The Wrongful Imprisonment of an Activist Indian Filmmaker
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Three months ago, Indian authorities arrested Ajay TG, the 35-year-old activist filmmaker who created films like this one entitled Aisa Kyon? (or Why?), on trumped up charges. The police held Ajay prisoner in the central Indian state of Chattisgarh, claiming he had violated the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA). This anti-terrorism law, which went into effect in 2006 and bears a resemblance to our country's Patriot Act, criminalized political beliefs and associating with "banned" organizations. But what exactly was Ajay's crime?
Ajay inadvertently carried a Swiss Army pocket knife in his backpack when he attended the trial of Dr. Binayak Sen, a well-known doctor and social worker in Chattisgargh. Police on security detail apprehended Ajay and campaigned in the media that he was a terrorist threat. They further claimed Ajay had made "unlawful contact" with a Maoist organization, alleging Ajay wrote to the group asking them to return his camera after they robbed him years before.
Both the knife and the letter appear to have been red herrings. They provided Indian police with more concrete grounds to arrest Ajay when what they were really concerned with was his affiliation with Dr. Sen. Prior to his arrest, Ajay had been working on a documentary called Anjam, which portrayed Dr. Sen's life, work, and subsequent arrest. Police had arrested Dr. Sen in May 2007 under suspicion of being a Naxalite, or armed communist.
Dr. Sen had worked for decades treating the adivasis, a term used to describe "the first people" or poor indigenous tribes of India. He was the Chattisgarh general secretary of the India's human rights organization the People's Union for Civil Liberties (of which Ajay was also a member), but was accused of being linked to members of a banned Maoist group, primarily because Dr. Sen had publicly criticized the State's creation of armed vigilante groups to combat Maoists. What Dr. Sen had actually done was call attention to the police involvement in the killings of 12 adivasis earlier that year and had opposed a State-sponsored vigilante army that had resulted in the killings of many innocents.
ZP Heller is the editorial director of Brave New Films. He has written for The American Prospect, AlterNet, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Huffington Post, covering everything from politics to pop culture.