Thursday, October 28, 2010

Irom’s iron in the soul

"Menghaobi" Irom Sharmila Chanu (born March 14, 1972), also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, is a civil rights activist, political activist, journalist and poet from the Indian state of Manipur. Since November 4, 2000, she's been on a political fast demanding the Government of India to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, also otherwise known as AFSPA, from Manipur and other areas of India's north east.
Ten years since it began in 2000, Irom Sharmila Chanu's fast is unparalleled in the history of political protest.
Young, stoic and dogged, Irom Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death since November, 2000. She wants the repressive Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act repealed. The Act gives draconian powers to the security forces and has repeatedly been used with brazen brutality in the Northeast. For five years, she has been imprisoned and force-fed by the State for her ‘crime’. Filmmaker Kavita Joshi spoke to her in the hospital room in Imphal, her prison

Soul Fight: Sharmila in her hospital room Photos by Kavita Joshi
An eye: piercing, intent. A nose, covered by a swatch of medical tape, as a yellow tube forces its way in. Lips, stretched tight as if in pain. A woman sits against a bare wall, huddled under a blanket, tightly hugging herself. This is my first impression of Irom Sharmila as I walk to her hospital bed. She is incarcerated at the security ward of JN Hospital in Imphal, Manipur, in custody of the Central Jail, Sajiwa. It takes her immense effort to speak, but she tries her best. “How can I explain? This is not a punishment. It is my bounden duty at my best level.”

Irom Sharmila has not eaten for over five years now. For this, she has been locked up in jail by the government under very dubious charges and is being forcibly nose fed. Since November 2000, Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (AFSPA). AFSPA is a law that can come into force in any part of India declared as “disturbed”. The act allows anyone of any rank in the army or a paramilitary force under its operational command to shoot, arrest or search without warrant; and to kill on suspicion alone. Furthermore, there is little scope for judicial remedy. The whole of Sharmila’s state — Manipur — has continuously been under this law since 1980 (with minor exceptions in recent times).

It’s been five years since that day which changed her life. November 2, 2000 was just another Thursday. Till, that is, a convoy of Assam Rifles was bombed by insurgents near Malom in Manipur. In retaliation the men in uniform went berserk: 10 civilians were shot dead. You could say that neither the killings nor the brutal combing operation that followed were new to the people. Manipur had been ravaged by umpteen number of such incidents in the past. But for Sharmila, Malom was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. “There was no means to stop further violations by the armed forces,” she says. She began her epic fast.

From then to now, Sharmila’s frail body has become a battlefield. Within days of her fast, she was arrested on charges of ‘attempted suicide’ and put in jail. She refused bail; she refused to break her fast. For five years now, she has been in custody, being forcibly nose-fed. Time and again, the courts have — rightly — released her. But she resumes her fast and is invariably re-arrested each time.

In the five years that she hasn’t eaten, Sharmila’s body has begun to get damaged severely. She lives with the nagging pain of a tube thrust into her nose. She is 35 but has become feeble and looks older. What’s more, for five years, Sharmila has not seen her ageing mother. In her mother’s own words, “I am weak-hearted. If I see her, I will cry. I do not want to erode her determination, so I have resolved not to meet Sharmila till she reaches her goal.”

In times that are inured to violence, Sharmila’s protest is remarkable for its insistence upon the Gandhian ideals of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (insistence upon truth). And though her protest is ignored every day in the world’s largest democracy, Sharmila is resolute — “Unless and until they remove the AFSPA, I shall never stop my fasting.” In a rare interview, shot for the film Untitled: 3 Narratives — On Women and Conflict in Manipur, she unravels her heart, slowly, like a stream of amazing struggle and hope amidst intense despair.

Why did you start upon this fast?

For the sake of my motherland. Unless and until they remove the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958, I shall never stop my fasting.

Could you tell me something about the incident that sparked this off for you?

I had gone there (to Malom) to attend a meeting. The meeting was towards planning a peace rally that would be held in a few days.

I was very shocked to see the dead bodies on the front pages of the newspapers. That strengthened me to step on this very threshold of death. Because there was no other means to stop further violations by the armed forces against innocent people.
I thought then, that the peace rally would be meaningless for me. Unless I were to do something to change the situation .

But why choose this particular method? Why a fast unto death?

It is the only means I have. Because hunger strike is based on spirituality.

What about the effect this has on you, your health, your body?

That doesn’t matter. We are all mortal.

Are you certain that this is really the best way? To inflict this upon your body?

It is not an ‘infliction’. This is not a punishment. I think this is my bounden duty.

‘Although the State may think so, I am in no mood for suicide. In any case, if I were a suicide-monger, how could we talk like this? I have no other choice but fasting’
How does your family react to your fast?

My mother knows everything about my decision. Although she is illiterate, and very simple, she has the courage to let me do my bounden duty.

When did you last meet your mother?

About five years ago. There is an understanding between us. That she will meet me only after I have fulfilled my mission.

It must be very hard on both of you…

Not very hard… (pauses). Because, how shall I explain it, we all come here with a task to do. And we come here alone.

Just why are you in custody? Why exactly?

It is not my will. But the State insists it (the hunger strike) is unlawful.

But the government is saying that your fast-unto- death is attempted suicide, which is an offence…

Although they may think so, I am in no mood for suicide. In any case, if I were a suicide-monger, how could we communicate like this, you and I? My fasting is a means, as I have no other.

How long are you prepared to go on like this?

I don’t know. Though I do have hope. My stand is for the sake of truth, and I believe truth succeeds eventually. God gives me courage. That is why I am still alive through these artificial means. (Indicates the tube going into her nose.)

How do you spend your day in the hospital?

A lot of the time I practice yoga. It helps me keep my body and mind healthy. (She points to the tube again.) It is circumstances that make things natural. Though this (tugs the tube) is unusual, it is natural to me.

What do you miss the most?

The people. As I am a prisoner here (in hospital), everyone is restricted from meeting me without permission. So I miss people a lot.

If you had one wish that was yours for the asking, what would it be?

My wish? We must have the right to self determination as rational beings.

Do you think the AFSPA will be repealed? Will you get what you are fighting for?

I realise my task is a tough one. But I must endure. I must be patient. That happy day will come some day. If I’m still alive. Until then, I must be patient. (My time was over, and my crew and I were preparing to leave, when Sharmila stopped us.) Will you help me? I would like to read about the life-history of Nelson Mandela. I have no idea about his life. Will you send me a book about him? It is full of restrictions here. Make sure you address it to the security ward. If not, I may not recieve it.

(We sent Sharmila, the book from Delhi. Her friends tell us that it has reached her.)


Aadhaar or UID: What and Why?

"...I have never known legislation of this nature being directed against free men in any part of the world. I know that indentured Indians in Natal are subject to a drastic system of passes, but these poor fellows can hardly be classed as free men."
Mahatma Gandhi

" of finger prints, required by the Ordinance, was quite a novelty in South Africa. With a view to seeing some literature on the subject, I read a volume on finger impressions by Mr. Henry, a police officer, from which I gathered that finger prints were required by law only from criminals."
Mahatma Gandhi

“The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy”.
Alex Carey, a noted Australian activist.
A project that proposes to give every
resident a “unique identity number” is
a matter of great concern for those working
on issues of food security, NREGA, migration,
technology, decentralisation, constitutionalism,
civil liberties and human rights. The
process of setting up the Unique Identifi cation
Authority of India (UIDAI) has resulted
in very little, if any, discussion about this
project and its effects and fallout. It is
intended to collect demographic data about
all residents in the country.
Before it goes any further, we consider
it imperative that the following be done:
(i) Do a feasibility study: There are claims
made in relation to the project, about what
it can do for the PDS and NREGA, for instance,
which does not refl ect any understanding
of the situation on the ground.
The project documents do not say what
other effects the project may have, including
its potential to be intrusive and violative
of privacy, who may handle the data.
(ii) Do a cost-benefi t analysis: It is reported
that the UIDAI estimates the project will
cost Rs 45,000 crore to the exchequer in
the next four years. This does not seem to
include the costs that will be incurred
by the registrars, enrollers, the internal
systems costs that the PDs system will have
to budget if it is to be able to use the UID,
the estimated cost to the end user and to
the number holder. (iii) In a system such as
this, a mere statement that the UIDAI will
deal with the security of the data is
obviously insuffi cient. How does the
UIDAI propose to deal with data theft?
(iv) The involvement of fi rms such as
Ernst & Young and Accenture raises further
questions about who will have access
to the data, and what that means to the
people of India.
The questions have been raised which
have not been addressed so far, including
those about:
(i) Privacy: It is only now that the Department
of Personnel and Training is said to
be working on a draft of a privacy law, but
nothing is out for discussion, (ii) Surveillance:
This technology, and the existence
of the UID number, and its working, could
result in increasing the potential for surveillance,
(iii) Profi ling, (iv) Tracking, and
(v) Convergence, by which those with access
to state power, as well as companies,
could collate information about each individual
with the help of the UID number.
National IDs have been abandoned in
the US, Australia and the uk. The reasons
have predominantly been costs and privacy.
If it is too expensive for the US with a
population of 308 million, and the UK
with 61 million people, and Australia with
21 million people, it is being asked why
India thinks it can prioritise its spending in
this direction. In the UK the home secretary
explained that they were abandoning the
project because it would otherwise be
“intrusive bullying” by the State, and that
the government intended to be the “servant”
of the people, and not their “master”. Is
there a lesson in it for us?
This is a project that could change the
status of the people in this country, with
effects on our security and consti tutional
rights. So a consideration of all aspects of
the project should be undertaken with
this in mind.
We, therefore, ask that the project be
halted; a feasibility study be done covering
all aspects of this issue; experts be tasked
with studying its constitutionality; the law
on privacy be urgently worked on (this will
affect matters way beyond the UID project);
a cost-benefi t analysis be done; a public,
informed debate be conducted before any
such major change be brought in.

Justice V R Krishna Iyer, Romila Thapar,
K G Kannabiran, S R Sankaran,
Upendra Baxi, Shohini Ghosh,
Bezwada Wilson, Trilochan Sastry,
Jagdeep Chhokar, Justice A P Shah,
and others.
(Based on a statement issued on 28 September)

Aadhaar, meaning ‘foundation’ or ‘base’ (ironically al-Qa'ida!) is India’s attempt to provide an Unique Identity (UID) number to every person residing in india (and presumably every Indian citizen whether living in India or not).

The Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) will collect the following data fields and biometrics for issuing a UID

Date of birth
Father's/ Husband's/ Guardian's name and UID (optional for adult residents)
Mother's/ Wife's/ Guardian's name and UID (optional for adult residents)
Introducer's name and UID ( in case of lack of documents)
All ten finger prints
Both iris scans.
As per the report of Demographic Data Standards and Verification Procedure (DDSVP) Committee set up by UIDAI report of Demographic Data Standards and Verification Procedure (DDSVP) Committee set up by UIDAI, the address details to be collected from the citizens will have the following fields: Building, Street, Village-Town-City, District, State, Pin Code etc. As per the Know Your Resident (KYR) plus concept of UIDAI, additional fields could be included by the Registrar. It is suggested that the name of the relevant Village Panchayat (VP) may be added as an additional data field.

UIDAI has been set up to manage this task.

When India’s UID project was set up and the well respected Nandan Nilekani took over as the helmsman UIDAI, his senior—and perhaps more respected—colleague at Infosys Narayana Murthy said that it was like a younger brother leaving home. In the months since then, UIDAI has turned out to be contentious: from those who say that it is the one sure shot solution to india’s problems—from security to poverty allieviation—to those who warn that it is more of a big brother act, gutting the constitution—and everything else—in its path.

There has been a lot of hype about the new technological magic bullet that will suddenly ‘provide an identity to every Indian’ with Nilekani (*) even proclaiming that UID isn't just a number, it is an identity, result in ‘financial inclusion’ and enhanced security. Some of the more fantastic claims include better jobs, better pay and access to banks.

The retort has been from the dismissive ‘hey, didn’t we have names before?! And weren’t passports and ration cards issued based on that?’, to the more measured position that each of these claims is patently false, and known to those pushing for this colossal technological, financial and administrative scam. Given the circumstances of poverty and ignorance of large sections of Indian citizens, it is akin to grabbing the food from a child’s mouth.

UIDAI has hired five experts to help communicate different messages to different sections of the Indian population for a buy in. Due to government regulations, the five specialists advise in an individual capacity and not as representatives of their organizations.

Let us look at each of these claims one by one. We need to ask the more fundamental questions such as Do we need this? What is the problem we are trying to solve? Is this a solution to the defined problem? What has been the global experience? Is this just a solution looking for a problem?

Anand Patwardhan

Anand Patwardhan is an Indian documentary filmmaker, known for his activism through social action documentaries on topics such as corruption, slums dwellers, nuclear arms race, citizen activism and communalism.. Notable films include Ram ke Nam (In the Name of God) (1992), Pitr, Putr aur Dharmayuddha (Father, Son and Holy War) (1995) and Jang aur Aman (War and Peace) (2002) , which have won national and International awards. Anand Patwardhan was born in 1950, in Mumbai, Maharashtra.
He completed a B.A. in English literature at Bombay University in 1970, a B.A. in Sociology at Brandeis University in 1972, and an M.A. in Communication studies at McGill University in 1982. Virtually all his films faced censorship by the Indian authorities but were finally cleared after legal action. His film ‘Bombay Our City’ was shown on TV after a four year court case, while, 'Father Son and the Holy war' (1995), was adjudged in 2004 as one of 50 most memorable international documentaries of all time by DOX, Europe's leading Documentary film magazine; though it was shown on India’s National Network, Doordarshan only in the year 2006, 11 years after its making, and that too after a prolonged court battle which lasted 8 years and ended with the nation’s Supreme Court ordering the state-owned media to telecast the film without any cuts.
His next film, 'War and Peace' made in 2002, brought him in the news once again, when the CBFC India (Central Board for Film Certification, or the Censor Board), refused to certify the film without making 21 cuts.  As always, Patwardhan took the government to court, hence it was banned for over a year. However, after a court battle, Anand won the right to screen his film without a single cut. As with his previous films, Patwardhan also successfully fought to force a reluctant national broadcaster, Doordarshan, to show this film on their national network. It was commercially released in multiplexes in 2005.

Indian filmmaker Anand Patwardhan has described himself as “a non-serious human being forced by circumstance to make serious films.” Active for three decades in the fight for social justice, both in India and abroad, Patwardhan makes documentaries out of passionate political commitment. His films advocate for change with sincerity and conviction, but not without wry humor and an eye for the absurd.

Patwardhan has a distinctive filmic “voice” in a literal sense: in his films we often hear him speak, as narrator or thoughtful questioner. He often does his own camerawork, providing a feeling of directness, a personal eye. His films have found acclaim at festivals worldwide, but he has often been forced to fight Indian censors for the right to show them in his native country. The problems he addresses—economic inequality, environmental devastation, the challenges faced by secular and democratic movements in an era of fundamentalism and nationalism—are dangerous and crucial, and clearly as relevant here as they are on the subcontinent.

Patwardhan presents his films in person on four of the six evenings in this series and delivers a lecture on October 21 as part of the ongoing project Documentary Voices, which brings international documentary filmmakers to the Bay Area as resident artists at the
Pacific Film Archive. This is a special opportunity to encounter an engaging speaker and an inspiring example of activism against the odds.

Notes by Juliet Clark

Click titles to view full film notes

THU OCT 7 2004
A Time to Rise
An eloquent document of Indian farmworkers' activism in Canada. With In Memory of Friends, a thoughtful study of the uses of history, religious intolerance, and Bhagat Singh's legacy.

THU OCT 14 2004
A Narmada Diary
Combining politics, ethnography, and environmentalism, this film documents the devastation wrought by India's Sardar Sarovar dam project, as well as the courage of indigenous people who vow to drown rather than be moved. With Fishing: In the Sea of Greed, a powerful indictment of factory fishing and other “rape and run” industries.

THU OCT 21 2004
In the Name of God
Lecture by Anand Patwardhan. Patwardhan discusses film and activism following the screening of his fascinating work about the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindu fundamentalists. “Hard-hitting, provocative...lucid, courageous.”—Variety. With short We Are Not Your Monkeys.

FRI OCT 22 2004
Father, Son and Holy War
Anand Patwardhan in Person. “Patwardhan's impressive, passionate documentary explores in great detail the roots of sectarian violence in India today, and suggests that religious fanaticism is not the only problem; the cult of machismo is...just as deadly.”—Variety

SAT OCT 23 2004
War and Peace
Anand Patwardhan in Person. Patwardhan's monumental, often darkly funny film illuminates the perils of nuclear nationalism in South Asia and around the world. This “solemn, stirring perspective on the competitive chauvinism between India and Pakistan...has a riveting intelligence all its own and earns its epic title.”—NY Times. “A tour de force.”—UK Guardian

[view video clip]

SUN OCT 24 20045:30 Bombay: Our City
Anand Patwardhan in Person. A heartbreaking, politically incisive glimpse into the lives of Bombay's slumdwellers. “Patwardhan gives us this story simply and clearly, with restrained passion, and it becomes, finally, appalling and moving.”—LA Times.

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva was born on 5 November  1952, at Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, India. She is a philosopher, environmental activist, eco feminist and author of several books. Shiva, currently based in Delhi, is author of over 300 papers in leading scientific and technical journals. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, in 1978 with the doctoral dissertation:“Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory”.
Shiva participated in the nonviolent Chipko movement during the 1970s. The movement, some of whose main participants were women, adopted the approach of forming human circles around trees to prevent their felling. She is one of the leaders of the International Forum on Globalization, (along with Jerry Mander, Edward Goldsmith, Ralph Nader, Jeremy Rifkin, et al.), and a figure of the global solidarity movement known as the alter-globalization movement. She has argued for the wisdom of many traditional practices, as is evident from her interview in the book Vedic Ecology (by Ranchor Prime) that draws upon India's Vedic heritage.

“Shiva … has devoted her life to fighting for the rights of the ordinary people of India … her fierce intellect and her disarmingly friendly, accessible manner have made her a valuable advocate for people all over the developing world.”—Ms. Magazine
“A leading thinker who has eloquently blended her views on the environment, agriculture, spirituality, and women's rights into a powerful philosophy.”—Utne Reader
“One of the world's most prominent radical scientists.”—The Guardian
Born in India in 1952, Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned environmental leader and thinker. Director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology, she is the author of many books, including Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development (South End Press, 2010) Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis (South End Press, 2008), Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (South End Press, 2005),Water Wars: Pollution, Profits, and Privatization (South End Press, 2001), Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge (South End Press, 1997), Monocultures of the Mind (Zed, 1993), and The Violence of the Green Revolution (Zed, 1992).
Shiva is a leader in the International Forum on Globalization, along with Ralph Nader and Jeremy Rifkin. She addressed the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, 1999, as well as the recent World Economic Forum in Melbourne , 2000. In 1993, Shiva won the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award). In 2010, she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for her commitment to social justice. The founder of Navdanya (“nine seeds”), a movement promoting diversity and use of native seeds, she also set up the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology in her mother’s cowshed in 1997. Its studies have validated the ecological value of traditional farming and been instrumental in fighting destructive development projects in India .
Before becoming an activist, Shiva was one of India ’s leading physicists. She holds a master’s degree in the philosophy of science and a Ph.D. in particle physics.

Upcoming Events Nov-03-2010
Sydney, US
City of Sydney Peace Prize lecture
The Sydney Peace Prize is the only International Peace Prize awarded in Australia. This Prize has global significance in terms of the support and recognition given to leaders for peace.

The citation for the Sydney Peace Prize refers to significant contributions to 'peace with justice', which could include:
*treaties to achieve nuclear disarmament, to ban land mines, and to end religious and ethnic violence.
*initiatives to abolish the injustices of hunger and poverty, unemployment, homelessness and illiteracy, domestic violence and infant mortality.
*individual and community fulfilment through the creation of rewarding opportunities in employment and education.

Each year the prize is awarded to an organisation or individual:
*who has made significant contributions to global peace including improvements in personal security and steps towards eradicating poverty, and other forms of structural violence
*whose role and responsibilities enable the recipient to use the prize to further the cause of peace with justice
*whose work illustrates the philosophy and principles of non-violence

Binayak Sen and Nobel Winners

Binayak Sen is a pediatrician, public health specialist[1] and national Vice-President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He is currently on bail on controversial charges laid by the state of Chhattisgarh.

Sen is noted for extending health care to the poorest people, monitoring the health and nutrition status of the people of Chhattisgarh, and as an activist defending the human rights of tribal and other poor people. In May 2007, he was detained for allegedly violating the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967.[2][3] His detention was declared in breach of international law by Amnesty International.[4] Despite being accused of non-bailable offences, the special laws he has been booked under don’t affect his bail rights. Sen first applied for bail before the Raipur Sessions Court and then the Chhattisgarh High Court in July 2007, soon after his arrest[5], but only granted bail by Supreme Court of India on 25 May 2009.[6]

His trial commenced on 30 April 2008. On 21 October 2008 he made a public appeal and proposal for peace in South Bastar.[

In an unprecedented move twenty-two Nobel Prize winning scientists and economists have appealed to the Indian government to release the jailed paediatrician and humanitarian activist Dr Binayak Sen enabling him to go and receive the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights in Washington later this month.

Dr Sen, who is the first south Asian to be selected for the prestigious award, was arrested under the Chattisgarh State Public Security Act last year on false charges of ‘supporting’ unlawful activities of an armed underground movement. There is no evidence to prove these charges however and it is widely believed that Dr Sen is being victimised for his human rights work and exposure of violations carried out by police and the state-sponsored militia called Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh.

“While the judicial process involving our professional colleague moves forward, we respectfully request that Dr. Sen be freed from incarceration on humanitarian grounds to receive his award and to continue his important medical work” says the letter from the Nobel Prize winners, dated 9 May and addressed to a host of top Indian officials including Smt. Pratibha Patil, President of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister and Dr Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chattisgarh.

Signatories to the letter include 9 Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, 9 in Chemistry, 2 in Physics and 2 in Economics. These luminaries are

PETER AGRE (Chemistry 2003), KENNETH J. ARROW(Economics 1972) , CLAUDE COHEN-TANNOUDJI (Physics 1997), ROBERT CURL(Chemistry 1996), JOHANN DEISENHOFER(Chemistry 1988), PAUL GREENGARD (Physiology or Medicine 2000), ROGER GUILLEMIN ( Physiology or Medicine 1977), FRANCOIS JACOB(Physiology or Medicine 1965), ERIC KANDEL (Physiology or Medicine 2000), SIR HARALD KROTO (Chemistry 1996), FINN KYDLAND (Economics 2004), YUAN T. LEE (Chemistry 1986), CRAIG C. MELLO (Physiology or Medicine 2006), JOHN POLANYI (Chemistry 1986), RICHARD J. ROBERTS (Physiology or Medicine 1993), F. SHERWOOD ROWLAND (Chemistry 1995), JENS C. SKOU (Chemistry 1997), (PHILLIP A. SHARP (Physiology or Medicine 1993), CHARLES TOWNES (Physics 1964), HAROLD VARMUS (Physiology or Medicine 1989), SIR JOHN E. WALKER (Chemistry 1997), TORSTEN WIESEL( Physiology or Medicine 1981)

The Nobel Prize winners statement also raises concerns that Dr. Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights, in contravention of Articles 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—to which India is a state party. Further it says “…he is charged under two internal security laws that do not comport with international human rights standards.”

This is not the first time that prominent intellectuals from around the world have appealed for the release of Dr Binayak Sen, an outstanding humanitarian physician who has spent over three decades in the service of rural and tribal communities in Chattisgarh. In a statement last month Dr. Nils Dulaire, President of the Global Health Council, which selected Dr Sen for the Jonathan Mann Award said “We believe, however, that allowing Dr. Sen to attend the award’s ceremony would send a strong signal internationally that would help to restore faith that India and its states are indeed committed to fairly addressing this and other cases related to civil conflicts and civil liberties”

However the coming together of twenty-two Nobel Prize winners in support of a political prisoner in India is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the admiration evoked by Dr Sen among his global peers.

“It provides clear evidence of the level of concern that Binayak’s case has engendered around the world,” said Dr Ilina Sen, wife of Dr Binayak Sen, herself a well-known scholar and rights activist.

In the meanwhile on 14 May, 2008, the first anniversary of Dr Sen’s arrest, hundreds of people across the globe are planning to stage demonstrations, hold vigils and organise public meetings demanding his immediate release.

Apart from cities like New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai in India protests are also planned in ten North American and three European cities including New York, Toronto, London, Paris and Stockholm. Most of these protests, organised by members of the Indian diaspora along with global activist to be staged outside Indian embassies and consulates in these cities.

All told, the international attention proves, as was noted in the Global Health Council’s statement of support, that the “world is watching” to see whether India will maintain its proud democratic tradition.