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Arrest Most Foul

The arrest of Binayak Sen of the People's Union for Civil Liberties poses a fresh challenge for people struggling against exploitation and oppression by capital and the Indian state. The civil rights movement, in particular, faces a grave threat.

Arrest Most Foul

The arrest of Binayak Sen of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties poses a fresh challenge for people struggling against exploitation and oppression by capital and the Indian state. The civil rights movement, in particular, faces a grave threat.


he general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Chhattisgarh and national vicepresident of the same, Binayak Sen was arrested on May 14, 2007 for his alleged links with the Naxalites. He has charges against him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and the recently passed draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006. How does Binayak Sen and PUCL’s role in articulating and asserting people’s fundamental rights become a threat to Chhattisgarh government? Was it because he and the PUCL were instrumental in bringing to light the murder of the 12 adivasis on March 31, or more than 155 encounter killings that have taken place in the state over the last two years? What are the stakes of the state in the situation? What is the design of the state behind the various ways in which all resistance movements and individuals supporting them continue to be branded as “Naxalite” or “terrorist”? And why is the resistance of adivasis, who constitute 32.4 per cent of the total population, gaining such momentum in the state along with the struggles of workers and peasants? These are the questions clamouring to be answered.

Chhattisgarh: India’s El Dorado

Chhattisgarh has been traditionally known as the “rice bowl of Madhya Pradesh”. However, the state, which accounts for 13 per cent of total mineral production, soon came to be projected as the “mineral bowl of India”. The state is rich in iron, dolomite and limestone, as also gold, bauxite, quartzite, diamonds, etc. In 2005 the state’s chief minister, Raman Singh flaunted the progress the state was to make by declaring that in the next three years it would be the “diamond bowl of the world”. With 23 per cent of the country’s iron, 14 per cent of dolomite, 6.6 per cent of limestone and 18 per cent of coal deposits, the state is no less than an El Dorado of India.

Chhattisgarh is hectically wooing foreign investors for mining and other largescale industrial ventures. Within a few years of its inception, in the year 2000, the state entered into approximately 50 memoranda of understanding with international and Indian companies, involving the investment of more than Rs 51,000 crore.

According to reports in the media, aerial surveys had begun by De Beers, Diamond Prospecting, Rio Tinto, Geo Mysore Services, Admas Prospecting, along with the Jindal Steel and Power. Coal and mining companies are zeroing in too.

Reaching such dazzling heights of industrial progress and growth is impossible without suppressing the difficult and painful questions posed by the mass movements of the state. Land acquisition becomes crucial for the state, through forcible means if need be. Therefore “development” and “progress” of the nation crucially depend on the displacement of the people from their lands and livelihood, in a state where 76.48 per cent of the people depend on agriculture.

Suppressing Dissent

The passing of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006 is but one small measure among the multifarious ways in which the state and the administration fortifies itself to pave the way for companies to acquire land, suppress dissent, and finally monitor the news and reportage of events in a way that the most basic democratic rights to question and to comment itself become a threat to the “public security” of the state. This Act is the biggest curb on the media whose writing and reporting can be constituted “unlawful”, if they report Maoist activities or state repression.

The Salwa Judum – a movement that has ostensibly been set up to curb Naxal violence – had effectively displaced over 50,000 people, forcing them to live in over 27 camps set up by the government. Many fact-finding reports by various civil liberties and democratic right groups have established how it is largely a governmentsponsored campaign that has its own retaliatory forces and special police officers recruited from the civilian population with a salary. Caught in the crossfire of this civil war-like situation, the people of the region are facing large-scale displacement, torture and even rape.

While the instances of the excesses committed by the Maoist forces make the frontpages of the national print media, reports of the violence perpetrated by the state against the organised resistance movements in the area hardly find any space even in the local media. Or if at all they find the space, they reek of partiality on most occasions, dutifully reflecting the official version.

Clearly, it is the resistance movements in Chhattisgarh that face the biggest challenges

Economic and Political Weekly May 26, 2007 in the fast turn of local events. It is evident that a feeble and corrupt government, coming under the sway of the neoliberal policies, is determined to take Chhattisgarh to unprecedented levels of “industrial progress” by handing over all of its lands and natural resources to private capital, foreign and domestic. To do so, it will not merely stop short of violating any existing laws, but will also create its own. To do so, it will feign amnesia of its promises and dreams of an autonomous state that craved ownership of its own resources and control of its development after having been marginalised for decades within the state of Madhya Pradesh. However, the people, resisting brutal state repression, hold on to their dreams and aspirations of a state based on recognition of the identity of its large adivasi population and their demands.

The well known trade union leader of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) – Shankar Guha Niyogi – who was slain by the moneybags of the region too had a vision of the new Chhattisgarh. He had put forth the demand for a just mode of production and environmental friendly industrial development. The CMM articulated its long-term vision of an alternative development paradigm and strategy for a new Chhattisgarh. Its dreams and actions were and are in consonance with the vision of the people of the land – the adivasis, the workers, and the toiling peasants – forging the course of their own destiny. It is in this new state today that we witness, as elsewhere in the country, how profits get precedence over people in all development plans. The arrest of Binayak Sen is the outcome of a series of policies and measures the state has worked out for itself.

A Fresh Challenge

Binayak Sen is representative of an entire generation of political activists in the late 1970s, who, having seen the iron hand of the state during the Emergency, proclaimed by the authoritarian state, had relinquished their academic degrees to work for the toiling masses to seek alternatives for the people based on their own initiatives.

In fighting to create what was denied to people by the state, Binayak Sen is part of the pioneering initiative that went into the setting up of the Shaheed Hospital in the early 1980s – a hospital built by the workers and financed from their own savings. It provides healthcare and treatment to workers and families, free medical attention during strikes, organising relief during drought periods. In a state where about 25 healthcare centres per lakh of population were available in 2002 and where the infant mortality rate was as high as 94.4 per thousand in the rural areas, public-spirited attempts like the Shaheed Hospital and of Binayak Sen, however small, are highly commendable. The firm belief that the oppressed and the “disempowered” will seek a solution through their own organising is what the hospital and other initiatives in the region represent. This effectively overcame and went beyond the barriers of traditional methods of organising that trade unions and mass movements till then had tried.

Binayak Sen is also associated with the Medico Friends Circle (MFC) – a forum of doctors and healthcare professionals and activists, which has made the sharpest interventions and critiques of the dominant healthcare system and its biases and prejudices against workers, women, adivasis and dalits. The MFC’s search for an alternative once again is geared towards responding to the health needs of the poor.

The arrest of someone like Binayak Sen poses a fresh challenge for people struggling against exploitation and oppression by capital and the Indian state. The civil rights movement, in particular, faces a grave threat. We need to sharpen our strategies and think afresh in standing up for people’s democratic rights and civil liberties at this juncture.



Economic and Political Weekly May 26, 2007

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