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How the State Treats Friends and Foes of the Oppressed

The State zealously sheltered its petty minion, Manohar Kadam, the police officer who, out of casteist prejudice, ordered the totally unjustified firing that killed 10 persons in Ramabai Nagar in Mumbai in July 1997, ignoring the persistent demands of dalits and acting only when it was impossible to do otherwise. In sharp contrast, it arrested Binayak Sen - the saintly doctor and civil rights activist who has been intensely sensitive to the plight of poor tribals - and persevered with its lies that he was actively involved in Naxalite activities. What explains this sharp difference in treatment?

COMMENTARY

How the State Treats Friends and Foes of the Oppressed

Anand Teltumbde

their kin. There were indignant comments from some senior police officers against the harsh punishment. The most notable reactions were to be found however on the blogs that reflect the character of what we call civil society. Fed on superfluity and untruth, these cyber nerds appeared

The State zealously sheltered its petty minion, Manohar Kadam, the police officer who, out of casteist prejudice, ordered the totally unjustified firing that killed 10 persons in Ramabai Nagar in Mumbai in July 1997, ignoring the persistent demands of dalits and acting only when it was impossible to do otherwise. In sharp contrast, it arrested Binayak Sen – the saintly doctor and civil rights activist who has been intensely sensitive to the plight of poor tribals – and persevered with its lies that he was actively involved in Naxalite activities. What explains this sharp difference in treatment?

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a civil rights activist and writer based in Mumbai.

T
he grant of two bails by the courts last month has been a cause of much public uproar. One came on 22 May to Manohar Kadam, the infamous Maharashtra State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) officer who was sentenced by a special court to life imprisonment a fortnight ago but who had never lived a moment in prison. The other was a grant by the S upreme Court on 25 May to Binayak Sen, the famed doctor and civil rights activist from Raipur, who was never sentenced by any court and still languished in the Raipur jail for more than two years. The first one came as a rude shock to dalits who had struggled for 12 long years to get Kadam punished for what they thought was pure and simple butchery with a casteist prejudice. The second one came as jubilant reprieve to scores of civil rights activists all over the world and the poor of Chhattisgarh who had agitated against the naked injustice perpetrated against a saintly doctor for what they saw was pure and simple vindictiveness of the State for the challenge that Sen represented.

Cases of Kadam and Sen

On 7 May 2009, a special court in Mumbai sentenced suspended SRPF officer Manohar Kadam to life after he was found guilty in the July 1997 Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar firing case. The court held him guilty of culpable homicide in the incident that led to the deaths of 10 people and injury to 25 others. The court observed that Kadam had ordered firing before taking stock of the situation. Kadam had led the SRPF platoon that was sent to control a mob protesting desecration of a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar in Ghatkopar, a Mumbai suburb. Expectedly, the judgment was hailed by dalits in general although the victims wanted Kadam to be hanged for what they r egarded as the cold-blooded murder of

june 20, 2009

unanimous in their support for Kadam by adversely commenting on the judgment and trashing dalit sentiments.

Binayak Sen was arrested on 14 May 2006 in Raipur when he came all the way from Kolkata and presented himself to the Raipur police as he learnt that they had come for him. The accusations against him were that he used to carry secret l etters written by an accused Naxalite lodged in the Raipur Central Jail, Narayan Sanyal, to his associates regarding the monitoring of the unlawful activities of the banned organisation, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), to which Sanyal belongs. He was charged under the draconian provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, and also the Indian P enal Code. It was clear to the world that the charges against Sen were trumped up to punish him for daring to expose the evil operations of Salwa Judum, a statesponsored anti- Naxalite force in Dantewada district. What was not known was the State’s intention to make this a case to s ilence all democratic dissent. Enlightened opinion represented by 22 Nobel laureates among others sought his release but the State refused to heed. His bail was r efused thrice, twice by the Raipur court and once by the Supreme Court. Interestingly, while such blatant victimisation had shocked the democratic world and Chhattisgarh’s poor, a section of civil society v ehemently upheld it.

Butcher of Ramabai Nagar

On 11 July 1997, the people of Ramabai Nagar, a predominantly dalit colony on the west side of the Eastern Express highway in Ghatkopar woke up to find the bust of Babasaheb Ambedkar with a garland of chappals. Soon people came out in protest and halted traffic on the road. An SRPF platoon, led by Manohar Kadam, was sent to control the mob. Within minutes of

vol xliv no 25

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

reaching the colony, Kadam ordered fi ring, which killed 10 people and injured 25

o thers. A fact finding by the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) and the Indian People’s Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) revealed, among other things, that the firing was t otally unjustified, motivated as it was by casteist hatred for the protestors. The firing was from close range as could be noted from the dimensions of bullet holes in the metallic sheets of nearby houses and was intended to kill people. The gruesome i ncident was so revolting that it impelled a sensitive balladeer, Vilas Ghogre to hang himself in protest in his shack in a Mulund slum. There was a widespread disgust over the incident, which spilled out in the form of outrage against dalit leaders.

The non-political youth formed a Ramabai Ambedkar Hatyakand Vidrohi Sangharsh Samiti (RAHVSS) and demanded a ction against Kadam. Despite an intensive agitation, the State did nothing and sheltered Kadam. It took full six months to institute a commission of enquiry under Justice S D Gundewar to further investigate the incident. The Gundewar Commission almost corroborated the findings of the above-mentioned fact finding reports, as also the contentions of the Sangharsh Samiti. Its main conclusions were that there was no need of firing, the entire lique fied petroleum gas tanker story created to justify the firing was a lie, the v ideo film shot by someone, which was projected in support of the tanker story was fake, and that the firing had taken place not on the protesting mob but inside the colony where there was no protest. The commission unusually observed that a person like Kadam was not fit to continue in the police force. And yet the State continued to shelter him until it could not do so any more. It ordered Kadam’s prosecution in August 2001. A first information report (FIR) was lodged against him with the Pantnagar police station on 30 August that year, and he was arrested in December 2002, only to be admitted to hospital in January 2003 as he complained of chest pain.

Saintly Sen in Chhattisgarh

Binayak Sen, General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ (PUCL) Chhattisgarh unit and its national

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june 20, 2009

v ice-president, was naturally involved in the investigation of cases of civil rights v iolations perpetrated by the State in the name of fighting a Maoist insurgency. He participated in many inquiries, which drew attention to severe human rights v iolations, including murder of unarmed and demonstrably innocent civilians by the police. For instance, he had exposed the fact that 12 alleged Maoists, killed by the police in Santoshpur village in a supposed gunfight on 31 March 2007, were actually tribals executed at close range. The State Human Rights Commission took note of this investigation, and ordered the bodies of the victims exhumed. Just a few days later, Sen was arrested.

Sen had consistently spoken against Salwa Judum, a vigilante organisation southern Chhattisgarh that has been armed and supported by the state government and the Ministry of Home Affairs since June 2005, apparently in order to combat the Maoist insurgency. The primary moti vation behind it is said to be the need to vacate this mineral-rich part of the country to make way for several corporate houses with whom the Chhattisgarh government had signed memoranda of understanding. It is primarily PUCL’s investigations into the massive human tragedy that this evil design entailed that brought it to the notice of the public elsewhere. As it now stands, many civil rights’ groups, journalists, intellectuals, study groups and committees of the government itself, and even the Supreme Court have adversely commented on this “ritual of cleansing” (as Salwa Judum translates into a local tribal language) the tribal community of the “disease” of Maoism. Already over 1,00,000 people have been displaced and hundreds of villages abandoned, besides the killing of hundreds in the crossfire b etween the police and the Naxalites. Despite this enormous human tragedy and huge load of condemnation of the Salwa Judum, it still continues to operate.

The police case against Sen is mainly pivoted on his meetings with Narayan S anyal. But the fact remains that all his v isits took place with the permission of the deputy superintendent of police, and u nder close supervision of the jail authorities. The lies of the State were exposed in the trial, which began on 30 April 2008. As per the

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original charge sheet, 83 witnesses were meant to depose against him. Of these, six were declared hostile by the State and 16 were dropped while the r emaining 61 testified in court. Not one of these witnesses has provided any legally admissible evidence to support the accusations in the charge sheet. Even the jail officials, the superintendent and the jailer, who were called as witnesses by the prosecution, have ruled out the possibility of Sen carrying letters from Narayan S anyal out of the high security Raipur jail. This suggests that the alleged Naxa lite connection of Sen was just a ploy to charge him under draconian laws that would retain him in jail for a long time and harass him still further. The purpose was well served inasmuch as the State could incarcerate Sen for over two years despite the clamour of the entire world for his release. The underscoring message was loud and clear that the Indian State could do anything to anyone who dares to d isagree with it.

Uncivil State

A comparison of these two evidently incomparable persons may appear disgusting. Kadam is a run-of-the-mill police

o fficer whereas Sen is a highly qualified, gold medalist doctor, who relinquished a potentially lucrative career and chose a path of service to the poor. Kadam has been utterly insensitive to the sentiments of dalits who protested against the insult heaped on their messiah. Sen has been i ntensely sensitive to the plight of poor tribals. Kadam sought to curry favour of the State by killing innocent dalits, whereas Sen incurred wrath of the State in exposing its unconstitutional and anti-people operations. It is therefore that the State zealously sheltered Kadam, its petty minion, ignoring the persistent demands of dalits and acting only when it was impossible to do otherwise, whereas it arrested Binayak Sen and persisted with its lies that he was actively involved in Naxalite activities. Kadam, despite serious indictment, was allowed to remain a freeman, and even when arrested, could be rushed to the hospital when he complained of chest pain, and be allowed to rest there. Sen, without even an iota of evidence against him, could be arrested and kept in jail for two years and not allowed to get due

COMMENTARY

medical treatment despite having a history of heart ailment. Kadam gets bail within a fortnight without a single day in jail, whereas Sen is denied it repeatedly over two long years, without any court going into the merit of his case. The contrast could indeed be endless and rather shameful.

The glaring difference between these two cases can be reduced to a single vital factor: their attitude towards poor dalits and tribals, the primordial marker of our intrinsically uncivil caste society which feigns civility for itself. It has zealously maintained the divide between the dalit and non-dalit universes within itself. It is unfortunate that the modern constitutional State that we created, instead of doing away this “un-civility”, has itself imbibed it in full measure, in turn promoting and accentuating this divide. The State apparatus favours those who are against dalits and tribals, and vice versa. If you sympathise with dalits and tribals, you become an outcaste, but if you despise them, you get naturally accepted. Sen’s taking cudgels for tribals being butchered by the police and by Salwa Judum provoked the State to teach him and his ilk a lesson, but Kadam’s disdain towards dalits got him the natural protection of the State. Naxalism and nationalism then just become modern day euphemistic epithets for outcaste and caste, respectively.

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june 20, 2009 vol xliv no 25

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