A smooth, creaseless type-written sheet of paper might prove to be the decisive piece of evidence in the trial of celebrated doctor and activist Binayak Sen. ‘Article 37' (A-37) is an unsigned letter urging Dr. Sen to send a fact-finding mission to probe alleged police atrocities in Chhattisgarh in his capacity as the State president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.
The prosecution insists that the document proves Dr. Sen was in direct correspondence with the banned CPI (Maoist). The defence believes that the letter is the clearest indication that the Chhattisgarh police fabricated evidence to frame Dr. Sen.
In May 2005, Dr. Sen was accused of acting as courier between alleged Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha, charged with aiding a terrorist organisation, sedition and waging war against the government of India, and imprisoned for two years before getting bail. His house was searched soon after his arrest, and the nature of the documents recovered by the police formed the basis of the case against him.
“A-37 is not mentioned in the seizure memo prepared by the police after the search,” said defence counsel Surinder Singh in court on Wednesday, “It is also not mentioned in the challan and doesn't carry the signature of either Dr. Sen or the investigating officer.” The prosecution has maintained that when Dr. Sen's house was searched, all articles were signed by Dr. Sen, Investigating officer B.B. Rajpoot and two independent witnesses. So why wasn't A-37 signed?
“It is the sole piece of documentary evidence that directly links Dr. Sen to the Maoists, Mr. Singh said, “It was supposedly mailed to Dr. Sen two years ago but it has no creases, no marks. It has been prepared by the police and subsequently inserted along with the other articles.”
In their testimonies, policemen B.B. Rajpoot and B.S. Jagrit suggested that the police might have “forgotten” to sign the letter and enter it in the seizure memo, or that the letter might have been inadvertently missed among the items recovered from Dr. Sen's house. However, Mr. Singh wondered how the two independent witnesses remembered to sign it.
Mr. Singh drew the court's attention to the fact that the police sent copies of the seized documents to the prosecution and defence lawyers. “Our copies only bear the signatures of Dr. Sen and Mr. Rajpoot, and have not been signed by the witnesses. Yet the documents submitted in court have all four signatures,” said Mr. Singh, “This suggests that the witnesses did not sign the documents at the time they were seized, but signed them at a later stage after the documents were supposedly sealed.”