Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Law, Justice and the Lower Judiciary

The Second Additional Sessions Judge of the Raipur district court in Chhattisgarh has sentenced human rights defender Dr. Binayak Sen, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal for rigorous life imprisonment under Section 124A read with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They have also been sentenced to shorter prison terms of one to two years to run concurrently under Sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 8(5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam, 2005 (Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act or CSPSA) and Section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Narayan Sanyal has been additionally sentenced under Section 20 of the UAPA Act, 1967. Briefly put Section 124A read with Section 120B of IPC pertains to sedition and conspiracy for sedition; CSPSA, 2005 makes culpable membership of, association with, and furthering the interests, financially or otherwise, of organizations notified and banned under the Act as unlawful. UAPA, 1967 seeks to penalize membership of a terrorist gang or association, holding proceeds of terrorism, or support given to a terrorist organization.
It is necessary to analyse this development as it is very important for the future of Indian democracy. There is a serious problem in India with the lower judiciary which does not seem to have any idea of its crucial role as a defender of human rights in a democracy. Especially in a democracy in which the majority of the people are not aware of their rights and are routinely oppressed by governmental and private oppressors. The attitude of the bureaucracy and the politicians in this country remains both feudal and colonial they frequently use and misuse the law to stifle dissent.
The higher judiciary shows some awareness of its crucial democratic role and that is somewhat of a relief as it frequently intervenes to reprimand the executive for its unjust behaviour. However, it is extremely expensive to approach the higher judiciary and meanwhile the accused have to suffer imprisonment due to miscarriage of justice at the lower level. Normally most poor people are unable to appeal and it is only when there are human rights activists fighting along with them that higher courts are approached. In fact the only way to effectively tackle the lower judiciary at present is to prolong cases through various means and postpone trials. This is the route we in the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath normally adopt and there are cases in which we are still trudging to court after more than 12 years. It is a pain but it is better than getting convicted as has happened now with the famous Binayak Sen case.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the entire Indian Penal Code, of which Section 124A is a part, is a colonial law imposed by the British in 1860 in the wake of the first war of independence of 1857 to ensure that such revolts did not take place again. Section 124 A was inserted in 1870 when the British found that the intellectual ferment against their rule was gaining ground and needed to be stamped out and has been used to incarcerate such illustrious freedom fighters as Gandhi and Tilak. The IPC and its sibling the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) were so efficient that the British were effectively able to prevent all kinds of rebellion from getting out of control thereafter. It is sobering to remember that the British themselves have a much more democratic penal law and procedure in the UK.
Thus, the IPC and CrPC are colonial laws that our Brown Sahibs saw fit to continue with after independence precisely because of their efficacy in controlling mass protests against unjust rule. Many mass movements after independence have petered out because of the continuous legal harassment of activists and members by the police. The UAPA and CGSPSA are even worse laws that have been enacted after independence to further strengthen the powers of the ruling class to rein in mass protests. Basic civil liberties are denied in these laws under cover of the excuse of fighting armed terrorism. It is possible to convict people under these black laws without there being any evidence whatsoever other than hearsay! Over and above this over the past decade the Supreme Court in various judgments has diluted the law on conspiracy so much that two lovers mumbling sweet nothings to each other can also be convicted for this (conspiring to increase the population of this country in the future!)
The immediate question, however, in the present case is not the broader and more important one of the appropriateness of these laws in a modern liberal democracy avowed to providing social and economic justice to its vast majority of under privileged citizens but of the narrower one of whether the conviction of the accused is justified under the aforesaid sections of the IPC, CGSPSA and UAPA. The chargesheet, the later examination and cross examination of witnesses and other evidence and citations of various relevant judgments passed by the higher courts do not support conviction under any of the sections and laws mentioned. One fails to understand how the judge after having found the charge of waging war against the state to be not proved, yet convicted the three for sedition when there was no credible document presented by the prosecution supporting this serious charge.

Leaving apart the many other falsities and inanities of the police case as they have emerged after the trial and let us concentrate on the main story related to the charge of sedition - that Binayak Sen had taken letters from the Maoist Narayan Sanyal while visiting him in jail and then passed them onto Piyush Guha to give to unnamed Maoists in the wilds. This story does not stand up after examination and cross examination of witnesses in the trial because -
1. The Jail staff have confirmed on oath in the court that Binayak Sen could not have taken these letters from the jail during his visits to Narayan Sanyal.
2. The only evidence adduced for Binayak Sen having given these letters to Piyush Guha is the latter's confession while in police custody to this effect. This is inadmissible as evidence for implicating Binayak under section 25 and for implicating Piyush under section 26 respectively of the Indian Evidence Act. 
3. The letters themselves are unsigned and there are discrepancies that seem to indicate that they were not properly seized from Piyush at the time of his arrest (which itself is subject to doubt) but were instead later additions post facto by the police to try and stitch together a case of sedition.
4. There is no proof adduced at all regarding the conjecture that Piyush was going to deliver these letters to unnamed Maoist revolutionaries.
5. The Supreme Court in Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar, 1962, has stated very categorically that nothing could be classified as sedition unless there was a specific call for armed revolt or the use of violence and this is not so in the case of the letters produced as evidence.

Moreover, the relevant portion of section 124A of IPC that defines a seditious person is - "Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in [India]".
Disaffection means - "A state or feeling of being dissatisfied with the people in authority and no longer willing to support them". Now by this definition the Bharatiya Janata Party and the entire opposition have been exciting disaffection against the central government over the 2G mobile spectrum allocation scam for over a month now and the Trinamool Congress Party has been exciting disaffection against the West Bengal Government over the same period and so all these should be charged for sedition. But it is only the people who are fighting for the rights of the poor who are being targeted despite the Supreme Court having repeatedly pronounced in several judgments that this colonial section should not be used to trample on the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution relating to freedom of speech and expression and of forming associations.
Thus, the judge has passed the judgment under pressure from the executive in a vindictive manner. In fact if the ruling classes could have their way they would have most people in jail doing free hard labour for them. That most poor people in this country nevertheless walk free is because there are not enough jails.
Obviously the verdict will be challenged in the higher courts. The case as a whole will be fought tooth and nail as false cases of this kind jeopardise broader human rights. However, there is a serious need to do something to repeal anti-people laws like these and to sensitise the lower judiciary to its crucial role as a defender of human rights independent from the executive. Otherwise the executive and especially the police will go on targeting the poor and the activists who organise them and stuff them into jails. If justice is to be delivered to the poor in this country and those activists who help them in their fight for this, then the whole judicial system from the lowest to the highest level has to be separated from the executive and funded independently directly from the Consolidated Fund of India. The lower judiciary has to be told to critically review all cases brought before it by the police at the stage of framing of charges under section 227 of CrPC. Section 172 of the CrPC should be amended so that entries in the case diaries and Section 91 should be amended so that the daily logs of the police station and the time and place of recording the evidence can both be made available for scrutiny to the accused for tallying with each other at the time of framing of charge. If there are inconsistencies as there are bound to be in the case of framing of false cases by the police then the magistrates should dismiss the case at this stage itself as provided for in section 227, instead of going through a prolonged trial wasting public money and harassing the accused.
This is a tall order no doubt but this demand needs to be publicly made and brought into the ongoing debate on judicial reforms if a vibrant grassroots democracy is to thrive in this country.

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