First, if you’ve not seen it already, go find the recent issue of a national weekly which has “The Silent Killers of Chhattisgarh” as its cover story. It’s not the story that I’m talking about but the picture on the cover for it has many stories to tell.
Stay with the picture for a bit. A young mother, an adivasi woman with a child in her lap, faces the camera. As for the child, except for the bloated belly, you see more bones than flesh. You can easily count the ribs. The child in apparent anguish is bawling. But you get the feeling you may not hear any sound even if this was a video shoot.
If a single picture of a victim of acute undernourishment could be disturbing enough, what are we to do with facts no less disturbing? According to the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, we learn from Dilip D’Souza’s The Curious Case of Binayak Sen, more than 60 per cent of scheduled tribes in India have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5. The World Health Organisation (WHO) puts this statistic in perspective: if more than 40 per cent of the population of a community has a BMI of less than 18.5, the community can be considered to be in a condition of famine. In other words, famine and starvation are an everyday reality for the scheduled tribes of our “socialist republic”.
Let’s go back to the picture, give it another look and consider if it’s telling us something about ourselves. Then ask ourselves the question: Should we be proud of India the “Emerging Superpower”, or should we be ashamed of being Indians?
Perhaps years ago Dr Binayak Sen — product of one of the highly prestigious Christian Medical College, Vellore — asked himself some such question and found an answer: Those who are not a part of the solution are a part of the problem. The answer took him and his colleague, Dr Saibal Jana, in 1983 to the Dalli Rajhara mining belt in Madhya Pradesh, now Chhattisgarh, to offer their services to a medical centre set up by workers for workers, Shaheed Hospital.
From the perspective of today’s Mr and Ms Middle Class especially, Dr Sen is an obvious “loser”. As it happens, the ’60s generation of which he is a part produced many losers such as him. Something called “social concern” took the good doctor away from the glitter of the metropolis to the heart of darkness. He was lucky having acquired a professional expertise which was badly needed where he went.
Once there, he should have stuck to the trodden path: prescribing pills and injections, recommending tests after tests, hospitalisation… But his alma mater had taught him to reach out to the person(s) behind the patient, to think of preventive healthcare.
Thus Dr Sen and his colleagues discovered that at the root of the ailments of the patients who came to him was chronic hunger. What pills, what injections can you prescribe for treating “stable famine” malady? Healthcare, he realised, was a human rights issue. Experience was driving Dr Sen towards “dangerous territory”. He began entertaining dangerous thoughts such as “structural violence” against the poor and the hungry, even suggesting that, “this situation fits the definition of genocide: not by guns or machetes or gas chambers, but by creating conditions for communities” (Dilip D’Souza’s words), “in which the survival of (these communities) is at risk” (Dr Sen’s words).
To compound matters, Dr Sen gravitated towards the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and ended up being elected general secretary of its Chhattisgarh unit. On request, Dr Sen in his dual capacity as a doctor and as PUCL general secretary visits an ailing Maoist leader, Narayan Sanyal, in the Raipur Central Jail, with written permission from the jail authorities.
Ah ha! So this up-to-no-good doctor with dangerous thoughts is mixed up with Maoists? Not just Maoists, the ISI as well! Proof: An email from his impounded computer shows a message addressed to the ISI. The well-known Indian Social Institute (ISI) Delhi! So the dangerous doctor is arrested and charged with sedition: waging war against the Indian state.
Read D’Souza’s book with an open mind and you cannot but conclude that in place of hard evidence all that you find in the voluminous chargesheet against Dr Sen are insinuations and innuendos, apart from falsehoods and mindlessness. Many years ago the Supreme Court was constrained to remark that policemen are like “criminals in uniform”. The remark is most apt for the Chhattisgarh police in the context of Dr Sen’s case. What’s more scandalous, however, is the December 2010 verdict of the trial court that held Dr Sen and two co-accused guilty of sedition (among other charges) and sentenced to life imprisonment. Allow D’Souza to take you through parts of the judgment, hold your breath and decide for yourself.
A January 2011 appeal against the conviction is currently pending before the Chhattisgarh high court. Over-ruling a nay from the high court, the Supreme Court has granted bail to Dr Sen. It’s difficult to see how the trial court’s verdict can stand the scrutiny of the high court and the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, it is hopefully a matter of some consolation to Dr Sen, his colleagues and family — and us — that their trials and tribulations have charged the demand for the expulsion of the long-outdated sedition charge embedded into the Indian Penal Code by our colonial masters.
- Sedition law threat to democracy: Binayak Sen (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Sedition Law is against spririt of Democracy- Binayak Sen (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- ‘Famines perpetrated by policies that privilege the rich- Binayak Sen (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- “ANYTHING BUT THE TRUTH”-Response to story #SoniSori in Indian Express- WSS (kractivist.wordpress.com)
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