Sedition decision ‘misuse’ of laws/ Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, and for his interest in the problems of society’s poorest members. Sen is best known for his work on the causes of famine, which led to the development of practical solutions for preventing or limiting the effects of real or perceived shortages of food. He is currently the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also a senior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he previously served as Master from the years 1998 to 2004. Amartya Sen’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. In 2006, Time magazine listed him under “60 years of Asian Heroes” and in 2010 included him in their “100 most influential persons in the world”.

Amartya Sen

This post was published in The Telegraph on Dec 28, 2010.

I am very upset about the court decision in Chhattisgarh about Binayak Sen. It is a huge perversion of our system of justice, and particularly of the laws concerning sedition. It’s not at all clear, to start with, that the thing he has been exactly accused of — of passing letters — has been really proved beyond doubt.

Secondly, even if this were correct, that doesn’t amount to sedition. He hasn’t killed anyone, he hasn’t incited anyone to rise in violent protest or rebellion. In fact, we know that in his writings he has written against the use of violence in political struggle, arguing that this is neither correct, nor is it ultimately successful. So, I think, even if this is the case — that the exact thing he is accused of is exactly what they are saying it is, which is by no means clear — even then the charge of sedition does not stand.

Thirdly, in exercising any kind of judgment, one has to take into account the character of the person. In this case, Binayak Sen is a very dedicated social worker, working extremely hard for the welfare of some of the most neglected people in the world. He has dedicated his life to doing that rather than having the prosperous, successful life of a doctor, and making a lot of money. So his dedication is not in doubt.

To turn the dedicated service of someone who drops everything to serve the cause of neglected people into a story of the seditious use of something — in this case, it appears to be the passing of a letter, when sedition usually takes the form of inciting people to violence or actually committing some violence and asking others to follow, none of which had happened — the whole thing seems a ridiculous use of the laws of democratic India.

This is part of a legal process, and we have to bear in mind that this is only the first step in a state which has been extraordinarily keen in keeping Binayak Sen behind bars.

And the legal process will not stop there. If the high court in Chhattisgarh has its thinking straight and unbiased, it will overturn the decision. But if it turns out that — as it happened in Gujarat — justice is difficult to get in the state, which is under the control of a political regime that is keen on justifying its policies, some of which are very deeply problematic, rather than bringing justice to people living in Chhattisgarh, then the issue will have to be dealt with at the central level, that is the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has shown, time and again, that it is very committed to the fundamental rights of all human beings, and I don’t doubt that if Chhattisgarh is left in this utterly unsatisfactory state we will get satisfaction from the Supreme Court. So, I am not suggesting that we overrule the judicial system in any way. But the reasoning that makes many concerned citizens think that this is a deep miscarriage of justice should be aired and should be known to the people as well as the court. That is the reason for my willingness to make a statement in a case where I am outraged, upset, and feel unjustly treated.

As Rabindranath Tagore said, the maltreatment of any human being is a mistreatment of me as well. I do feel as if I had been mistreated. I hope to make it clear that in spite of the similarities of our names, Binayak Sen is no relation of mine. But then he is also a relation of mine as an Indian citizen, and he is a relation of yours too as an Indian citizen. He is a relation of a lot of people as a global citizen, particularly a relation of those who, like him, fight against injustice in the world, right across the globe.

AS TOLD TO SOMAK GHOSHAL

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