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11 July, 2008

On the ordeal of Binayak Sen and Ajay T.G. in Chhattisgarh jails

Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan, who has paid two visits to Chhattisgarh in the past few weeks, says in a communication from Jaipur dated July 5:

Dear friends,

I have been to Raipur twice in the last ten days. From the 24-26 June, I was there to express solidarity with the ten-day fast that Sandeep Pandey and three others had undertaken, demanding the release of Binayak Sen and Ajay TG and against the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, 2005. On the last two days of the fast a national seminar against State Repression and Repressive laws was organised by the Chhattisgarh PUCL, timing it with emergency day.

In this period I also met Ajay TG in Durg Jail and also spent some time with his wife Shobha (also a film maker), there 20 month old son called Aman and several cousins and friends of Ajay including a couple of lawyers in Durg.

The second time I went was during the second phase of Binayak's trial on 2nd and 3rd of July, 2008. On this occasion too I met Shobha and his lawyers.
Both the visits as usual were undertaken to stand in solidarity with Chhattisgarh PUCL who is facing the ire of the State and support the struggle for justice being undertaken by the families of those in jail.

25th June being Wednesday was the weekly day for visitors for Ajay so I accompanied Shobha to Durg jail. Shobha who had expected a face to face meeting with Ajay and had hoped that their son would get an opportunity to hug the father was very disappointed when we were all told that we could only talk to him through the window. Left with no choice all of us, including Ajay's cousins living in Bhilai talked to him though the grilled and wire meshed window. Ajay who had lost his younger brother Anura only on the 19th of June in a tragic road accident in Kerala, was visibly upset. He was very keen to talk to me separately so we took a chance and I got the permission from the Jail authorities to meet him inside the jail. They just would not allow Shobha but agreed to Aman coming into the Jailer's room which was our meeting room. Those thirty minutes spent together between father and son was memorable.

Ajay also spoke to me. He asked me to give a message to all. He said that he was innocent and he felt that his arrest was part of the agenda to finish the PUCL. He had been targeted for several reasons:
1. Since he had worked with Nandini Sundar and she had filed the Salwa Judum case in the Supreme Court, it was one way of getting back at her and him and all those who were opposed to the Salwa Judum.
2. Since he had made short films on some of the PUCL, Chhattisgarh fact finding misions, like on Gola-Palli and Jiramtarai which had belied the official version of naxalite attacks, he was being taught a lesson for that. These two CDs along with another had been seized from Binayak's house during the house search in May 2007.
3. Since he was one of the persons who had conducted the search on the body of the policemen who had carried out the house search of the residence of Binayak Sen as per rules, the particular policemen had told him that he would be taught a lesson one day.
4. Since he had stood by Binayak and he was one of the few who was regularly coming to the court in solidarity, he was made a target.

Incidentally his analysis is what most of the members in and outside PUCL Chhattisgarh also state. He felt that Chhattisgarh PUCL was a target and had to be supported with greater strength and that the people within the PUCL need to sit and form a strategy as to how to fight this onslaught of the State.
I also learnt that the family was coping with this crisis mostly on its own. The support for the legal case they had organised on their own with some inputs from a few friends in the PUCL and outside.

Ajay being denied access to a Magistrate:
It was shocking to learn from Ajay that although four remand hearings had happened he had been produced only once, that was on the day he was arrested, after that he was never taken on the date of the hearing under the pretext that there was not enough security needed to take a Naxalite prisoner out to a court and the times he was produced he was taken to the Babu of the Magisterial Court and made to sign and brought back..

Incidentally, on the 27th June too (after Shobha and I had brought this to the notice of all in the national convention) he was still taken to the Babu of the remand court where he was made to sign and brought back. After all these hearings are supposed not merely an extension of judicial remand but also an opportunity to share any grievance that the detainee may have, however, that right has been completely denied to Ajay. This was also tried in the case of Binayak Sen when he was prevented from reaching the Court on the grounds that sufficient force was not available. But our protests and lodging written complaints with the Court, DG and the IG gave a message to the authorities

It was definitely a case of the lack of support of a good local lawyer who was neither present for all the hearings and if present did not see that it was wrong, therefore Ajay has never represented his point to the Court. Incidentally we have brought in another local lawyer who hopefully will take on these issues.
Hand Cuffing of Ajay when taken to Court:

The worst part has been that whenever he was taken to Court he was handcuffed and taken. Since he was never produced in front of the Magistrate he was never able to present his point about handcuffing. Here too the local lawyer was not of much help, infact when Shobha raised this with him he felt that there was no escape from the handcuffing.

The legal position is completely clear. Ordinarily the accused must not be handcuffed. This is the settled law through various judgements of the Supreme Court. Only when the Court is completely satisfied by the argument of the prosecution of the likelihood of the accused escaping from custody, the court will permit handcuffing.
In this case neither has Ajay got an opportunity to raise this issue, nor has it been raised by his lawyer. This is the most disturbing thing that unless we monitor what is happening in the court there will be a denial of basic rights even of the most aware and educated of the lot.

We raised this issue with the Jail authorities and gave it in writing to the DGP on the 2nd of July and on the 3rd July too when Shobha and I met the DGP. He has assured that he will look into it and hopefully this should not happen again, otherwise we really need to protest very loudly on the 11 of July which is the next date of hearing.
Well we hope that now with the change of lawyer in Durg things will improve and also our lobbying with the DGP and IG will help.

No legal advice was also made available to them when Ajay got the news of his brother's death. No bail application was presented in Court.
Ajay also has no access to books. He did apply for it in court but he was refused. Shobha has not been allowed to give books. This was another request that we made to the Jail Authorities. He is only allowed to read one of the local newspapers.

The Text of the Bail order
As you all are aware Ajay was denied bail in the lower court exactly a month after his arrest on the 5th June, 2008. The sections under what he has been booked are 124 (a) (Sedition) and sections 3,4, 8 (1) of the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, 2005.
Ms. Renu Divekar Special Addl Sessions Judge, Durg in the bail rejection order passed by her presented the argument of both sides but went along with the view of the prosecution, stating that,
" a letter written by the applicant / accused Ajay TG was found in the house of K R C Reddy alias Gudsa Usendi during the house search on 22.01.2008 when a woman Naxalite leader Shanti Priya alias Malti the w/o Vijay alias KRC Reddy was arrested from Raipur under various sections of the arms act, telegraph act, CPSA and ULAC. It was in this context that the handwriting of the applicant / accused Ajay TG was found to have matched with the letter that was found during the search. In the letter written by Ajay TG to Gudsa Husendi he has mentioned in the letter that camera is in Gachanpalli. Gudsa Husendi alias Vijay alias RC Reddy is a resident of Andhra Pradesh and is a member of the Dandakarnya Special Zonal Committee and is also the spokes person. He is a member of the CPI which is mainly a party with left ideology, which has been banned in the State of Chhattisgarh. The applicant / accused Ajay TG has mentioned village Gachanapalli which is very sensitive from the point of view of Naxalite activities. Prima facie it appears that the applicant / accused has had truck with an organisation which has been banned by the State Government. And since the matter is under investigation thus it has not been found appropriate that the applicant / accused be given the benefit of bail.

As such the first bail application of Ajay TG moved u/s 439 Cr PC by the applicant / accused is rejected".

Although in the arguments presented by Mahendra Dubey the counsel for Ajay TG it had been clearly stated by him which is also mentioned in the order and I quote, " that Ajay is a film maker and a video-grapher and had gone at the behest along with Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar in 2004 in the Adivasi areas of Bastar district. Prof Nandini Sundar has been researching on the life styles of Adivasis. When the applicant / accused was returning from Bastar after having done videography with Nandini Sundar then some villagers surrounded the two and snatched the video camera from the applicant / accused. The particular camera did not belong to the applicant / accused but belonged to his friend. It was six months later that a young boy a stranger to the applicant / accused came to his house in Supela (Durg) enquired about the cost of the camera. On the 22nd of January itself the police had raided the house of the applicant / accused and found no item or document that was incriminating. The applicant / accused is a videographer and works with different social organisations. The Maoists were banned only in 2006 and the said act is of 2004. That the applicant / accused is innocent and has been falsely implicated as such should be granted bail".

Well, dear friends, every time I go to Chhattisgarh I feel like what many others also feel that we must really stop what is happening there. Apart from Binayak Sen, Piyush Guha, Ajay TG there are several others who are languishing in the various Jails of the State. They are journalists like Sai Reddy?? and several of the 53 who were booked under the CPSA, 2005, a few lucky ones having got bail. We know our friends who are threatened by the officials of the State that they too will be booked if they expose the truth about Salwa Judum or if they support those who are exposing it.
I also sometimes feel that in Raipur and this time I felt it in Durg too, that every body knows that something terrible is happening but live in fear that if they get involved then the ire of the State might strike them. There is this constant fear that your phone might be tapped, your emails hacked. People are trying to keep the right distance so as not to appear a suspect.

I also feel that these arrests are throwing up issues that we (organisations like the PUCL) are not always faced with. Like taking care of the families of those of us who have been jailed, working on the legal cases on a day to day basis in multiple courts, constantly petitioning the police and the administration, running around meeting political leaders, continuously mobilising for the public campaign, writing to the NHRC although it has failed miserably in this context.

Members of the Chhattisgarh PUCL along with the support of many other groups and the families and friends of those whose kin are in Jail are trying hard. But the State is playing a decisive game. I know Mr Kanabiran will tell us that this is what AP has been for years and years and now it is spreading to other States, Maharashtra is not far behind. Others who have suffered in Kashmir, Manipur, Assam will tell us how they have lived with terror and death all along and how none of us noticed it when everyone was a "suspect" for the State agencies.

Let us do something fast before it is too late and we are unable to live the lives we wish to.........!!!

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