Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dr Sen is Free

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr Binayak Sen spent the best part of his life working among the poorest people in India, who live far away from the government’s attentions, with no access to clinics, hospitals, doctors or medicines. He has saved thousands from certain death from malaria, diarrhea, and other easily treatable illnesses.
~Arundhati Roy

Binayak Sen is a mild-mannered doctor. Unlike our elitist doctors who sit in plush AC-ed comfort of their clinics during the day and enjoy walking their imported doggies by sun-down, Dr Sen chose to serve India’s underbelly -- the most downtrodden of her people -- the tribals and poor mine workers in Chattisgarh. And he is not an average medico. A well-known pediatrician, Dr Sen bagged the prestigious Jonathan Mann award for Global Health and Human Rights – the first winner from South Asia -- for his service to mankind.

As noble as they come, Sen lived among the unprivileged and worked tirelessly to extend health care to their children. Dr Binayak set up a hospital in Chattisgarh for the poor. He also founded a health and human rights organization that supports community health workers in around two dozen remote villages. As an activist for the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Dr Sen went out of his way to defend the human rights of these tribal, illiterate people.
That got the government’s goat.

Flimsy and fake charges were labeled against Dr. Sen. He was imprisoned for being innocent and kindly and pro-poor.
When I last met with Arundhati Roy in Delhi she was clear about it: There is very little doubt that Dr Sen is in prison because he spoke out against the state government’s policy of bullying the tribals. His incarceration is meant to silence dissent, and criminalize democratic space. The fearless Ms Roy later wrote that Dr Sen’s imprisonment is meant to absorb all our attention so that the stories of the hundreds of other nameless, faceless people - those without lawyers, without the attention of journalists - who are starving and dying in the forests, go unnoticed and unrecorded.

For two years Dr Sen languished in a dingy jail room in Raipur, Chattisgarh. There was a strange irony to it. There is this very fine, bright, good-natured doctor at 59 and all he is trying to do, without any publicity and fan-fare, is a sincere effort to help those who remain on the margins and those with no access to proper health care. And the state is trying its best to handcuff him and punish him for being good. [Dr Sen was accused of waging war against the state] And they threw him in a dungeon to rot. Pity.

Last year, twenty-two Nobel laureates from around the world appealed to the Indian government to allow Dr Binayak Sen to receive the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in person. The government denied the permission. Eminent people like Dr Amartya Sen and Prof Noam Chomsky called for his release. In April 2009 Amnesty International described the charges against Dr Sen as baseless and politically motivated and said his continued detention is in breach of international law.
Respected publications like the British Medical Journal and Wall Street Journal [WSJ] condemned Dr Sen’s confinement. WSJ labelled his imprisonment as 'Good Works, Bad Reward'.

On May 25, after more than two years of imprisonment, Dr Sen was granted bail.

Goodness shall prevail.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rainbow Times

There is a beautiful land
Where all your dreams come true

Minutes mosey past me. Life looks like a compact rainbow. Or like a kind ice cream topped with brutish chocolate. It feels so varicolored. Fast and fake. A heavy moth comes and plops down on my heart. It takes off, circles around and sits again. Cars lumber. Along gravity. Another day is gone.

How stupid modern mankind must be? I oft ask myself. How mercilessly we strive to work and get ourselves occupied with random stuff only to let all our dreams -- with so much of beauty in them -- just slip by. We live a short life, after all. They say the doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.

Silly mechanical lives – laden with doors that open to cards and not to the gentle push. Windows that have free enterprise intaglioned across their broadness, clocks that give us time zones of faraway latitudes. We are internationalized, globalized. And tend to forget ourselves, our identity. Most of my friends talk in English. I miss the sound of Kashmiri words.

A lovely poem I chanced across last night might make it a little axiomatic.

Red is the color of a lot of lollipops,
Orange is any orange on a tree.
Yellow's the color of a bag of lemon drops,
Green is a piece of seaweed in the sea.

Blue is the color of the sky in summertime
Indigo is a Siamese cat's eyes.
Violet's the color of a flow'r in wintertime.
These are the colors of the rainbow skies.

There is a beautiful land
Where all your dreams come true;
It's all tied up in a rainbow,
All shiny and new;
But it's not easy to find
No matter what you do.

It's not on top of a mountain
Or beneath the deep blue sea
Or in London zoo or in Timbuktoo,
Or in Timbuckthree.

And if you traveled the world
From China to Peru,
There's no beautiful land on the chart.
An explorer could not begin
To discover its origin
For the beautiful land is in your heart.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Discard AFSPA

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination ~ Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s foremost independent organizations dedicated to defending human rights

India should repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It is a dated and colonial-era law that breaches contemporary international human rights standards.
UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navnetham Pillay

A middle-aged Kashmiri dealing in hand-me-down cars was fetched to a Special Operations Group [SOG] camp. SOG is equivalent to Schutzstaffel [SS], a semi-independent small police force but a very powerful one. They can pick you up, torture the daylights out of you and very conveniently dump you. They travel in run-down Maruti Gypsies and jump out of their vehicles in a menacing fashion.
No elected chief minister has been able to rein in this band of uncouth, brash gumshoes. Less than a week after 30% of Kashmiris came out to vote for the parliamentary elections, the SOG not having tasted blood for a long time, brutally interrogated and subsequently killed the innocent man they had fetched to their camp.

Ofcourse such rude interludes spoil the party for the ruling clique. Omar, the young chirpy chief minister of J&K is proving to be an able administrator and likes to give sweet interviews to hacks in his flower strewn garden. That his notorious cops are throwing dead people out of moving autos doesn’t exactly help matters. The inspector at the dreaded camp has been put under suspension and an investigation ordered. Does that not happen every time?
When have murdered men needed justice?

Part of the problem is the huge, almost crazy, powers that the law enforcing agencies yield in Kashmir. They can kill at will. That has to end at all costs. All talk of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee by Omar is nice. For such a thing to happen, he has to prioritize the removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – the draconian law which gives full immunity to security forces in Kashmir. The cold, cruel act has been in force since 1990.

Under this law Kashmir has been dubbed disturbed, as in physically, mentally and emotionally – and the doctor is the state.
Now the doctor wears a dirty look and carries a gun and is authorised to – [hold your breath] -- fire upon people even if it causes death/arrest without a warrant with the use of necessary force anyone who is suspected/enter and search any home/detain anyone.

Not surprisingly soldiers have often been high-handed in Kashmir. They beat people up pretty often for little or no excuse and even show no mercy to the elderly. Occasionally, as with the poor car dealer, they feel like to kill. Under AFSPA troopers have legal immunity for their actions. The law says that there can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the aegis of AFSPA. So all talk of teaching the culprits a lesson is pure nonsense.

There is an urgent need to do away with this stupid law. We are not a disturbed people. Surely people who queue up in long lines to vote senators to the Indian parliament can’t be disturbed. It should be the first priority of all newly elected senators as also Omar Abdullah, the new Chief Minister to get the law abrogated. Omar especially has a historic opportunity to show that his administration will be different.

Most human rights organizations have called for repeal of the extreme law. Amnesty International recently renewed its appeal.
Let no more children be orphaned because of some silly, irrational piece of legislation.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Notes on Life

Life’s such a malkin. It freaks you out. I always expect something or the other to happen to me and much to my chagrin diametrically opposite situations take shape. Eventually I realize [I do realize but oft times pretty late] that one shouldn’t expect too much. Things – and people for that matter -- never turn out the way you want them to. And why should they?

I am also greatly unsure of how to live for the day. It beats me.
I never seem to get it. The words of Frederic Nietzsche, the 19th century German thinker whose works hugely influenced the freewheeling and scandalized the faithful, comfort me: I love those who do not know how to live for today. What genius! At age 24 he was the Chair of Classical Philology [linguistics and renaissance humanism] at the University of Basel, youngest ever to hold the position. Poor Nietzsche, he died a madman. God, I hate smart people.

The domestic help who cooks for us so that we live for another day throws away a lot of left-overs everyday. Every frigging day.
Then there are these dark, gunky, hungry kids who tap at my car window pane at the traffic signal almost everyday, pointing to their scrawny naked tummies. They live off surplus, stuff we choose to discard. And I keep telling myself why the heck do we put up with this injustice? Why the crazy skew? This shit contrast. The crying shame. It gnaws away at my belief or whatever remains of it.

I reckon I will learn to move on someday. Life is all about making adjustments and headways. I don’t know what pastures await me.
My soul has a song. An old country song. You can’t afford to not have songs in a soulless world. One shouldn’t really care about the hearers!