New Delhi, Jan 28: Human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen has been given life-term for keeping wrong company. His better half, who has helped him in his work for tribal upliftment all these years, couldn’t believe her ears when the Raipur Sessions Court sentenced Binayak to life imprisonment, along with an old Maoist and a Kolkata businessman.

According to her, and also former Chief Justice of India VN Khare, there was no argument worth the paper it was printed on that could have convinced any judge. But then, Binayak was treated like a terrorist in 2007, even before the Maoists were, in fact, declared terrorists.

While the ‘Free Binayak Sen’ campaign led by Nobel laureates seemed to have helped in 2009, when he was released on bail from the Raipur prison; Ilina is unsure now if destiny will favour him again. But she is ready for a long fight, even though Nagpur Police have slapped a case of ‘misusing’ an event against her.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview with’s Shashank Chouhan:

Shashank: What were you expecting from the judgment?
Ilina: I was certainly not expecting this. I have seen the judgment and none of the allegations that the police have made were held out. They produced a document which was planted which is a purported letter from the Maoists that they claim was seized from our house. It could have been printed on a computer from anywhere; it was never received by Binayak and was not signed by Binayak or by the investigating officer. It wasn’t even mentioned in the seizure memo. The excuse given by them was that the letter must have been missed by them as it got stuck with other documents! They were trying so hard to sanction conviction charge as they did not have any other evidence. I can’t understand how any judge could accept that as evidence and pronounce judgment.

Despite such loopholes, the judge goes on to say that he could have been more considerate but because the Maoists are indulging in wanton violence, he did not see the reason to do so. It is a case of someone paying for the crime of someone else. I am ready to debate this judgment line by line with anyone and tear it apart.

Shashank: Why did you say you will have to take refuge in some ‘liberal country’?
Ilina: A lot of people have asked me why did I say such a thing. The reason is that such an irresponsible court (which pronounced the judgment) can exist in Chhattisgarh. It is beyond belief. There is a lot of violence going on, no doubt – both from the end of the Maoists as well as the state. Let us leave aside the judge’s understanding of law etc as well. I am aware of the law, there were lawyers by our side…so the judgment is something which I cannot imagine even in my wildest of dreams. I cannot think of being the member of public if this is the norm – just think how many of such cases go by without anyone’s attention.
There was complete travesty of justice. This kind of a sentence cannot be passed just like this.

Shashank: When the judgment was read out, how did you and Dr Sen react?
Ilina: I was completely shocked. Everybody was taken aback. I could see my daughters were collapsing at their places. Binayak is the one who has to face it after all and he needs my support so I was trying to keep my dignity and controlling emotions. Binayak was as shocked as I was. When I met him on 27th, he said if this would restore peace in Bastar, then so be it.

Shashank: Do you think this has become a personal issue with the powers-that-be?
Ilina: It certainly has become a personal issue of some people, though I don’t know who these people are. Throughout the trial, the behaviour of the police was strange till the judgment day. They kept heavy handed fellows in the court to intimidate those who were there. But they made a very unwise move in 2007 when they arrested Binayak. They thought he is a nobody, the way Binayak keeps a low profile. They thought they will silence him easily but it did not happen. A wave of protest rose against the arrest. As the movement grew louder, they got tougher towards the whole issue.

Shashank: What is your reaction to Dr Sen and yourself being bracketed with Arundhati Roy and being called a traitor?
Ilina: I don’t believe Arundhati Roy is a traitor. Every person is entitled to opine one’s view. It is not as if we are against the Government of India and we are not patriots…aisa nahi hai. Arundhati  quoted Jawaharlal Nehru at one point in time – I saw it on the Internet - where she said that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have a right to self determination. That is true for all people and no one would disagree. If Nehru said it at the time when the whole issue of Kashmir started out, then what is wrong with Arundhati saying it today? Even our freedom struggle was about that. If some people think they don’t have their basic rights then we should think what has gone wrong in the last 60 years.

Undoubtedly, these views can be played up in the wrong way by any people. But that does not mean that silence should be enforced on everyone. The situation will become like Chhattisgarh then where you cannot even open your mouth. That is not a silence of consensus, that is a silence of fear. Conditions should be made conducive so that everything is debatable. Not like in Chhattisgarh, where even the press is under state control.

Shashank: What is the most hurting and shocking thing about this entire episode?
Ilina: The way in which it has been tried to destroy one person, malign one person, his family and rather all of us…that is most hurting. The kind of things that people say to me onm my face…I mean I am some one who has been associated with various programs of the government and others for the welfare of civil society. I am a member of the National Commission on Population which is chaired by the Prime Minister. Now suddenly to be in a situation where there is so much grudge against us, I cannot be the member of the civil society like that. The way the police and state have tried to vilify us is hurting.

Shashank: What are the issues in the recess of your and Dr Sen’s heart?
Ilina: We have been trying to do constructive work for the people, especially tribals, in the fields of health, education, women. I have done a lot of work related with training women and documenting their progress, preserving traditional seed resources in Chhattisgarh. Through our work we have preserved around 3000 varieties of seeds. Today everybody is talking about bio-diversity; we started to work on it 15 years ago.

Shashank: Does your work go against the government in any way?
Ilina: Does it sound like that? My husband is a member of Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties and he uses that platform to protest government policies like the Salwa Judum. But Binayak has never incited people to indulge in violence and thus the charge of sedition does not stand against him. He has spoken against the faulty policies of the government, violation of human rights. For that reason he is not a favourable person with the police.

Shashank: What is your opinion about Naxalism and how do you think it can be tackled?
Ilina: Naxalism has very deep roots in poverty stricken areas. I don’t believe that all the tribal protests are supported by Maoists. For example, in Bastar the CPI is very active and they have their members elected on various government bodies there. Only two forces claim that all tribal uprising is Maoist uprising - the state and the Maoists themselves. This is wrong on both sides.

At the same time there is a lot of government negligence in these areas. There is enormous corruption, poverty and because of this collapse of governance, there is unrest in some areas today. Unless these issues are addressed, the problem will not be sorted out.

Then again, I don’t support the policies of the Maoists. Today I am freely discussing the wrong judgment against Binayak. But in the so-called Jan Adalats the Maoists hold, punishment is handed out arbitrarily, execution of the ‘guilty’ takes place openly…that has to stop. Maoists have lost tolerance for dissent.
But why has the Indian state gone the same way? We are a democratic state. Where is the tolerance on our part?

Shashank: What is your hope regarding Dr Sen and the issues you raise?
Ilina: The issues at hand are very large. I hope they are resolved soon because unless they aren’t, the cycle of violence will go on. On a personal front, I don’t know what will happen to Binayak. I hope justice prevails. How many years will that take and if he or I will be alive till that time, one can’t say. As far as the appeal process goes, it will take many years. In Chhattisgarh High Court, the pendency rate of cases is at least 8-10 years. So I don’t know what will happen to Binayak Sen.