Cry freedom

Cry freedom

FIRST EDIT


The Supreme Court directive that civil rights activist Binayak Sen be freed on bail forthwith is not only a major victory for those who value freedom, but a timely reminder of how fragile people’s liberties are. Sen has walked free from a Chhattisgarh jail where he was arraigned for over two years for allegedly collaborating with the Naxals, a charge not substantiated by any reliable evidence. Sen’s incarceration in prison, where he was held in cruel legal limbo, is testimony to the state’s denial of the most basic and constitutionally guaranteed rights, and plain human decency, not to mention a subversion of justice.

Vice-President of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Sen became an icon for all freedom-loving citizens who abhor the state’s strong-arm, coercive methods that trample on their rights. His arrest and indictment under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, is a grim reminder of the state of affairs that is suspected to exist in trouble-torn parts of the country, including Jammu & Kashmir and the North-east where the security forces, including the police, enjoy untrammelled powers of arrest and detention without trial for long periods. In the past, governments of Naxal-hit states have exhibited a penchant for random arrests, including the detention of juveniles and innocent women. The most recent case is the grudge-arrest of some indigenous people of Lalgarh in West Bengal where the Left Front regime has, in the past, often tom-tomed its respect for human rights, but has done little to safeguard them. In general, the wide-ranging powers that security forces enjoy in states battling terrorism only underscore the Weberian definition of the state which claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of coercion within a given territory.

While the case against Sen, who petitioned for release from prison so that he could undergo medical treatment, will be fought in a trial court, there is already a welter of support that he had no hostile intentions. Now that the Supreme Court has turned back the state’s efforts to subvert justice, those in power must ponder how gravely they have injured the nation’s tradition of due process and rule of law. Instead of dealing with Sen as a dangerous undertrial, not just the Chhattisgarh but the Central government should take the sobering decision to see if he could be a valuable interlocutor between them and the Naxals, a force that has swelled because of the state’s denial of protection of justice, democracy and economic redistribution.

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