I want to alert people to a couple of campaigns that are happening right now. Both relate to India and both are of particular interest in that they are using the technique of fasting as a way of drawing attention to the struggle. I have pledged to support the first campaign by participating in the fast; others may be interested in how they can offer their support.
The case of Binayak Sen should provide Bristol readers with a chilling reminder of how important it is to defend our civil liberties. In recent days we have seen the House of Commons approve a Bill to allow the detention of people for 42 days without charge. In the words of David Davis, "in truth, 42 days is just one - perhaps the most salient example - of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms."
In India, the tide of civil liberties is already at a much lower ebb. The Central and State Governments have legislated to give themselves virtual impunity when it comes to the human rights of the individual. Binayak Sen is one of many Indian individuals who have been made to suffer by their own governments.
Binayak Sen is a paediatrician and public health specialist. He has devoted his life to providing health care for the poorest people in Chattisgarh state. His efforts have been recognised internationally but, more importantly, he has also earned the respect and affection of poor local people.
But Dr Sen has another role: he is the national vice-president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. In this role he has helped to organize numerous fact finding missions into human rights violations. These have included, in particular, inquiries into extra-judicial killings, and prisoners likely to be at risk of torture. His investigations have drawn attention to police murders of unarmed civilians.
In May 2007, Dr Sen was detained for allegedly violating the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. This draconian law has been criticised by a host of different people and organisations who see it as an unashamed attempt by the government to deprive citizens of their rights. But perhaps it is best to hear what Dr Sen himself said of the law, just before he was arrested:
For the past several years, we are seeing all over India - and as part of that in the state of Chhattisgarh as well - a concerted programme to expropriate from the poorest people in the Indian nation, their access to essentials, common property resources and to natural resources including land and water... hundreds of villages have been denuded of the people living in them and hundreds of people - men and women - have been killed. Government-armed vigilantes have been deployed and the people who have been protesting against such moves and trying to bring before the world the reality of these campaigns - human rights workers like myself - have also been targeted through state action against them. At the present moment the workers of the Chhattisgarh PUCL (People's Union for Civil Liberties) the Chhattisgarh branch, of which I am General Secretary, have particularly become the target of such state action; and I, along with several of my colleagues, are being targeted by the Chhattisgarh state in the form of punitive action, illegal imprisonment. And all these measures are being taken especially under the aegis of the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act."
For more information click here.
To read about the fast in support of Binayak Sen click here.
The plight of the people of Bhopal will probably be familiar to most of you. But if not, here's a good place to start.
Since the date of the accident the people of Bhopal have been struggling for justice. They ask for the site of the accident to be cleaned, for compensation to be paid, and for those responsible to be brought to justice. Their requests have been largely ignored (some compensation was paid but it was very small, even by Indian standards). A list of their demands can be read here.
Some four months ago, a group of people walked from Bhopal to Delhi to ask, yet again, to speak to the prime minister about their complaints. The prime minister has not met with them, despite their patient requests and their evidently just complaint. Indeed after months of waiting on the pavements of Delhi, last week a number of the Bhopalis were arrested and taken to a police station. There they were savagely beaten to the point that one of them needed to be hospitalised.
In the aftermath of the police activities, nine of the Bhopalis commenced an indefinite fast. They have been joined by people around the world who wish to draw attention to the Indian prime minister's disgraceful (lack of) response to the Bhopalis' cry for help.
To join the fast click here.
To read of US congressmen and UK ministerial action click here.
Here in the UK we might not be able to influence Indian politicians, but perhaps some of us should pay a visit to Dow chemical:
2 Heathrow Boulevard, 284 Bath Road, West Drayton, Middlesex, UB7 0DQ, UK
Tel: (020) 8917 5000 Fax: (020) 8917 5400 web.