There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Prisoners of Conscience

By Kingshuk Poddar

It all started with a mass forwarded email I received one fine morning. One of the very common petition type forwards. However, it was beyond “turtles unable to digest plastics” or “if you do not forward this mail within seven days…” type of emails. 
This was a very humane appeal to help save the plight of a highly recognized physician and human right activist, who for some authoritarian Chhattisgarh dictat has been in prison with an ailing heart. It was my first tryst with the likes of Dr Binayak Sen.
We all realized beyond all glitters of the Uber urban Indian society there exists another India. An impoverished, poor, authoritarian society where people and their lives hold no good to the mantles of the leaders they elect to political hierarchy. The entire story of class struggle had once emerged from these roots and today, we have a Naxal disturbed India, more severely bothered than what militancy or radical terrorism could have had.
Dr Sen was no part of this story, yet so ineptly involved. His crime—he, in his own small way, had tried to set up the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha's Shaheed Hospital, which is owned and operated by a workers' organization. Along with his dream project Rupantar, he tried to train, deploy and monitor the work of community health workers spread throughout twenty villages, which supposedly should have been the government’s do. The International community acclaimed his efforts by awarding him the tenth annual Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, he being the first ever Indian or South Asian to win such an award. And how did the Chhattisgarh government acknowledge such deed?
In May 2007, he was detained for allegedly violating the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. Ever since, this glorified alumni of Christian Medical College, Vellore who left his faculty position at Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi to work for the underprivileged inhabitants of the Bastar village in Madhya Pradesh, had been on and off the court. Numerous petitions, appeals, protest in India and rest of the world haven’t budged the court’s order but for the bail plea which was finally accepted on 25 May, 2009. 
The reason for the Chattisgarh government to react in this way? Dr Sen has been alleged to have CPI (Maoist) links. This region of Chattisgarh is said to be the cradle of Maoist movements in India. Dr Sen, being a Bengali and a humanitarian physician had communicated with Maoist leaders, most of them being of Bengali origin. A yellow coloured Maoist booklet and a photocopied article on Naxal movements is what the court holds as evidences against him. Arrested under a non-bailable warrant with these evidences is clearly a breach of the International Law by Amnesty International.
While in custody, Dr. Sen received the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008. The Global Health Council issued a public statement, "Dr. Sen's accomplishments speak volumes about what can be achieved in very poor areas when health practitioners are also committed community leaders. He staffed a hospital created by and funded by impoverished mine workers, and he has spent his lifetime educating people about health practices and civil liberties — providing information that has saved lives and improved conditions for thousands of people. His good works need to be recognized as a major contribution to India and to global health; they are certainly not a threat to state security”. As a resonance to his arrest, doctors across India have started holding free clinics for the poor in tribute to Sen and to peacefully campaign for his release.
This is what real Indian governance stands out for. First, he was denied the right as a doctor to treat his patients. Now Dr Binayak Sen is denied the right to his own treatment. He needs an urgent Heart checkup and a possible bypass surgery urgently. Although released on bail, the charges against him still stand and if convicted, he can be sentenced at par with a militant. Two years have passed and even with such international and mass petition the charges haven’t been dropped. This is not mere an article to add to the blog charts. It’s a petition, a request to save a champion of the human cause the right to live. They may reserve the Nobel Peace Prize for more ideas and thoughts in the making, here we are asking a saviour of hundreds of poor souls a right to live.

(Disclaimer: How does it matter to me campaigning for Dr. Binayak Sen?
I am just an admirer of this wonderful human being like millions others. The only trivial connection that the two of us share is that we both date back to the same alma mater, Calcutta Boys’ School. Thankfully, most of our old boys in the like of Prannoy Roy, Pritish Nandi, Siddharth Basu, Raja Sen and Purnendu Chatterjee have been asking for his freedom since 2007. Though late, I just did my part.

For signing the petition for his release or learning more about Dr. Binayak Sen, please visit 

Image courtesy of  Shailendra Pandey, Tehelka


  1. very apt post for this time....

  2. Very well written! Need to see more of these along with the soul stirring stories of some of your good writers. Kudos to Kingshuk and congratulations Ananya for initiating this creative page. It's a pleasure to be here.

  3. nice. thought provoking

  4. This is an important case, and it is good to see you writing about it. Interesting project you have here.