Dr Binayak Sen's wife Ilina Sen awaits his upcoming bail appeal on January 24, 2011. She says that even animals live in better conditions in their cages than prisoners in high security cells. That Dr Sen only gets his hands on newspapers once they are scissored of 'sensitive news'. That she wants justice, but not of the kind where it took 35 years for the Supreme Court to acknowledge that the Emergency violated fundamental rights of a large number of people.
Exactly a month after he was convicted for sedition and sentenced to life, the Chhattisgarh High Court is going to hear the bail plea of Dr Binayak Sen. We go back in time with this interview that was conducted in 2009. It came just a day after the Naxal attack in Gadchiroli, where more than 15 policemen were killed. The doctor and civil rights activist, then out on bail, stressed on the need to shun violence as a legitimate weapon of negotiation. Ironically, the charges of sedition against Dr Sen are based on an unstated assumption that he supports Naxal violence.
Rupashree Nanda: Sir, the frequency of Naxal attacks have been increasing and the central government is sending signals of a possible all out war. How would you view the escalation in the tension?
Binayak Sen: Mr Chidambaram has denied that, he does not want to use the word war. Specifically, he has said that these are all citizens of India. They are not talking about war, they are talking about a military intervention. But be that as it may, there is a situation of military conflict developing in certain areas of the country and, we are filled with anguish by this possibility and, a large group of people from all sides have been asking for abrogation of a military confrontation. Specifically, in the current situation we are asking for a declaration that violence should cease and talks should ensue. Many people have put out statements individually and jointly, human rights organizations have put out statements individually and jointly, asking for an abrogation of violence and its replacement by political dialogue and peace talks. This is also our appeal and our demand.
Rupashree Nanda: The home minister has said that the government is willing to talk if Maoists give up violence. But, Maoists don't accept that pre-condition. What, then, could achieve a breakthrough?
See, State violence is continuing, Maoist violence is also continuing. We want both kinds of violence to end and, peace to ensue and, within peace there must be dialogue and discussion. But, the peace cannot be a return to the status quo. We cannot have a situation in which the widespread displacement of large populations of people is going to be legitimized by that peace. There has to be an agreement for a just and equitable situation to evolve. Until there is an agreement to have a just and equitable solution to the current situation on the ground and, until we qualify the kind of peace we are asking for, there won't be that much chance of peace becoming effective.
However, what we are saying is that both the State violence, including structural violence which keeps poor people poor, as well as, the direct violence of the State like the military intervention is dangerous, horrifying, not tenable and must stop. Maoists must also give up violence and in the peace that comes through, the discussions must take place.
Rupashree Nanda: Sections within the state including the police, seem to believe that when Maoists indulge in violence, then civil rights activists are silent. Do you agree to that assessment? How would you judge the violence of Maoists?
Binayak Sen: As human rights workers, not just me, but all my brothers and sisters in the human rights fraternity, have been asking for an end to all violence. We have been consistently saying that all violence is illegitimate and that the resolution of questions through the use of violence is not a legitimate solution. For instance, after the death of Francis Induvar, I have unreservedly said that this kind of an incident is condemnable. But, the point is that the State violence is also continuing. Both the structural violence and the direct violence. So, the Maoist violence while it is condemnable, and we are condemning it, we do condemn it, we do not legitimise Maoist violence, but that violence has to be seen in the context of the state violence. That the Maoist violence is the violence of a desperate people who are simply trying to survive and, who are being forcibly removed from their access to those resources which help them survive. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has himself recognized that Maoists have support among the poor and expropriated people. And the reason why they have support is because they have to survive. So, it is a question of survival. The problem has to be addressed at the roots. The violence is a symptom. That violence has to stop. But, along with the stopping of the violence we also need to address the root causes of the problem.
Rupashree Nanda: Just yesterday Maoists killed 17 people. A few days back it was Francis Induvar. In the coming days ahead there will be more such violence. How, do you think, this will end?
Binayak Sen: I think the whole of society has to raise its voice against violence. We are not appealing only to the state. We are not appealing only to the Maoists or to the government. We are also appealing to the whole of society. That all of us jointly need to raise our voices against the legitimacy of violent confrontation. That, it is by bringing violence to a stop, any kind of peaceful solution can emerge.
Rupashree Nanda: What consequences do you forsee if and when there is a military confrontation?
Binayak Sen: Military confrontation will not yield any solution. And ultimately, it is only through political dialogue and a cessation of violence that any kind of a solution will emerge.
Rupashree Nanda: The State is using using all its instruments to silence dissent. Whether it is the left in West Bengal, the BJP in Chhattisgarh or the UPA in the centre, evidence of the intolerance of the state towards dissent is growing. The state appears to be anti-middle ground, anti-dissent, anti-dialogue, anti-intellectual... isn't that dangerous?
Binayak Sen: This is a part of the pattern of globalisation and it is happening all over the world. This is a part of a concerted pattern in which the resources of the poor are being expropriated in order to be handed over to the rich and the State is overseeing the process and, is standing as guaranteer to this process. So any kind of dissent is no longer being tolerated. And anybody who speaks against this process is going to be punished for it. This is the meaning of the kind of laws that have been promulgated in recent times. I am afraid that there is a lot more suffering that has to be endured on all sides as a result of this process.
Rupashree Nanda: Why is the middle class not speaking out? Why is increasing intolerance, illiberality acceptable to the middle class?
Binayak Sen: I don't think it is acceptable. I think there is a wide sentiment against the putting down of dissent. Democracy has to prevail and people will support the claims of democracy. But, the only thing is that people who stand to benefit from the increasing polarization of resources will probably support the processes that enable this polarization to continue. And, it will take some time for the middle classes to wake up to the dynamics of the process.