Posts Tagged ‘Indigenous people’

Assam: After violence, anxieties of land and identity are still haunting the people

October 18, 2012

The Times of India

Harsh Mander

Although Assam has disappeared from the front pages of national newspapers, large populations still live in makeshift, underserved camps, racked by memory, fear and uncertainty, with little prospect of an early return to their homelands. Legitimate anxieties of land and identity have acquired an urgent grammar of violence and hate, and irreconcilable divisions have grown further between estranged communities.

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

During my journey to relief camps in Dhubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar, housed in the classrooms and courtyards of schools, I found that government had ensured basic food rations and primary healthcare services. For the rest, people mainly had to fend for themselves. There was no bedding, no mosquito nets, toilets were scant and choked, and there was little water for drinking and bathing. People who had fled their burning villages or rampaging mobs had few clothes or utensils. Children were the worst hit. There were no child care services, or temporary schooling. Everywhere i found a longing to return home.

The stories we heard in both Bodo and Bengali Muslim camps were disturbingly similar, of neighbours turning into murderous mobs, of torched and ransacked homes, of looted livestock, and of fearful flight. Many escaped only in fear, even though their settlements were not attacked, and in these villages, men return to guard their homes and fields, leaving the women and children in camps.

There are legitimate anxieties and grievances on both sides of the dispute. Udoyon Misra writes eloquently of the ‘ever so heavy’ burdens of history of indigenous Assamese peoples like the Bodos, of ‘land, immigration, demographic change and identity’. He describes massive land alienation of the Bodo plains tribal people who were shifting cultivators with few land records, by industrious and aggressive Bengali Muslim immigrant cultivators.

Successive governments in both the state and the Centre have failed to effectively seal borders, and to identify and repatriate illegal immigrants. The Bodos worry also about being culturally swamped in their traditional homelands, not just by Bengali Muslims but also other communities such as the caste Hindu Assamese, Koch-rajbanshis, Santhals and Bengali Hindus.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The Bodo accord of 1993, which belatedly gave administrative autonomy to the Bodo people in their traditional homelands in which they already were reduced to a minority, unfortunately also created an incentive for driving out people of other communities and ethnicities. The first attacks by armed Bodo militants on Bengali Muslims occurred in 1993 itself, and these have recurred sporadically against also Santhal adivasis, who are descendants of tea garden workers who migrated centuries back. Clashes occurred in 1994, 1996, 1998 and 1999. Around one and a half lakh people displaced by these clashes – both Bengali Muslim and Santhal – continue to live in camps up to the present day, an entire generation of forgotten internal refugees with no home. The government took no decisive steps to help these refugees return to their homelands.

This remains a festering wound on the psyche of the Bengali Muslim, as also the fact that not a single person has been persecuted for the gruesome slaughter mounted in Nellie in 1983. They complain that all Bengali Muslims are tainted as Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, whereas demographers confirm that only a small fraction of the immigrants are actually illegal settlers who slipped into the state after the agreed cut-off date of 1973. Many have learnt Assamese, and wish to be accepted as legitimate Assamese citizens.

This already fraught environment, of legitimate competing anxieties and grievances of diverse communities, has deteriorated sharply because of the implicit legitimisation of violence as a means to resolve these competing claims. People sympathetic to the concern of Bodos and other indigenous tribal communities suggest that the violence to which they have resorted in recent decades is unfortunate but understandable. This is rendered more dangerous because of the easy availability of sophisticated arms among the surrendered Bodo militants, who were never effectively disarmed.

On the other hand, apologists for the Bengali Muslim violence justify it as being ‘only retaliatory’. This is slippery ethical territory, because the same argument was used to justify the post-Godhra massacre, as well as the slaughter of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. There is disturbing evidence of growing radicalisation of a small section of the Assamese Bengali Muslim, of a kind which was remarkably absent among the victims of the Gujarat violence. The latter have remained unshakably committed to the democratic, legal and non-violent resolution of their grievances, despite the brutal slaughter and systematic subversion of justice and reconciliation by the leadership thereafter.

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

There are wide demands today that only those Bengali Muslims in relief camps should be allowed to return home who can first prove their legal status. The acceptance of this demand would further incentivise the mass violence which resulted in their displacement in the first place. There isno doubt that the rights of indigenous communities to their land, forests and culture need to be defended, and illegal immigration effectively blocked.

But there should be no compromise, even by implication, with violence as a means to achieve these demands. People in both new and old camps must first be res-tored to their homelands unconditionally, and assisted in rebuilding their houses and livelihoods. Only then should a just and caring state intervene to ensure that the legitimate concerns of both indigenous people and settlers are met, by processes which are lawful, humane and non-violent.

The writer is a social activist.


First published in the Times of India and is available herehttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Violence-in-Assam-has-subsided-but-anxieties-of-land-and-identity-are-still-haunting-the-people/articleshow/16855324.cms

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Assam: Heal thy injuries in/ of Bodoland

August 10, 2012

Dr. Prasenjit Biswas*

In the fragmented imagination of a homeland in ethnic territories of Assam, comparatively later migrants are perceived and portrayed as a demographic threat. The issue is whether a majoritarian ethnic ownership over land and territory need to portray the presence of migrants as necessarily illegal. The issue keeps the ethnic pots boiling much after there is a cut-off criterion is drawn out in Assam Accord, 1985 as well as in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Accord, 2003. Both these accords emphasized on the protection and preservation of Assam’s indigenous communities against any endangerment; demographic, loss of land to ‘outsiders’ and ‘foreigners’ and above all, assured political power to the governing elites of the indigenous communities. Such Statist concession made middle class Assamese and Bodo Indigenous nationalism aim at a greater share over power and resources by way of protective discrimination and by going to the extent of denial of legitimate package of rights of others. Such significant others include immediate neighbours: Santhals and Minority Bengali Muslims both clubbed as illegitimate migrants in indigenous land, who have to face a continuous othering in the domains of politics, culture and even in employment.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The logic advanced for the illegitimacy of immigrants’ rights extends from their being latecomers to attribution of conscious demographic invasion by them to a paradoxical exclusivist claim over certain powers and resources with its corresponding denial to any claims-making by the ethnically different and the immigrants only produce irreconcilable fragmentation. Right now three out of four Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts and its adjoining minority dominated Dhubri district are in a state of bloodletting, communal killings and massive displacement of population. Vulnerable segments of both the Bodo and the Bengali Muslim communities are physically and emotionally brutalized, many are internally displaced and many see no hope of ending ethnic hatred and competitive barbs of aggression and victimization. Apparently conflicting members of both the sides are now caught on the point of no return and as long as they cannot return to their homes, the fear of the other could be given a xenophobic hall-of-mirror effect. The fear that indigenous Bodos are outnumbered and endangered cannot be pathologized without keeping the vulnerable indigenous masses in camps. Similarly, for keeping the Bengali Muslims in a pathological state, recurrent incidents of violence would completely demoralize and uproot them from whatever little legitimacy they enjoyed in the shared lived space with Bodos.

Magnification of such fear among the displaced by demonizing them as untrusworthy and treacherous will create a further divisive and communally charged politics and culture of survivorship. Drawing a thick line between survivors of Bodoland clashes with ineffective political and economic rights is an extra-Constitutional means , which is supposed to serve unrestrained group rights. Such a feeling is expressed by some Bodo leaders when they say those who live in Bodoland must accept the leadership of the Bodos, an exercise of dominant identity-based leadership. Indeed such a leadership has been accepted by all the non-Bodos with some amount of reservation. The bone of contention between the Bodo leadership and the Bengali Muslim leadership in presenting the number of camp dwellers assumed a shrill denial of the proportion of displacement by calling it an attempt to rehabilitate those who are not genuine victims from Bodoland area.

If victims lose genuine-ity just because they are displaced and are living in camps in adjoining places such as Dhubri, Bilasipara or Bongaigaon, isn’t the ethnic hatred marring the way of restoration of justice, honour and peace for the victims? Denial of the rights of the internally displaced Bengali Muslim populace in terms of the right to return by targeting them by selective armed violence is totally unacceptable by any human rights standards. The core value of shared citizenship, then, stands completely negated.

Photo: Thehindu.com

Photo: Thehindu.com

Some amount of counter-violence from the victims in such a troubled situation can fuel greater violence and displacement. Indeed varying degrees of such counter-violence, starting from mob killing of four gun wielding Bodo attackers to burning down of Bodo homes in areas dominated by Muslim Bengalis certainly alienated a large scetion of Bodos from Bengali Muslims. Further, such counter-violence created a great opportunity for ex-militants to wield their might, whom the government so far could not tackle with its local police and central paramilitary forces. Such targeted unrestrained attacks on Muslim Bengalis have gone much beyond retribution and retaliation now. Holding on illegal deposit of arms to target victims is another trait of ethnic supremacy apart from legitimate hold over power and resources. BTAD conflict shows the uncanny power of holding small arms and their use in securing advantage in an unequal hit back campaign against the immigrants.

Obviously winners take it all. If land is major concern then occupying land vacated by Muslim villagers and the use of arms in displacing them reveal high profile pecuniary interest of land grab. While one is concerned about saving the tribal land and probably would like to see full land rights under Sixth Schedule be restituted to Bodos, can one agree with the perverse and diabolic designs of land grab by displacing a victim of violence under the pretext of securing land rights for the indigenous? One of the Assam legislative assembly members alleged that demolition work is going on in those plots where burnt down houses of immigrants stand. Are we going to see high-rises in those waving paddy fields, which ironically this year would only reap the harvest of ethnic clashes and no rice of togetherness for Bodos and immigrants.

When does affirmation of group rights under protective discrimination become a license to deny neighbour’s basic human rights, especially in creating adverse conditions of loss of dignity and infliction of humiliation? Group rights based on territoriality, descent and origin cannot form a basis of denial of citizenship rights of the riot displaced vulnerable population of a certain ethnic and religious origin, just because they are not us.

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

From the point of view of the displaced victim, the Other is the aggressor and if the victim could be dubbed as an encroacher, it makes them soft targets without any claim to justice and rights even when their rights are flagrantly violated. Those who uphold rights of indigenous groups cannot be disrespectful of the right to life and dignity of even the non-citizen. The question of greater privilege enjoyed by immigrants does not arise as such a situation is completely counter-intuitive with some exception of some prosperous individuals from non-indigenous social groups. Although none of the displaced victims from both Bodo indigenous and immigrant community dare to think of any comparative post-riot advantage to follow from such differential treatment, yet the misconception of a forced eviction of the immigrant is growing in the name of ensuring land rights to Bodos.

By adopting a language-game of difference and othering in the discourse of indigenous rights, greater the offensive against the Other, the greater is the use of mendacity: as if one is experimenting with the possibility of greater victimization going beyond camps, deportation and other non-humanitarian and yet legal means- as if a ranging lawlessness is instituted within the apparatus of the law, as if violence is the law. In such a situation justice for the violated is never an issue, the only issue is Lebensraum for an ethnic homeland. More seriously, is the political and cultural imagination of a separate Bodoland fitting into the notion of a unified Assam? Or Assam’s unequal, asymmetric and uneven ethnic plurality needs to reduce itself to enclaves of ghettoized homogeneity, xenophobia and sameness of identity? Can’t the identity be plural and deterritorialized and can’t it accept an outside political and cultural space that is different from itself? There could be two specific reasons for not accepting such a doctrinaire pluralism: one that the majority, if there is any, is yet not ready to accept that there are others and two, Others are unacceptable because they would demand their legitimate share from what one thinks as one’s sole privilege. Such is the blind, almost bordering on hatred campaign against those who have been there for three generations in today’s Bodo areas. When the constitutional means are available to ensure protective discrimination in terms of full political power with the Bodo community, where is the fear?

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

So, Indian Muslims are termed as Bangladeshis with a motive to undermine them. Let a single person killed be proven as a Bangladeshi. Non-Indigenous people in Bodoland are not Bangladeshis, as they have not migrated there after constitution of BTAD. The BTAD was constituted and Bodo leadership accepted the presence of this segment of people and they got also elected by their votes in assembly and parliament. One can understand the apparent rage that was generated after killing of four Bodo ex-cadres of the Bodo Liberation Tigers, erstwhile Bodo armed outfit. Isn’t it possible to understand each other’s agony and pain without taking resort to hatred and violence?

What could be achievements of killing innocent victims? Can we break away from a process of ethnic co-existence and reciprocity just because there are few cases of violence? Can we sacrifice the sense of belonging together? Drawing a line between genuine Indian citizens and illegal immigrants became a provocation to such breakdown of ethnic relations. It is the job of the State, to uphold the rule of law and prevent any attempt to assume due process of law in one’s hand. Quite like the Gujarat riots of 2002, the state machinery is still not able to intervene effectively in terms of restoring confidence in the displaced people. The irresponsible and mindless acts of violence against defenceless indigenous and migrants propelled by violence-countre-violence vicious cycle can only turn Bodoland into a disturbed area and there’s no gainsaying that human security will be its worst fall out.

* The writer is Director, Research, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), Silchar, Assam.

Assam Clashes: From Humanitarian Crisis to Ethnic Pluralism

August 6, 2012

Prasenjit Biswas*

The perpetual fear in the eyes of 126 years old Jagat Basumatary and his wife Malati Basumatary in a camp 70 kms away from their home located at Bengtoli village of Chirang district tells it all. Jagat Basumatary’s appeal for peace and tranquility in the midst of attack and counter-attack raises a concern for mutual respect and bond between Bodos and Bengali Muslims. The apparent difference of identity between an immigrant Bengali Muslim and a Bodo indigenous person gets dissolved in the remarkable story of Parbotjhora subdivisional area of Kokrajhar where both the sides resisted any attempt to disturb peace. So also goes the example of Kukurmari village at Chirang district where both the communites stood guard at each other’s doors.

Assam map

Assam map

Among the most dastardly attacks on human dignity and persona is the one in which Sumana Basumatary, a woman in her late thirties had to leave her house at Salkocha-Bansbari at Kokrajhar district with two of her minor children leaving behind her husband Chubja Basumatary, suffering from typhoid and immobile. Sumana recounted the horror tale of watching her house burn with her husband inside. The whole household, paddy-stack and the animals reared were reduced to ashes. In another incident of retaliation four members of the family of motor mechanic Manowar Hussein were subjected to brutal attack. Reportedly four members of his family, namely, Manowar Hussein, his wife Bachibon Bibi, son Muktar Hussein and three months old daughter Rukchana Khatun were abducted. Bachbon Bibi was allegedly raped and murdered. The same fate was meted out to Manowar Hussein and their three months old daughter, while the son Muktar Hussein sustained injuries. All the four of them were thrown into Gaurang river from the bridge over Ganga talkies in Kokrajhar town. The surviving son Muktar Hussein could recount the horror tale to the rescuers, who could rescue him from the river in a badly bruised state. The whole story came out in vernacular media. In another such pathological incident, the dead body of a deaf and dumb person was found floating on the river Champaboti at Khagrabari of Bongaigaon district. The dead man was identified as Samsul Hoque by his family members, who went missing after some armed men attacked their home and village at Khagrabari.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The spate of hatred and mistrust led to a huge exit and displacement of a massive population of about 4 Lakhs from their villages spread across three Bodoland territorial autonomous districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang and Baksa and its adjoining Dhubri district. Almost 400 villages belonging to both Bodo and Muslim communities are vacated. The condition of the relief camps has been such that there is widespread food poisoning, viral fever and dysentery resulting into at least thirteen reported deaths including six infants. Apart from total absence of a sense of human security, the poor hygienic conditions in the camps only tell the apathy of the both local and the state government.

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

Much after the initial spate of riots, on 1st of August, there are incidents of arson and burning down of homes at Majorgaon in Chirang district, where rioters burnt down seven houses belonging to victims of the minority community. Once again there is a planned flare up in Chirang district. In another similar incident, houses at Churaguri village near Bijni township of Chirang district are again set on fire by an armed mob in presence of Police and security officials. Already 40 houses of the same village are burnt down on 24th July and on 2nd august, rest of the houses are all burnt down. The whole action is carried out apparently keeping in view that the Muslim inhabitants should not return and reclaim their households. The whole incident happened when some of the affected people were returning from Matilal Nehru relief camp at Bijni to their households at Majorgaon near Bijni town. On the assurances from the government; they thought they can safely return now. They were astounded to see the presence of some people in fatigue, reminding them of the trauma that they already suffered. Soon after, the remaining seven houses were gutted in presence of police. Many of the Bodo inhabitants are still refusing to go back to their homes, as they fear retribution and retaliation. Out of the 43 camps in Bijni and Kajalgaon subdivision, there are still over a lakh of minority Muslim population. A contradictory pattern emerges in these camps. As Bodo inhabitants are going back to those villages which are not affected by violence but from which people took shelter out of apprehension, the minority population from 29 villages of Chirang district worst affected by arson and killing are still not out of the trauma of what they have gone through.

Photo: Outlook.com

Photo: Outlook.com

The worst affected areas where sizeable number of deaths occurred are Gosaigaon subdivision and in and around Kokrajhar town. A large number of villages dominated by minority population were burnt down. The villagers were forewarned by the neighbours to leave for safe shelter and as they left homes, the homes were easily burnt down. Such villages include Duramari, Moujabari, Hekaipara, West Tabuchar, Namapara, Nayapara, Kalapani, Bamungaon etc. in Kokrajhar, from where large number of people came to safe shelters. A few who were left to take care of abandoned homes were also killed by armed gangs.In Gosaigaon area, villages such as Ballamguri, Hacaharabari, Palasguri, Malguri etc, are burnt down. Large scale arson continued in these villages for a week since 19th July, despite some presence of security forces. In two other districts of Chirang and Baxa, villages are burnt down in a similar fashion. Some of the worst affected villages of Chirang district include Bechborbari, Nathurbari and Mothapur in Bijni subdivision ; Ulubari and Pakriguri in Kajalgaon subdivision.

Photo: Thehindu.com

Photo: Thehindu.com

The account of such rioting and displacement brings to mind the existing public discourse of immigrant versus indigenous conflict. What is very peculiar in this situation is the claim made by some of the indigenous pressure groups that most of the displaced Muslim Bengali minorities are not genuine Indian citizens. As the homes of these people are burnt down, it is quite possible now to turn them into Bangladeshis. As their return to homes is becoming more and more insecure, what is needed to be done is not merely a packaged rehabilitation, but saving the camp dwellers from this test of citizenship to which they are sure to fail, owing to burning down of their last shred of papers.

Although the immediate context of the entire rioting is now known as killing and counter-killing between Bodo and minority Muslim groups, yet a look at demographic situation would be worth. In four BTAD districts out of a total population of 31,55, 359, Bodo and other plain tribes are only 10,50,627. But in terms of land holdings, Bodos have higher access and ownership to land as their land rights were safeguarded by chapter X of the Assam Land and revenue regulation Act,1886. So the picture that emerges is that the effective right to livelihood and hold over land by the Bodos is in no way threatened by the presence of Bengali Muslims, Asomiya and other plain non-tribal communities.

Photo: Thehindu.com

Photo: Thehindu.com

The absurd question is, can anyone reverse this demographic picture overnight by ethnic cleansing and displacement?

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

The Bodoland territorial Council accord signed between GOI and leaders of Bodo liberation Tigers (BLT) in its clause 4.3 allowed the non-tribals to hold onto their existing holdings; while both the Bodo and non-Bodo people, in general, could buy and sell land after due legal formalities. The argument that land held by Bodos will be bought over by crafty Muslims does not hold much water, as the indigenous Bodos continue to depend on their farmland and homestead economy. As a matter of fact, the Bodos allow share-cropping on their land by Muslim peasantry, which is a culture of shared livelihood that no amount of violence can erase. In a nutshell, Bodos do enjoy full political power in the Bodoland autonomous area, while Non-Bodos enjoy other economic, social and cultural rights. Measures of protective discrimination under sixth schedule of the Constitution are working well for Bodos and other tribal communities. Therefore, there is no effective endangerment and emasculation of the rights of indigenous population in the whole of Bodoland as some make it out to be. Ethnic violence is only a symptom of breakdown of ethnic inter-relationship in an ethnically plural society of Bodoland, within which every community is actually secured and protected with their due constitutional rights. The contributions made by Muslim Bengali citizenry to the indigenous economy and society and to the growth and sustenance of Asomiya as state language of Assam cannot be shelved under the carpet by any deviant categorization. The shared space of life between Bodos and Muslim Bengalis also cannot be destroyed by violence alone, as the life-force generated by such camaraderie is far stronger than any disruptive attempt. The rhetorical difference between Bengali Muslims and Bodos is only a hypothetical ploy to experiment with various contingencies of political power sustained by an engineered trauma and insecurity, which needs to be dealt using law. It is also not yet too late to realize that peace and tranquillity between ethnic minorities in a ethnically plural Bodoland is the only way to ensure social justice and economic progress.

Photo: ibtimes.com

Photo: ibtimes.com

 

* The writer is Professor at the Department of Philosophy in the North Eastern Hills University, Shillong, Meghalaya and Director, Research, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), Silchar, Assam.

 

BHRPC hails Supreme Court order granting bail to Dr. Binayak Sen

April 17, 2011

The Supreme Court of India granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen, an internationally recognised human rights defender on 15 April after a prolonged hearing. Dr. Sen was serving life sentence meted out to him on 24 December 2010 along with two others. Dr. Sen was charged with sedition under sections 124A read with section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. He was also charged with working for outlawed Maoists under sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 8(5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act), 2005 and section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) on 31 January 2011 wrote to the Prime Minister of India and other authorities including the Chief Justice of India urging them to release him and repeal these repressive laws.

BHRPC hails the order of the Supreme Court of India granting bail to Dr. Binayak Sen made on 15 April 2011 and reiterates (See earlier statement) its demands for a thorough and objective inquiry into the alleged conspiracy to falsely book Dr. Sen in order to intimidate other human rights defenders and to repress voice of dissent. BHRPC also urges the authorities in India to immediately release all other human rights defenders who are put behind bars unjustly.

BHRPC further welcomes the statement of Union Minister for Law and Justice that laws of sedition need to be revisited and urges the government to repeal/amend all repressive laws including the infamous Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. BHRPC expresses its solidarity with Irom Chanu Sharmila of Manipur who has been fasting for more than a decade demanding repeal of the AFSPA.

Release Dr. Binayak Sen, Protect HRDs and Repeal Repressive Laws

January 31, 2011

Press Statement

For immediate release

31 January, 2011, Silchar

Release Dr. Binayak Sen, Protect HRDs and Repeal Repressive Laws

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) on 31 January 2011 wrote to the Prime Minister of India and other authorities including the Chief Justice of India to express its shock and deep concern at the incarceration of Dr. Binayak Sen, an internationally recognized physician, health worker and human rights defender. He has been convicted on 24 December 2010 along with two others and has been sentenced to imprisonment for life. Dr. Sen has been charged with sedition under sections 124A read with section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. He has also been charged with working for outlawed Maoists under sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 8(5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act), 2005 and section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.

Reports show that the trial was unfair and failed to meet the standard of criminal jurisprudence and human rights norms. It is seen that documents have been fabricated by the police and false witnesses introduced. The judgment suggests that the judge has ignored evidence provided by the defence and has relied on hearsay evidence of the prosecution. Guilt of Dr. Sen has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, which is a primary requirement for conviction.

BHRPC believes that Dr. Sen as been targeted maliciously for his peaceful and legitimate human rights works and criticism of the government policy that violates international human rights norms. His prosecution is malafide; in fact it is a persecution. He has been made an example of by the state as a warning to other human rights defenders not to expose human rights violations.

Dr. Sen, giving up great career opportunities, dedicated his life in providing health care to the poorest people in the remote villages in Chattishgarh without access to public medical care, where he founded a hospital and trained women to provide basic health care. He also served as an adviser to the state government’s public-health committee until May 2007, when he was arrested. As human rights defender holding the positions of national vice president and president of Chattishgarh Unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a leading civil liberties organization in India, Dr. Sen documented numerous cases of gross human rights violations by the security forces and Salwa Judum, a private militia held to be sponsored by the Chattishgarh government in the name of fight against Maoists, an armed opposition group which also does not respect the rights of people.  Dr. Sen often raised his voice against the massacres of people by both the sides and appealed for dialogue and peace.

Human rights defenders like Dr. Sen provide services that should be provided by the government. They play a great role in upholding and fulfilling the constitutional mandates and establishment of the rule of law by documenting incidents of unlawful actions and atrocities of state agencies, offering legal advice and intervention and constructive criticisms of the wrong policies. They provide legitimate outlet for the grievances of the people. They are not the enemies but the friends of the state and people.

This has been recognised by the United Nations as well as by the government of India. The UN adopted a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998 that provides for the support and protection of human rights defenders in the context of their work. The Indian parliament passed the Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993 that recognises the role of HRDs and mandates the National Human Rights Commission to support non-governmental organisations in their human rights work. But in reality people like Dr. Binayak Sen are persecuted and prosecuted under the same laws that were used by the British colonial rulers against people like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

BHRPC believes that using repressive laws of colonial era against HRDs and innocent people and enacting new such laws empowering the law enforcement agencies to trample upon universally recognised human rights of the citizens is not the solution to the problem of unrest and insurgency. The rule of law, fundamental constitutional rights and universally recognised human rights must be upheld.

Many Indian laws meant to deal with insurgency and terrorism fall well short of the constitutional and human rights standards even keeping in consideration the derogation provided therein. Some of them have been struck down by the SC (for example, some provisions of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985), some of them have been modified and their imports narrowed down (for example, section 124A of the IPC) and in cases of some others the SC provided additional guidelines to save them from unconstitutionality (for example, the National Security Act, 1980, the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 some special laws enacted by state legislatures including the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 etc.). The UN Human Rights Committee and other organs continue to recommend the Indian state to repeal or amend such laws in order to make them compatible with the international human rights standards. However, these laws are maliciously being used against HRDs increasingly in many states in India.

BHRPC understands and hopes that legal questions in the case of Dr. Sen will be addressed in the High Court and Supreme Court expeditiously. But there is no judicial avenues to undo the damage done particularly to the mental and physical health of Dr. Sen who is a 61 year old heart patient, his family and friends by putting him in this legal wrangle. Facing trial in India is itself a punishment and deterrent. Human rights works in India and country’s image in the world have been affected adversely by this trial. This unfair trial has also put the Indian judiciary and democracy on trial before the international community. Further damage must be stopped and it can be done by releasing Dr. Sen and providing him with adequate reparation and by bringing to book those who conspired to falsely implicate Dr. Sen, fabricated evidence, committed perjury and unduly influenced the judge.

BHRPC, therefore, urged the authorities to ensure that (1) Dr. Binayak Sen must be released immediately and his appeal must be disposed of as soon as possible;  (2) An independent inquiry must be instituted to find out those who conspired to falsely implicate Dr. Sen, fabricated evidence, committed perjury and unduly influenced the judge; (3) Dr. Sen and his family must be provided with adequate reparation; (4) Human rights defenders must be provided full protection and special professional privileges; (5) Repressive laws such as section 124A of the IPC, the Chattishgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958, the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 etc. must be repealed or adequately amended and brought in conformity with the international human rights standards.


Neharul Ahmed Mazumder

Secretary General, BHRPC

Click here to download copy of the letter to Prime Minister

BHRPC hails Supreme Court order granting bail to Dr. Binayak Sen

The Supreme Court of India granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen, an internationally recognised human rights defender on 15 April after a prolonged hearing. Dr. Sen was serving life sentence meted out to him on 24 December 2010 along with two others. Dr. Sen was charged with sedition under sections 124A read with section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. He was also charged with working for outlawed Maoists under sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 8(5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act), 2005 and section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) on 31 January 2011 wrote to the Prime Minister of India and other authorities including the Chief Justice of India urging them to release him and repeal these repressive laws.

BHRPC hails the order of the Supreme Court of India granting bail to Dr. Binayak Sen made on 15 April 2011 and reiterates (See earlier statement) its demands for a thorough and objective inquiry into the alleged conspiracy to falsely book Dr. Sen in order to intimidate other human rights defenders and to repress voice of dissent. BHRPC also urges the authorities in India to immediately release all other human rights defenders who are put behind bars unjustly.

BHRPC further welcomes the statement of Union Minister for Law and Justice that laws of sedition need to be revisited and urges the government to repeal/amend all repressive laws including the infamous Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. BHRPC expresses its solidarity with Irom Chanu Sharmila of Manipur who has been fasting for more than a decade demanding repeal of the AFSPA.