“Dear Friend, I hope you are well. Have not had any news from you for many days. No letter either. I hope everything is well. Do send a letter sometimes.” On May 6, 2007, this letter (written in Bengali) and two others (written in English) were allegedly recovered by the Chhattisgarh police from the possessions of Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha near the Raipur railway station.
On his arrest, the police claimed that Mr. Guha confessed that the letters were written by Narayan Sanyal, an inmate of the Raipur Central Jail, and passed on to him by Binayak Sen, celebrated physician and human rights activist. The police said Mr. Sanyal was a high-ranking member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and that the letters were part of a larger conspiracy to aid the CPI (Maoist) in its stated goal to overthrow the Indian state.
On December 24 this year, Judge B.P. Verma of the Raipur Additional District and Sessions Court convicted the three men of a conspiracy to commit sedition and sentenced them to life imprisonment. The letters served as crucial evidence to prove that the three men were in contact with each other.
A handwriting expert testified that the letters were probably written by Mr. Sanyal. Mr. Sanyal says the police coerced him into writing the letters while he was incarcerated in Raipur jail.
Letters (76) (14) and (77) (15) are in English, while letter (78) (16) is in Bengali. The copies of the letters obtained by this correspondent are illegible in parts, but appear to ask associates 'P' and 'V' about the progress of an unnamed organisation and emphasise the need to expand beyond “base areas” and work with unorganised and organised workers. The English letters also allude to an “armed squad.”
A passage in letter (76) (14) reads: “One day recently, TV showed one Jan where our armed squad was …(unclear) person for acknowledging his guilt… (unclear) killed both.”
The Bengali letter seems to describe the progress of Mr. Sanyal's court case in connection with the murder of one Hungaram Markam in Dantewada in 2005, and another case in Jharkhand. “My talking to the advocate has not resulted in anything… My assessment — not doing anything seriously…I heard that even now the H.C. Ranchi Bail application has not happened… if the bail happens, one can take a chance.”
In their arguments, the prosecution tried to establish exactly how and when the letters were passed on from Mr. Sanyal to Dr. Sen and from Dr. Sen to Mr. Guha.
Dr. Sen met Mr. Sanyal in Raipur jail several times in his capacity as a doctor and the Chhattisgarh secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Dr. Sen's lawyers stated that the two men met with the written permission of the jail authorities. Jailers have testified that the letters could not have been exchanged in jail as all meetings were supervised and both men were searched before and after each interaction.
The prosecution also alleged that Mr. Guha and Dr. Sen met several times in two hotels in Raipur and surmised that the letters could have been exchanged at one of these hotels. However, the managers of both hotels turned hostile in court and said that they had never witnessed any meetings between Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha.
As reported in The Hindu on December 27, questions have also been raised regarding the manner of Mr. Guha's search and arrest. Mr. Guha has maintained that the letters were planted by the police.
In his judgment, Judge Verma dismissed Mr. Sanyal's contention that the letters were written under duress. “Accused Pijush Guha has been unable to clearly explain how the letters written by accused Narayan Sanyal were found in his possession,” wrote Judge Verma (in Hindi). “This only helps the case of the prosecution.”
PUCL has criticised this stance, saying that Judge Verma has put “the onus of proof on the accused and not the prosecution, which is bad in law.”