He’s a soft spoken, mild mannered 60 something doctor and currently being championed by Amnesty International, Noam Chomsky and international human rights activists around the world. And this Christmas Eve, while I was digging into an enormous Christmas dinner with friends, full of convivial goodwill to all mankind, Dr Binayak Sen who has spent his life bringing health care to marginalized indiginous communities and advocating non violent political engagement was being sentenced to life imprisonment.
His crime: sedition and consipiracy.
Dr Sen has been working for 30 years in Dantewada in India’s so called Maoist corridor - which explains the fact that his sentence is considerably more severe than if he’d been a murderer, serial thief or violent rapist. His crime is defending the voiceless people of Chhatisgarh who the local police, the national government and much of the national media like to group together as one homogenous mass carrying the brand Naxals or Maoists.
All governments - and why should India be any different - long ago recognized how easy it is to incite hatred and find popular backing for state inflicted violence when a label is applied.
In Kashmir, as in many other parts of the world, the label Muslim militants or insurgents gives the state enough grounds to infringe almost anything mentioned in the Geneva Conventions. In Chattisgarh, the state behaviour is the same, but this time the label to use is Naxals, Maoists, or Maoist insurgents.
Then, if you’re the a representitive of the Special Police Officers, or the army, or the Salwa Judum, you utizlize the mainstream media, to stick that label on your target and find it can easily hide a lifetime’s worth of work and sacrifice. Then you publicly hang your target out to dry. Or in the case of Dr Sen, to wither away, hopefully forgotten in some isolated prison cell in Raipur.
I was so proud of India turning up to the Nobel award ceremony for Liu Xiaobo when so many nations, cowed by the threat of Chinese economic and military might, timidly stayed away. But I belive that sentencing a man like Binayak Sen to life imprisonment, is a declaration of fear from the Indian authorities - a declaration that proclaims loudly that India is afraid of the very democracy they so proudly tote on the international stage.