Dr Binayak Sen,arrested by the Chhattisgarh government on the charge of conspiring with and being a conduit between Naxalites,has been in jail for 19 months now. Denied bail twice,his trial began in the Raipur sessions court on April 30,2008,a year after his arrest. Thirty eight prosecution witnesses have been examined so far,and the case is fast unravelling.
The case against Sen,a practising doctor,centres on the allegation that he illegally carried incriminating letters from jailed Naxalite Narayan Sanyal,arrested for plotting to kill former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu,to another Naxalite Piyush Guha.
The Chhattisgarh government supports this key allegation against Sen with the following pieces of evidence:
n The government is relying on the custodial confession of Piyush Guha,made in front of two witnesses. Custodial confessions,however,are inadmissible in Indian courts for fear of incentivising torture. Guha subsequently stated before a magistrate and in an affidavit filed before the court that he was tortured by police to confess. He is not listed as a prosecution witness in the current trial.
n The government alleges that Sen and Guha were close acquaintances who met regularly in Raipur hotels. As evidence,the state relies on (legally inadmissible) statements that the hotel owners and employees made to the police. But while being examined as prosecution witnesses in the ongoing trial,the hotel owners and employees turned hostile,stating in open court that they can identity neither Binayak Sen nor Piyush Guha.
n The government alleges that Sen visited Naxalite Narayan Sanyal 33 times in jail,where Sen falsely posed as Sanyals relative. In a bid to discredit this,Sens wife Ilina filed a Right to Information application to access the jail records. The records,available with The Indian Express,show that Sen,far from posing as Sanyals relative,applied for jail visits using human rights group PUCLs stationery,where Sen worked as Chhattisgarh general secretary. Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan isnt convinced. He dismisses the PUCL as being a possible front organisation of the Naxalites.
n The government is relying on three letters recovered from Guha as evidence of Sens guilt. But as Sens lawyer Mahendra Dubey points out what the letters say are irrelevant to Binayak Sen,if the state cant prove that he handed them over to Guha.
The police have placed on record more evidence of Sens alleged Naxal leanings. They point to documents and a computer CPU seized from his house.
The Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory,Hyderabad examined the CPU and their findings in DVD format have been submitted to the trial court. The DVD,a copy of which is with The Indian Express,lists Sens CPU as containing anti-Salwa Judum and anti-globalisation pamphlets. Sens wife says that these are standard activist material and that anti-Salwa Judum and pro-Naxalite are two entirely different things.
Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian produced evidence in the Supreme Court that Sen had taken part in a suspicious meeting.
The meeting was also attended by B D Sharma,former Commissioner,Scheduled Castes and Tribes,who dismisses this as a legal meeting of registered NGOs.
The Chhattisgarh government has produced a love letter,allegedly between two Naxalites,where Sens name finds mention.
These and a few other allegations in themselves dont relate to the commission of a crime. They make sense only in the context of the main allegation against Sen: carrying incriminating letters from one Naxalite to another.
But,if nothing else,they guarantee a prolonged trial running for two,perhaps even three years.
Chhattisgarh Governor and former Intelligence Bureau head ESL Narasimhan declined to be interviewed because my constitutional position does not permit me to respond.
The DGP is better placed to make such comments. DGP Vishwa Ranjan says it is wrong of Binayaks supporters to make such public statements. Evidence is a matter for the courts. BJP spokesperson and Chhattisgarh party in-charge Ravi Shankar Prasad is more forthright: Binayak Sen might have played a small part but he is nonetheless part of Naxal violence. State Congress leader Ajit Jogi,on the other hand,alleges that the case is fabricated: If I was chief minister,my first decision would have been to free Binayak Sen.
The collapsing case in the trial court,however,had no effect on the Chhattisgarh High Courts decision to refuse Sen bail in November 2008. Sen remains in Raipur Central Jail,sick with persistent loss of weight,heart problems,arthritis and possibly more.
Innocence or guilt is for the court to judge. Its hard,though,to ignore the political context to the case. At one level is the law the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act which many believe has upset what Home Minister P Chidambaram terms the fair balance between countering terror and protecting rights.
At another level is the BJP governments controversial Salwa Judum militia where villagers are armed to take on the Naxals. Sen was a vociferous campaigner against the alleged human rights atrocities of the Salwa Judum. At a third level are Naxal atrocities and the very real danger of parts of Chhattisgarh going out of control.
(To be continued)