Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dr. Binayak Sen in Kolkata

pic: Samudra Saikat Mukherjee

If you can’t recognize him now, it’s because his trademark beard is gone, and he’s a thinner person now. Two years in jail have taken a toll of his physique. But his spirit is intact and undiminished. He says the same things in his soft and elegant manner just as he did before his incarceration days.

Dr Sen is not your average icon. He studied medicine with care, equipped himself with skill, and had visions for the suffering humanity. In stead of letting people come to him, he decided to reach out to them for their treatment. He was deeply influenced by Sankar GuhaNeogi, the legendary political worker who was then making waves in Chhattishgarh by revolutionizing the bottom line of workers and poor people of the state. At one point, he was part of Neogi’s hospital that catered to the poorest of the poor.

One thing leads to another, and he was eventually drawn to basic human rights of people. When he was arrested two years ago, he was PUCL’s vice-chairman, and secretary of its Chhattisgarh unit.

Dr. Sen was targeted when he criticized Salwa Judum – government’s new policy of supplying arms to selected civilians to counter the Naxalites - and encounter deaths. Incidentally, Chhattisgarh had become the hot centre of Maoist activities due to the state’s repressive economic policies. To please the industrialists, the state government had usurped a lot of land from the tribals, in many cases muzzling their protests brutally and even killing when necessary.

The charge the Chhattisgarh government brought against Dr. Sen was a ludicrous one: that he had links with the Maoists. There was however no evidence that could prove this charge. Here’s the rub of much-touted Indian democracy: the state can implicate any person under its draconian law,( most Indian states have their own laws) and throw him down in jail with impunity.

But for the ever increasing pitch of protests not from various quarters from India alone, but from across the world, Dr Sen would still be probably languishing in jail. Among those who demanded his release were Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and several Nobel Laureates including Amartya Sen.

So, what did the good doctor say at the media meet at Kolkata, his first interaction with Kolkata media after his release from the prison? “There was no question of stopping our opposition of Salwa Judum”.

And he would of course return to his countless patients who are waiting for his healing touch.

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