Non-Resident Indians (NRI) fast to demand release of Dr Binayak Sen
Many concerned Indians in the USA, UK, Canada, UK, Australia, Thailand and other countries are fasting from 16 - 25 June 2008 along with hundreds of activists in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, demanding the annulment of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA) 2005, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 1967, amended in 2004, and the release of Dr Binayak Sen (medical doctor and recipient of the prestigious Jonathan Mann award for Health and Human Rights), Ajay TG (filmmaker) and others.
These draconian laws (CSPSA and UAPA) sanction the violation of due process by the state, and thus contravene internationally accepted norms of jurisprudence as well as democratic governance. As Mr.Kannabiran, National President of PUCL, India, argues in his letter to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the CSPSA and UAPA operate by criminalizing the very performance of civil liberties activities, and culpability is decided upon not by direct proof, but through guilt by association.
Rashim Singh, a PhD student at University of Houston, USA, a volunteer and an Executive Board member of Association for India's Development (AID) is on the 8th day of her 10-day fast, which started on 16 June 2008.
Speaking on the incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen, Rashim Singh says, "A man who for 30 years has dedicated his life to the service of the poor cannot be branded as a threat to the country". On being asked what made her undertake the 10 day fast, she said, "If Gandhiji could have successfully used satyagraha to make the British listen to us, then we expect our own government in Chhattisgarh and Delhi to listen to the voices of thousands of Indian citizens from all over the world demanding the abrogation of the draconian laws. If every voice raised against the government atrocities is curbed, then what is the use of a democracy?"
AID Houston volunteers Anand Chandolu and Shekhar Gosavi who are fasting along with Rashim said: "We must do more to raise awareness about this cause. We pray for the people in India and USA, from various groups such as Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Asha Parivar, National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM), AID and others that are fasting for the release of Dr Binayak Sen"
Those fasting in Raipur where Dr Sen is imprisoned include Dr Sandeep Pandey (Magsaysay Awardee (2008) and convener of NAPM), Prem Narain Verma (Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha), Prem Prakash, Faizal Khan (Asha Parivar) and several other activists from various organizations in India.
Ms Shalini Gera, an activist from 'Friends of South Asia', points out that the "evidence" presented by the state about Dr.Sen's "Maoist connections" actually refers to Dr Sen's meetings with Narayan Sanyal, (a jailed 70-year-old Maoist leader) that took place with the permission of the jail authorities, and under their close supervision, when Dr. Sen, as the vice-president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), visited Sanyal in the Raipur Central Jail to provide medical and legal assistance.
As the State Secretary of PUCL of Chhattisgarh, and the national Vice President, Dr.Sen has been amongst the most vocal opponents of "Salwa Judum", a private militia movement armed by the Chhattisgarh Government to combat Maoist insurgency. Dr.Sen earned the ire of the government for opposing Salwa Judum which has contributed to a spiralling increase in violence and displacement of thousands of tribals. The permanent state of war created by Salwa Judum has led to large-scale and apparently voluntary displacement of indigenous communities, thus freeing up for corporate and industrial use, land and natural resources that have historically belonged to local communities.
According to Mr. Somnath Mukherji, an AID activist, "these protests are not only about the violation of the human rights of Dr Sen- they are also about the ongoing assault on the human rights of the people of Chhattisgarh whose lives and lands are being mortgaged to a vision of development that is antithetical to them".
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