So, Suresh Kalmadi goes around scot free, sitting atop his money pile, Kasab awaits trial and we pay for his super-expensive stay with our hard earned tax money, the 2G money has long vanished into Swiss accounts buried deep underground, and we of course, have to imprison for life Dr. Binayak Sen, for his alleged Maoist connections and seditious activism.
In what I feel is a dagger in the heart of Indian democracy, Binayak Sen has been put behind bars for the rest of his life for his links with Maoists and other seditious acts. While I agree that sedition is a tremendously serious allegation, and as a deeply patriotic person, I hate the guts of anyone who would dare raise a finger against my country, I find it hard to believe that Dr. Sen is a seditious terrorist.
A Pediatrician by training, this sterling physician has a number of laurels to boast of. One of the most active advocates of Public Health in India, he was conferred the prestigious Jonathan Mann award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008. He has worked extensively in the rural areas of Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and has set a precedent which is worthy of note by young doctors like me, who quake in their boots at the difficult task of working in a rural set up wit minimal infrastructural support to go along with. But Sen, despite being trained at one of the best medical colleges, Christian Medical College, Vellore, chose to go into the hinterlands where most of India resides.
It is, after all, a legal affair, my knowledge of which, admittedly, is sketchy, at best. So I shall refrain from making any comments on the wherewithal of the entire judiciary process. But the rather draconian law under which he was arrested seems quite ridiculous to me.
The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, under which he is imprisoned, permits arbitrary detention with no remedy of appeal or review for a maximum period of imprisonment of 7 years for any expression or act which the state may deem as disturbing public order. The repressive features of this law make us concerned about his safety and wellbeing. (1)
Now he was imprisoned under this law for more than two years just6 because of a suspicion of being a seditious person. While we feed, and humor and in general, spend our heard earned tax money in keeping Kasab safe, we imprison legitimate social activists like Sen under suspicion and hold him without trial for years before trying him. I find the fact that he had been kept imprisoned so long prior to his trial a very disconcerting thing. Is it not a gross violation of basic human rights to hold someone against something which may not be anything more than a mere whimsy or shade of suspicion?
Whilst the international media and even mainstream medical journals like The Lancet (1, 2, 3) and the British Medical Journal (4, 5, 6) have protested the violation of human rights and has beseeched the international community to stand up and raise their voices against it, their Indian colleagues have been remarkably ambivalent towards this. While it is understandable, considering the fact that the issues regarding Maoists and sedition are really sensitive, I believe a little more pro-active role played by the mainstream media could have made a lot of difference to the outcome of this case. Of course there will be an appeal. Of course, people will run to the Supreme Court, but how does it play out in the end when a philanthropist spends years of a productive life behind bars, denigrated for acts which were only in the best interest of India and Indians?
I uually try to steer clear of political issues on the blog but Dr. Sen’s “case” transcends any such policy of political neutrality. Medicine today, as a profession, is as politicized as any other and even if not so, then as conscious citizens of the world’s largest democracy we ought to be aware of political issues that are afoot. If you ask me, why more and more medical students need to learn of Dr. Sen’s situation has amply been described in an Editorial in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine (7):
Any student or young aspirant of medicine who would learn about these stories would be caught in the cleft. On one hand, we have an accepted model of successful doctors, first acquiring basic medical qualifications at the cost of people of India and then migrating to serve distant establishments and societies distinctly designed to defeat developing economies. On the other hand, we have exceptional examples of individuals breaking these models of spurious and notorious success who end up inviting the wrath of local establishments erected in the name of the same people they are serving. On one hand, we are reducing our medical schools to higher education corporates producing cheap manpower for developed economies. On the other hand, we are lamenting that our doctors are not reaching marginalized people. There must be something seriously wrong somewhere.
Standard Disclaimer: This post is not to support any acts of Sen or of anyone else, for that matter, which may have been seditious and harmful to the national security and well-being of India. This post is to lament about an impotent judiciary which lets criminals walk around scot free or lavishes riches on them, while it considers implementing laws which violate so many tenets of basic human rights that the mind boggles. This post is to just say: “100 mein 99 be-imaan, Fir bhi Mera Bharat Mahan!”
1. Arrest of paediatrician and human rights activist Binayak Sen The Lancet, Volume 369, Issue 9580, Pages 2155-2155 Anand. Zachariah, Sara. Bhattacharji
2. A right to a fair trial, a right to life The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9670, Pages 1146-1146 The Lancet
3. Chatterjee P. Binayak Sen and the cost of dissent in India The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9674, Pages 1512-1512
4. Indian doctor arrested under antiterrorism law. Owen Dyer. BMJ 2007;334:1184 doi:10.1136/bmj.39237.523206.4E Published 7 June 2007)
5. Indian paediatrician has been two years in prison without trial. Ganapati Mudur. BMJ 338:doi:10.1136/bmj.b1864 (Published 5 May 2009)
6. Doctors step up campaign for paediatrician imprisoned for a year without trial. Ganapati Mudur. BMJ 2008;336:1155 doi:10.1136/bmj.39588.419745.DB (Published 22 May 2008)
7. Chaturvedi S. Detention of dr. Binayak sen: something must be seriously wrong somewhere. Indian J Community Med. 2008 Oct;33(4):212-3. PubMed PMID: 19876491;PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2763706.