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Binayak Sen: Testing Times For India's Democracy

Binayak Sen is a doctor. He is an Indian social activist and a human rights advocate. He advised the government of the state of Madhya Pradesh till 2007. After that he was accused of being a Maoist sympathiser and was thrown in prison. He was not even charged for two months. Then his trial commenced and went on for two years. He was convicted of acting against the state by a lower court in end 2010.

Binayak Sen is lucky. He is a famous man, known internationally. He had got the Jonathan Mann Award for human rights and global health in 2008. When he was convicted for treason 22 Nobel Prize winners wrote to the Indian government condemning the judgement. The Sen case received much publicity and he got Ram Jethmalani, one of India's top lawyers, to fight his case in the Supreme Court. And he got bail from the top court.

Many others like Sen are not so privileged and lucky. In India's fight against Maoist rebels, democracy is taking a knocking. The government has loosened the legal system to control the menace. This has given law enforcement agencies in the Maoist affected areas extraordinary powers. Human rights activists have borne the brunt of this new aggression of the state.

The Indian government stayed aloof even when Sen was convicted because it was bugged with his opposing the Salwa Judum, the government backed anti-Maoist militia.

The situation is somewhat similar to America post 9/11. Human rights were compromised to an extent because security was considered more important. Like in the US, in India too democracy got a cold shoulder when things got too hot.

But the resilience of Indian democracy will ensure that the slight stain will erase as time goes by.

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