February 20, 2020
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Binayak Sen

The PUCL national vice-president on his release after two years in Raipur central jail on charges of links with the Naxalite movement

Binayak Sen
Binayak Sen
Your bail took all of two years.

A fictitious case with no evidence shouldn’t have taken two years. Neither the lawyers nor I can understand why it took so long. Now that it has come, I am very grateful.

After what happened to you, wouldn’t people be afraid to take up human rights issues?

I’m the ‘index case’ that is indicative of a malignant change worldwide. This trend of charging senior activists with fabricated cases is having serious effects on the field of human rights.

What propelled you to work amidst the tribals in Chhattisgarh?

It was not a one-off decision. There are plenty of others doing this. We followed the ‘logic of epidemiology’—instead of singling out the disease, we go to the population suffering from it.

Why did the government target you?

I was outspoken to public effect. I criticised the Salwa Judum and encounter deaths. The Chhattisgarh government felt it couldn’t stomach this criticism any longer.

Is there a disconnect between PUCL, NGOs and the NHRC?

The NHRC is not living up to its mandate of clearly articulating human rights for the afflicted in India. The PUCL and NGOs are trying to fill in the gaps but they can’t replace or even supplement a national-level organisation.

Have both the state government and the Naxalites failed to address the real issues of the people?

Both are locked in a self-perpetuating cycle of military confrontation and people are dying unnecessarily. Real issues can be addressed only when the agenda of peace is articulated.

Do you think the Naxalites will settle for peace?

I’m not a Naxal sympathiser, nor do I follow the movement. The real concern is that the issues of the poor need to be addressed.

You once said, "Choose your politics before your politics chooses you". A new government has been recently chosen.

We believe in the democratic practice of elections. The new government has potential and should take more initiatives like the NREGA. But the Chhattisgarh verdict was disappointing.

Will you return to Rupantar, your community health NGO?

It’s a small NGO and those associated with it have continued their work. The incarceration has held up my work, which I hope to resume.

Amnesty International and people like Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen have spoken up for you. Your message to them.

I’m a small man. I cannot call them ‘my’ supporters. They are supporting causes in which we are mutually engaged. I am grateful for the unprecedented honour I have been given.

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