Five Reasons Medha Patkar Should Not Get a Jail Sentence

medha patkar

A large number of people in India and abroad are very concerned regarding recent news reports relating to the conviction of prominent social activist Medha Patkar in a very old defamation case.

The Hindu reported on May 25-“A Delhi court on Friday convicted social activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Madha Patkar in a more than two decades-old criminal defamation case lodged against her by Vinai Kumar Saxena, the present Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi…The arguments on the quantum of sentence will be heard on May 30.”

The Times of India reported on the same day, “…Metropolitan Magistrate Raghav Sharma convicted the activist of the offence of criminal defamation under the IPC which entails a maximum punishment of simple imprisonment of up to two years or fine or both.”

What is being written here is not a comment on this conviction. Instead this is in the form of a humble appeal giving reasons why the punishment should be as light as possible—there should definitely not be a jail sentence and as far as possible there should be only a symbolic fine of only a very small amount. The reasons for this appeal are based on the following facts—

  • There are hundreds of reports and articles, including those written by very learned scholars whose wisdom and scholarship cannot be doubted, which testify to the fact that Medha Patkar has devoted her life selflessly for very noble causes. Tens of thousands of farmers, workers, tribal community members, particularly women among them, support this view. Now there can be more than one opinion regarding the causes she supported just as there can be more than one opinion on large dam projects, but the fact that the noble and selfless nature of her work is confirmed by hundreds of renowned scholars in India as well as abroad and also by tens of thousands of farmers and workers of India is in itself of great importance. In addition this is also confirmed by several prestigious awards and honors she has received.
  • Secondly, it should also be noted that in all her struggles Madha Patkar has remained committed to non-violence. Several Gandhian activists and scholars have fully supported and admired her work as a living example of what Mahatma Gandhiji and his disciples who were very near to him would have striven for in present conditions. This is also reflected in the many-sided constructive work Medha Patkar has pursued along with her numerous struggles.
  • Thirdly, it should be remembered that the case in question is a very old case, more than two decades old.
  • Fourthly, it should certainly be considered that Medha Patkar is now a senior citizen, an elderly lady who has several ailments due mainly to the very difficult life she led in the service of people.
  • Last but not the least, we cannot ignore the fact that when an activist leader who is admired and recognized all over the world for her lifelong work in the service of people and for protecting environment is given unduly harsh punishment such as imprisonment, then the human rights record of our great country is also harmed and we should try as much as possible to protect this record as well as to protect this reputation.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. He has received several prestigious awards for his writings on peace ad environment extending over five decades. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, When the Two Streams Met (freedom movement of India) and Man over machine (Gandhian ideas for our times).         

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