Bishnu Prasad Gorakhpur India
Respect Civil Rights
The detention of Binayak Sen, a respected doctor and civil rights activist, by the Chhattisgarh government is a blot on our democracy. The Chhattisgarh police arrested him a year ago under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Acts, 2005 on charges of aiding Maoist.
The police have charged Sen, winner of the 2008 Jonathan Mann award for global health and human rights instituted by the Global Health Council, of acting as a courier for Maoists. His appeal for bail has been turned down desnite appeals from many public OPEN APP rituals across the world, including 22 Nobel laureates. Clearly, the court and police are unwilling to consider his exemplary record as a health and civil rights activist in one of the most underdeveloped regions of the country.
The Chhattisgarh government's stance on the issue compromises its responsibility to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Every citizen has a right to speech and association and the government ought to protect these rights. Even if one assumes that Sen is sympathetic to Maoist ideology, as alleged by the police, he has a right to uphold his views unless proven to have violated the law in the process. He also has a right to a speedy and fair trial. Sen is held guilty by association and the goverment is unwilling to recognise its mistake despite pleas from all around.
The Chhattisgarh government has a hard task at hand, no doubt. Maoists are a powerful threat and have stretched the resources of the government.
Unfortunately, the government's policies to counter them are bad in law and practice. Security measures like Salwa Judum and harassment of political and civil rights activists have only eroded the credibility of the government. A strong civil society that vouchsafes political and economic rights is necessary to expose extremist ideologies like Maoism.
As India sets out to expand its influence in global affairs, its record on civil rights will increasingly be under scrutiny. No government can claim special powers and suspend civil rights like freedom of speech and association. Extremist political groups like Maoists don't thrive because of a liberal legal framework, but they certainly would benefit from its absence.
Sen's trial has now started after a year spent in prison. Scores of similar undertrials languishing in Indian jails fare worse. It just doesn't do any good to India's brand image as a country that protects civil rights. Democracy enhances India's soft power potential on the world stage. However, disregard for democratic rights will take the sheen off India's patchy but promising record as a liberal democracy.