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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 24, May 30, 2009

Apex Court’s Welcome Step


Tuesday 2 June 2009, by SC


While the stand-off between the Congress and DMK on portfolio allocation and the number of berths the Tamil Nadu ruling party would have in the Union Cabinet has ended with an amicable settlement and the Council of Ministers’ expansion is due on May 28, Cyclone Alia has caused widespread havoc in south Bengal including Kolkata even as Punjab has been rocked by street protests affecting rail and road transport following the attack on leaders of the Dera Sachkhand Balan, a predominantly Dalit sect, at a gurdwara in Vienna. However, whatever the significance of these developments, the real news lies elsewhere—the Supreme Court granting, on May 25, unconditional bail to Dr Binayak Sen after a two-year-eleven-day detention in jail, having allegedly helped the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, his field of activity, where he was providing effective and inexpensive healthcare to the poor of the region for almost three decades. It is a great victory for the country’s human rights activists as well as members of the civil society waging a consistent struggle to secure Dr Sen’s release. They were joined by as many as 22 Nobel laureates calling upon the authorities to set him free and highlighting his credentials as also selfless service among the people as a medical practitioner. However, in this context it would be improper if one does not warmly compliment the country’s Apex Court for taking such a welcome step.

The Apex Court’s ruling is doubtless a positive move and praiseworthy but this does no credit to the executive. The executive’s inefficiency was most glaring as the police’s allegation of Dr Sen’s links with the Maoist terrorists could not be substantiated by evidence; and yet he continued to remain in prison having been denied bail. Against this backdrop the Supreme Court’s intervention from the legal standpoint was most timely—in fact it granted unconditional bail to Dr Sen without even hearing the lawyers’ submissions.

During state actions against terrorists like Maoists or insurgents in different parts of the country, including Kashmir and the North-East, human rights are frequently trampled upon. There is a strong suspicion that Dr Sen’s work as a civil rights activist could have come in conflict with the activities of the state in general and the Chhattisgarh Government in particular, and hence the authorities acted against him. Here it is worthwhile to refer to the pertinent query in The Times of India’s editorial following Dr Sen’s release:

Is it only a coincidence that Sen was arrested soon after PUCL, a human rights body with which Sen is associated as its national Vice-Prrsident, demanded a CBI inquiry into encounter killings in Chhattisgarh?

Dr Sen’s is not a solitary case. Innocent people have been made to suffer by a vindictive state. The vindictiveness came out in sharp relief in Dr Sen’s incarceration as he was being refused bail even when his heart ailment had been established beyond any shadow of doubt.

Now that the Apex Court has enabled Dr Sen to walk out free on bail, civil rights activists must sharpen their struggle against the state on this score. And democratic forces across the country must be mobilised to speak out against such practices that militate against all our democratic values and principles which were best upheld by our first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, who departed from our midst on this day fortyfive years ago.

May 27 S.C.

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