A day late, but 364 days remain. Wishing all those who read this the best for 2011. For us, 2010 was personally quite good and 2011 may well be better.
But as for the larger picture…
My infrequent blog posts have mostly been rather pessimistic. This post should have been an exception, if the following hadn’t happened in the last week of 2010:
- Binayak Sen, a doctor who has spent decades working for adivasis in Chattisgarh, was sentenced to life for sedition, under a British-era law that was brought in to suppress the freedom movement. The British themselves never gave a sentence under that law longer than 6 years (Tilak). The main charge against Sen was carrying messages to an imprisoned Naxalite, Narendra Sanyal — who was himself not charged with sedition at that time.
- The Gujarat Police registered a criminal case against Rahul Singh, a TV reporter who reported on a mass grave of victims from the 2002 riots.
- The CBI closed the Aarushi murder case without solving it, and not content with that, continued to implicate her father without evidence.
The third item above indicates dysfunction, incompetence and venality, of the type we are all familiar with. But the first two indicate something else. If you criticise the government, they will come after you with the police and the courts. You will be arrested on trumped-up charges and given ludicrous sentences.
Several people (such as Ram Guha) have said that they expect the Binayak Sen verdict to be overturned on appeal. But that was not the point of the verdict. The verdict was meant to intimidate and silence the countless other people who have spoken up against government policies in the Maoist-affected districts. Sen has already spent two years in jail and, in the best case, can expect to spend several more months, if not years, there. He can also expect the worst of medical facilities to be given to him, even as his tribal patients are left with nobody to go to. The life sentence for his alleged crime is so absurd that one fully expects this to become an international incident, but the only reaction that I have seen from a minister is law minister Veerappa Moily’s demand that retired judges desist from commenting on the verdict, lest they influence the appeals court!
The intimidation of Rahul Singh is not new either either: very recently, Tehelka reporter Shahina KK was similarly implicated by the Karnataka Police in a witness-intimidation case. The police have been doing this against activists and other undesirable people for decades, but now they are bold enough to target members of the national media. And why not? There is no price that the police has to pay for foisting false cases on people. There is no price that judges have to pay for ludicrous judgements. Therefore, this sort of thing is going to increase. As such, unless police who fabricate evidence and judges who deliver blatantly flawed judgements are punished — not criticised, not admonished, but punished severely — by the higher courts — local governments will only get more emboldened to intimidate, threaten, punish and lock up dissenters. It’s all allowed under the “war on terror”. And many people buy it, and will continue to buy it until it is their turn.
For a long time now, eight Indian states have effectively been police states, thanks to the draconian AFSPA act. Now the rest of us are starting to find out what it’s like. And that is exactly what our central and state governments want. Ask our prime minister and our home minister. Their silence is eloquent enough.