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The curious case of Binayak

Mar 11, 2011

Journalist Dilip D'Souza finds little evidence behind the Chhattisgarh government’s case against Indian rights activist Binayak Sen, calling it a banal and twisted attempt to incriminate him. Binayak, currently serving a life term on charges of state sedition, has appealed to the Supreme Court to seek bail and a stay on his sentence.

In May 2007, the Chhattisgarh police arrested Binayak Sen. Five days later, they seized Sen’s computer from his home. From the email and files on it, they extracted many documents, printed and spiral-bound them, then presented it all as part of the case against Sen. ‘To Honorable Supreme Court, New Delhi,’ reads the neat title page. In the table of contents, you’ll find this entry: ‘Mahila Kosh budget shows Rs 1 crore. And its detailing.’ The document it refers to is titled ‘Mahila Kosh’ and has several bullet points. One is: ‘The Kosh has been created with an initial corpus of Rs1 crore.’ You read this and wonder — as the prosecution must have intended you to wonder — how did Sen assemble a corpus of a crore? It’s not an amount paediatricians have lying around. Surely there’s something underhanded here?

That there is nothing underhanded is hinted at in the document itself. The next bullet point states: ‘The Governing body is headed by Minister for Women and Child Development.’ Why is a minister heading a body with a suspicious corpus? But beyond this hint — speaking of things underhanded — is the truth: this document, identical down to the fonts used, appears on the Chhattisgarh government’s website (; note that the home page states: ‘Contents provided and maintained by Govt of Chhattisgarh’). That is, this Mahila Kosh is a Chhattisgarh government scheme, headed by its own minister, and this “initial corpus” was set up by the Chhattisgarh government itself.

The same government uses this document, this description of its own scheme, against Binayak Sen.

If the Chhattisgarh government uses its own Mahila Koshscheme to incriminate Sen and if it turns Sen’s call for the release of a policeman around to incriminate Sen, what can we conclude about its own faith in its case against Sen?

There’s more. Here’s another entry from the contents: ‘Appeal from the National President (PUCL), People War Group, Maoist Community Centre, Naxalite, POTA-Like Laws.’ You may think this must be an appeal on behalf of these dangerous groups and that Sen is in league with them! Then you look at the document concerned. It’s on Chhattisgarh PUCL letterhead, signed by Sen in his capacity as general secretary and, yes, it is an appeal. This is the first sentence — the first sentence — in that appeal: “The National President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Shri KG Kannabiran, has appealed for the unconditional release of Shri Prakash Soni Sub-Inspector of Police, who was recently abducted from Kunakonda block, reportedly by activists of the People’s War Group (PWG).”

Let me repeat: this is the PUCL’s appeal for the unconditional release of PSI Prakash Soni, abducted by Maoist rebels. Soni was released in October 2004, but only after the Chhattisgarh government conceded four demands of the Maoists. So it was not an unconditional release, as Sen demanded; instead, the government capitulated. Now the same government uses Sen’s appeal for the release of one of its own policemen as evidence against Sen.

And it worked. In paragraph 96 of his judgement sentencing Sen to life in prison, sessions judge BP Verma observes this much about Sen’s appeal: “People’s War Group (PWG) dwara Sub-Inspector Prakash Soni ke apharan ke baat kahi gayi hai (The kidnapping of Sub-Inspector Prakash Soni by People’s War Group is mentioned).”

Justice Verma omits one detail: Soni’s kidnapping is mentioned only because Sen calls for Soni’s unconditional release. Nearly 350 pages were taken from Sen’s computer. Some banal, some inexplicable, some twisted like these two. Trying to write a book about the case, I’ve pored over them. I can’t find anything incriminating.

Yet don’t take my word for that. Consider this: if the Chhattisgarh government uses its own Mahila Kosh scheme to incriminate Sen and if it turns Sen’s call for the release of a policeman around to incriminate Sen, what can we conclude about its own faith in its case against Sen? And on evidence like this, a man has been sentenced to life in prison!

Dilip D’Souza is a Mumbai-based writer and journalist. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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