in the country is responsible for the overdrive among the security forces and has resulted in the implication of several people who are otherwise innocent? Do you feel the BJP government, in particular, has a rather extreme way of dealing with people perceived as Maoist or naxalite sympathisers?

The Centre and the State government seem to be working together and are gung-ho. The security establishment has gained a lot of power in the process and often calls the shots. They also have huge funding that comes from keeping the naxalite issue alive.

The overkill comes from the way they convince themselves and their political bosses that the world is divided into those [who are] for us and those [who are] against. There is total disregard for subtleties and differences in tone.

Even though the Congress and the BJP have maintained a tactical silence over the issue, the Left parties, the CPI and the CPI(M), have criticised the judgment. You have received a lot of support from your women studies' sorority, colleagues and organisations in the medical fraternity, the media and the intellectual community. Are you hopeful that the higher echelons of the judiciary will set right this travesty of justice as described by the Left and by editorials in some leading newspapers?

I am and have remained hopeful through this long ordeal. But I am more cynical than I was earlier.

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