Criminalising Activism

By Gladson Dungdung
Tehelka 20 June, 2008
If you stand with the poor and fight for their rights, be ready to face the consequences — this seems to be the State’s message.  
Vinayak Sen under police custody
Vinayak Sen in Police Custody

If you stand with the poor, redress their grievances, raise their issues, support their causes and fight for their rights; be ready to face the consequences, because all these come under the purview of crime in democratic country like India. You can be abused, alleged, tortured, booked under the false cases and finally thrown behind the bars at anytime. A noted public health specialist Dr. Binayak Sen, a well known development economist Prof. Jean Dreze and a human rights activist Kirity Roy are paying the prices for their passion, courage and extraordinary work for the poor and marginalized people of Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.


Dr. Binayak Sen has been in Raipur Jail for more than one year. His only crime was being a doctor; he was much involved in redressing the grievances of the poor adivasis (tribals) of Chhatisgarh and also raised his voice against the illegal killings of adivasis in the name of Salwan Judum (peace mission). He was alleged of violating the provisions of the Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, and detained in May 2007.



The Supreme Court of India had also rejected his bail petition in December 2007. In the meantime, Dr. Binayak Sen was declared as the first winner from South Asia of the “Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights”, which generated the global support for him. 22 Nobel laureates wrote letters to Smt. Pratibha Patil, the President of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister and Dr Raman Singh, the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh for his release so that he can collect his award and continue his valuable work for adivasis but their voices were not heard.

Another person Prof. Jean Dreze has been fighting against corruption in NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) to ensure 100 days work for Dalits, Adivasis and Poor so that their right to food can be secured. He had organized a “Social Audit” on May 26, 2008 at Chatarpur of Palamu district in Jharkhand, where huge numbers of villagers had participated and spoken out publicly about how they were cheated in NREGA by the contractors, development mafias and the government officials. After the social audit, Jean Dreze was alleged by the Collector and the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Palamu district.

Though Jean Dreze is a member of the NREGA Council and is mandated to help in auditing the scheme by the law of the land but the reports of the responsible Collector and SP accuse him of attempting to malign the state government, falsifying the statements and assaulting the government officials. After seeing his passion of work for the poor; the villagers consider him like a living God for them but the district administration coined him as a violator of laws but his fight for poor is on.

Similarly a human rights activist from West Bengal Kirity Roy was alleged, his office was raided and a criminal case was filed by the police at Taltolla Police Station under sections 120[B] (criminal conspiracy); 170 (personating a public servant); 179 (refusing to answer public servant authorized to question); and 229 (personation of juror or assessor) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). He was charged for organizing a “People’s Tribunal against Torture” in Moulali, Kolkata on 9 and 10 June, 2008.

Though Kirity Roy had invited all the relevant officials, including the Police Commissioner of Kolkata but they refused to accept it and asked him for giving them a written explanation on the legality of the public event. During the hearings a jury of human rights defenders, jurists and medical personnel sat on the panels, which were co-chaired by the former Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, Justice Malay Sengupta and the Former Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Dr Mohini Giri. 82 cases related to police torture, rape and illegal killings in West Bengal including Nandigram cases were heard in the tribunal. After the tribunal the police coined him as a criminal for his passion of work against torture.

All these people did the hard work to ensure the rights of the poor and marginalized which guaranteed by the constitution of India. But irony is the state which prime responsibility is to protect and ensure the rights of everyone of the country, depicted them as violators of laws, booked in false cases and thrown behind the bars for raising their voices, questioning the state and asking to ensure the “right to live with dignity” of adivasis, dalits, poor, women and children.

One would surely be stunned after knowing the agony of poor and their supporters because when the government distributes arms to the civilians which caused killing of thousands of innocent adivasis in Salwa Judum become legal but the people who raise questions against these illegal killings become violators of the laws and thrown behind the bars. In the same way, when the police rape women in the police stations most of them are not punished but the people who raise these issues are coined as criminals, booked in false cases and thrown behind the bars. Similarly, the ministers, the government officials and the contractors eat up the money of the poor are not punished but those who fight against it are coined as law breakers.

Obviously, this is not a fight between the state and the people like Binayak Sen, Jean Dreze and Kirity Roy but it is a fight of the state versus poor. Whenever the adivasis, dalits, poor and their supporters raise the questions against the state they are coined as “violators of laws”, “separatists”, “anti national”, anti development” and “naxalites” so that their voices can be easily suppressed. In all the cases adivasis, dalits and poor are at the loser end but does it mean they will stop raising their voices, claiming their rights and demanding for social justice?

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