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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 33

This Is Not A Story About Binayak Sen

by Subhash Gatade

Wednesday 8 August 2007

This is not a story of the fifty plus children’s doctor Binayak Sen from Raipur, Chhattisgarh who is at present languishing in jail under the draconian provisions of a law which has declared him a ‘terrorist’ because he had the courage to speak truth to power.

This is not meant to be a story of two young daughters of this man who are eagerly waiting for their father who is one of their closest friends and with whom they have shared all the secrets of the world.

This is not a story of Illina, whose companion-ship with Binayak exceeds more than three decades, and who recently penned down her experiences at the jail gate, where ordinary people—who want to have a glimpse of their near and dear ones lodged in the jail—are even robbed of their last penny by the custodians of law and order.

This is also not a story of those kids from nearby villages who joined a protest demonstration held in Raipur to express their bewilderment over the arrest of their doctor uncle who used to tell them interesting stories when he could find some free time at the community clinics.

This also not meant to tell you my first meeting with this gem of a man way back in 1981 in Dalit Rajhara, district Durg where the legendary Shankar Guha Niyogi had charted a new path in workers’ struggle and where the idea to start a Shahid Hospital—a hospital by workers of the mines for the other toiling masses of the area—was germinating then.

This is also not a story of the institution called Vellore Medical College which felt honoured to have produced a student of such calibre and felicitated him for his conscious decision to work for the poor and the downtrodden.
This is also not a story of the manner in which ex-students of this college who are spread in different parts of the world have taken the initiative to mobilise the medical community of the world to tell the powers that be that the proper place for a children’s doctor should be among children and their parents and not the confines of a jail.

This is also not a story of the work Dr Sen did as an adviser to the community health scheme of the state called ‘Mitanin’ nor a description of the programme wherein he was awarded the prestigious Paul Harrison award for his commendable work in community health.

This is also not a story of the appeal sent by world renowned individuals/activists like Noam Chomsky, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib etc. who felt ‘dismayed’ at the ‘continued detention of Sen’ and who have demanded that all charges against Dr Sen be dropped immediately and he be released forthwith.

Of course, nor is it a report of the widening ambit of state harassment which today includes Illina Sen, Gautam Bandopadhyaya, Rashmi Dwivedi, Rajendra Sail—members of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and other organisations who have refused to bow before the machinations of the state machinery. It is the same state machinery which has acquired Dracula-like qualities of bumping off innocents and which did not have any qualms going to the ridiculous extent of arresting Dr Sen as an ‘emissary of a Naxalite’ when the said meetings were held in the presence of police themselves.

This is not a critique of the manner in which a broad section of the media preferred to toe the government line and putting all journalistic ethical norms to the winds presented sensational, juicy stories to demonise this ex-adviser to the State Government on its community health schemes.

This is also not a story of the frightening message on wireless sent by a Superintendent of Police stationed in one of those ‘troubled districts’ in Chhattisgarh itself which clearly instructed the armed police to target journalists, individuals who seem to be overzealous about the question of human rights.

This also does not deal with the so-called Peace Campaign called Salwa Judum—where a section of the tribals have been armed at the behest of the government and who have become a law unto themselves, where they have been found to be burning villages and abusing their women. It also does not deal with the manner in which this ‘Peace Campaign’ has uprooted more than 40,000 villagers and placed them in camps along the road, reminding people of the failed “strategic hamlets†used by the US military in South Vietnam more than forty years ago.

This write-up does not intend to once again bring to the fore the grief of a mother called Madiyam Soni (there are thousands of such women) from a non-descript village Ponjer whose son’s life was snuffed out by the security forces and whose body was found with similar eleven bodies at a place called Santoshpur much farther from her village.

TO be very frank, all such insignificant sounding details about ordinary people’s ordinary lives, their travails and tribulations, and the response of the powers that be towards their attempts to aspire for a normal life with dignity is not the crux of this write-up. One very well knows that neither do they carry any import for the custodians of this country nor the articulate sections of our society. Perhaps all such details from the hinterland of India are meaningless for the young generation also which is busy networking with friends from the other parts of the globe thanks to the various websites which have sprung up.

This is in fact a story of all those people who have rather stopped thinking about all these relevant things.

This is in fact a story of the continuous bombardment of messages through various channels which has rather desensitised a greater lot among us towards the mundane looking sufferings of the people.

This is in fact a story of the criminal silence which all such stories, reports normally encounter—whether they be the declaration of a children’s doctor as ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ or for that matter fake encounter killings in some hinterland of India.

This is in fact a story of reassessing whose lives we should value and prioritise.

This is in fact a story of getting ready to ask some discomforting questions about the system in which we live.

Perhaps the need of the hour seems to be to start with a simple query: When would the two daughters meet their father?

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