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Dr. Binayak Sen. Photo Courtsey The Hindu

The Raipur Sessions Court handed down a life sentence yesterday to eminent physician and rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen, convicting him under Sections 120B for Criminal Conspiracy and read with 124A for Sedition under the Indian Penal Code and Sections 8(1), (2), (3), and (5) of the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, and Section 39 (2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (as amended in 2004).

He was acquitted of the charges of waging war against the state under Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code.

Two others accused in the same case who too were convicted were senior Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal and Pijush Guha, a businessman from Kolkata.

In his order Sessions Judge B.P. Verma had written (quoted here from The Hindu report Dec 25, 2010) “that while Mr. Sanyal was a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha aided and supported the CPI (Maoist), including ferrying three letters purportedly written by Mr. Sanyal.”

Judge Verma justified the harsh sentence on the ground that “the way that terrorists and Maoist organisations are killing State and Central paramilitary forces and innocent Adivasis and spreading fear, terror and disorder across the country and community implies that this court cannot be generous to the accused and give them the minimum sentence under law.”

So what basically constitute the charges that have invited such harsh punishment and the evidence on which the convictions were made? (For the complete list of charges against Dr. Binayak Sen, see Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 7, Dated Feb 23, 2008)

The basic contention of the Chhattisgarh police and hence the prosecution is that on May 6, 2007, Pijush Guha, the Kolkata businessman, was picked up from near the Raipur railway station and recovered from his possession were Maoist publications and 3 letters purportedly written to him by senior Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal from jail. These three letters, the most crucial evidence, were allegedly handed over to Pijush Guha by Dr. Binayak Sen who, as a physician and the head of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, had met Narayan Sanyal several times in Raipur Jail.

That there are many glaring inconsistencies and prima facie attempts at ‘planting’ evidence by the Chhattisgarh Police has already been widely reported and discussed in the media. I shall just dwell on one crucial question – Did Dr. Binayak Sen really act as a courier and smuggle out Narayan Sanyal’s letters from Raipur Jail to pass on to Pijush Guha as alleged by the prosecution?

According to the Chhattisgarh Police, Dr. Binayak Sen met Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal 33 times in Jail, 5 of those visits were in April 2007, that is just prior to Pijush Guha’s arrest, and that is the time when these ‘unsigned’ letters purportedly written by Sanyal were given to Dr. Sen to be clandestinely carried out.

It is, however, already on record that every single meeting was with due permission of the jail authorities and as per procedure the meetings took place in the jailer’s room. Also, in each of their meetings they had to speak in Hindi “so that each and every word could be heard and understood by the supervising officer.” (Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 52, Dated January 01, 2011)

To those unfamiliar let me elaborate. To meet détenus or those arrested under any of the Acts such as the NSA, UAPA etc, one has to go through an elaborate process to obtain permission from the Court in which the accused is on trial. Once one has been granted permission to visit for a bona fide reason, the meeting usually takes place in a designated room in the jailor’s office premises. Needless to say, the visitor is thoroughly searched and isn’t allowed to carry anything. Even while the meeting takes place, which usually is for a short duration, it is closely supervised by at least an assistant jailor and an officer from the Special Branch of the state police. The détenu or the accused and the visitor have to converse in a language comprehensible to the supervising officers. Even after the audience is over and the visitor leaves, he or she is thoroughly searched once again. I do not know of the practices of the Raipur Jail in particular, but any variation are likely to be insignificant.

Given these conditions, would it have really been possible for Sanyal to give these letters, and for Dr. Sen to smuggle them out?

Let us now go a step ahead. Indian jails and jail authorities are also notoriously corrupt and known to be in connivance with criminals lodged in their custody in helping them to maintain contact with their associates outside. So if at all Dr. Sen smuggled out those letters, it could have happened only with the connivance of the jail authority of Raipur Jail.

Since it is the contention of the Chhattisgarh Police that the letters written by Sanyal lodged in the Raipur Jail had been smuggled out, it is imperative for the Chhattisgarh Police to launch a thorough investigation into such a serious security breach which has allowed a dreaded Maoist leader in jail to pass on instructions to his associates outside. The Chhattisgarh Police can begin by taking into custody the Supervising Officers who were present in the meetings, and also the security detail which frisked the visitor in letting him in and again while he left the jail. As this is something the Chhattisgarh Police haven’t done so far, and is unlikely to do, seeking direction of a judicial authority must be seriously considered.

If Dr. Binayak Sen is indeed guilty of smuggling out Sanyal’s letters, those who connived with them to make it possible are guilty of sedition too. We can’t have two sets of laws here, can we?

If the jail staff were indeed in connivance with either Sanyal or Dr. Sen, or both, the question that arises next is that why would Dr. Sen need to go to the jail to get the letters in the first place, taking undue risks? Wouldn’t it be far easier for any among the conniving staff to simply bring out the letters and hand it over to the contact outside?

Have you answered these questions Judge Verma, in so eloquently condemning a man on so inconsistent a set of arguments and backed by even shoddier evidence?

Dr. Binayak Sen’s conviction is a disgrace because it subverts the very judicial impartiality & rigour that goes into a judgement