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.