Sunday, August 12, 2012

What face, free citizens?

So, Independence Day is around the corner. I thought it would be interesting to take a very literal look at freedom. In the sense of who is technically a free man/woman, and who isn’t.
One woman who was recently freed is — rather ironically — called ‘Azad’ (the free one). Seema Azad is a human rights activist and a journalist who spent over two years in prison. She and her husband, Vishwavijay had been convicted by a sessions court in Uttar Pradesh of sedition.
The laws under which Azad was convicted refer to a ‘conspiracy to commit a terrorist act’, supporting a terrorist organisation, and waging war against the state. What it actually translates into is the possession of a few pamphlets or books.
Therefore, on the basis of some hearsay evidence, and the fact that Azad and her husband read all kinds of literature, they were sentenced to life imprisonment. Thankfully, the Allahabad High Court has suspended the sentence, and granted them bail. The judges observed that there could see no evidence that the duo had been waging war against India.
But, of course, the case hasn’t been entirely dismissed. The couple is only out on bail. As is Dr Binayak Sen, who also spent over two years in jail on similar charges.
Also, 78-year-old Narayan Sanyal, who was supposed to be a CPI (Maoist) activist, was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court. He had already spent six years in jail.
But some Indians have not done any time in jail. These include at least a few men who assault other young Indian citizens for wanting to celebrate. Nor has anyone initiated serious legal action against colleges that refuse to let victims of such assault sit for exams.
If there is some legal action in the future, nobody will go to jail for holding the view that female students who get assaulted need to be punished further. Jail, clearly, is reserved for people who possess pamphlets.
And for people like Soni Sori, the adivasi school teacher in Chhattisgarh. She is still in jail. Although she alleged torture, although a subsequent medical exam in Kolkata proved her claim (scans showed that stones had been shoved into her rectum), although the Supreme Court expressed some anguish at this state of affairs, she was sent back to her home state.
Recent reports quote Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh as saying that naxalism can be ‘solved’ through dialogue. If the state truly believes that Sori is a Naxalite, or even a Naxal sympathiser, then she is the first person he should be talking to. And it should be easy, because she’s right there. Still in Raipur jail.
Since dialogue implies two parties talking and listening to each other, Raman Singh could begin by listening to Soni Sori. But clearly, he is not listening. If he was, she would not need to write letters to the Supreme Court.
She’s written one recently, alleging that she continues to be tortured and humiliated. She says she is stripped naked. She is starved. She is touched repeatedly under the pretext of being searched.
I’m waiting to hear what the Supreme Court does next. SP Ankit Garg, who allegedly conspired to get Sori arrested, was conferred a medal for gallantry. Now I’m waiting to see how the state treats the policemen who are in charge of Sori’s custody currently.
As for Raman Singh, I’m wondering if he’s read Sori’s letter. If he has, and refuses to react to it, with what face will he hoist the national flag this year? And what will our face look like as we turn to salute our flag?
First published here

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