Author: Dilip D’Souza
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India
Pages: 187, Price: 250, Year: 2012
Review by Mahtab Alam,
Ever since the pediatrician, public health and human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen was first arrested (leading to Life term imprisonment for allegedly waging war against the Country with the help of a Maoist) in a fabricated case in May 2007, much has been written about his life, work and the case against him—both positive and negative. The book under review, authored by Mumbai based writer, Dilip D’Souza is the fourth positive work in the form of a book, captivatingly titled, “The Curious Case of Binayak Sen”. However, the author in the very beginning, first chapter, makes it clear that, “this is really not a book about (Binayak) Sen, this one man. It is instead about his way of thinking about the world.”
Unlike previous works, this book, notably, covers what Binayak has been doing after he was released on bail granted by the Supreme Court of India’s direction in April last year. The author notes, “Since his release on bail, Sen has spoken often about another kind of connection: between malnutrition and secession” and “there’s an articulation of the same concern with human rights—indeed, with the human condition—that Sen speaks about.” Binayak believes and rightly so, that his case is no different from those of thousands of others who are suffering. He says, “Whatever has happened to me is the result of the suffering of thousands of people. Any personal imprint would be ghoulish.” But, the author tells us that through this Sen has “a broader point to make. The communities that face (this) structural violence are facing annihilation—strong words, but Sen clearly saw it as possible—because of famine and an inability to survive”. On an earlier occasion, the author quotes Sen while explaining what he really means by structural violence. In Sen’s words, “By structural violence I refer to the fact that half our children and our adults in this country suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition casts a dark shadow over other diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.” Citing data produced by government’s own institution, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau and the World Health Organisation’s norms, Sen concludes, we are living in condition of famine. And “a third of our live births have low birth weights, this is what I mean when I talk of structural violence.”
Elaborating the flimsy and fabricated case against Binayak, digging in to charge sheets and reading out from the judgment of the trial court, which convicted him with life imprisonment, the author raises certain pertinent questions not only about the Chhattisgarh government and its police, on whose behest Binayak is convicted for no crime but also about the state of the judicial system in our country, especially in the state of Chhattisgarh. The author ably exposes the holes in the charge sheets, selectivity of the prosecution and the executive mentality of the judiciary.
Commenting about two emails, which were produced as major ‘evidence’ against Sen, totally out of context and selectively, the author observes: “It is hard for me to believe that any reasonable prosecution would actually seek to make a case like this.” He is referring to the fact that, for the prosecution, how the mere mention of the ISI (here, meaning the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi and not the Pakistani Intelligence agency ISI which is the “chimpanzee in the White House”), prove that Binayak and his wife Ilina are part of an International terror network! In this regard, he further observes, “It is harder still for me to believe that any reasonable judge would listen to this and take it seriously.” Towards the end of the book, the author does not forget to ask very simple yet important questions, while commenting on the state of Indian democracy. “The one major attempt to shut down Indian democracy happened in 1975 and was called the Emergency. Luckily, it lasted less than two years…But we can still ask: is democracy as we have known it in India really democracy? What constitutes democracy, after all? Elections? Freedoms? Rights?”
The book is an important addition in the available literature on Binayak Sen case, the issues of public health and state of democracy in India and its institutions. However, one strongly feels that the language and presentation could have been much simpler than one adopted in this book. Nevertheless, it deserves to be widely read.
(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based Civil Rights Activist and Independent Journalist. A slightly edited and shorter version of this review first appeared in the Hard News monthly. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Press Meet Invitation
The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) would like to invite you cordially for a Press Meet at Idinthakari on May 8, 2012 at 3:00 PM.
 We plan to display the notebooks that contain the signatures of all the neighboring village people who oppose the KKNPP.
 People submit the Voter ID Cards to surrender to the Radhapuram Tahsildar.
 We announce the “Respect India” campaign.
New Delhi, May 7, 2012
The Supreme Court on Monday suspended the life sentence of CPI (Maoist) activist Narayan Sanyal, held guilty of committing sedition by a Chhattisgarh court in 2010, and granted bail to him.
A bench of justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya gave bail to 78-year-old Sanyal, considering his age and the fact that he has already spent over six years in jail since his arrest in 2006.
The bench said the concerned trial court would impose the condition to its satisfaction for Mr. Sanyal’s release on bail.
Mr. Narayan Sanyal was convicted along with People’s Union of Civil Liberties’ Vice President Binayak Sen and a Kolkata businessman Piyush Guha for colluding with the Maoists in expanding their network to fight the state.
Mr. Sen was granted bail and his sentence was suspended by the apex court on April 15 last year.
They were held guilty by a Raipur court on December 24, 2010 of committing sedition and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code as well as offences under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.
The three were also found guilty under the provisions of Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act and sentenced to five years jail term. Mr. Sanyal was also awarded 10 years imprisonment for being member of a terrorist outfit, in violation of the UAP Act.
All three had moved the Chhattisgarh High Court against their conviction and their appeals are still pending there.
Shiv Sahay Singh, The Hindu
Human rights activist Binayak Sen has appealed to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) on Monday to release the abducted District Collector of Sukma in Chhattisgarh, Alex Paul Menon, “unconditionally and as soon as possible.”
Expressing his grief at the killing of two security guards during the adduction, Mr. Sen in a written statement issued here said Mr. Menon should “remain unharmed until his release and all medical facilities extended to him.”
Mr. Menon, a 2006 batch IAS officer, was abducted by a group of Maoists on April 21 from Manjhipara.
Mr. Sen said the way forward for restoration of peace is the cessation of armed conflict and militarisation in the area. “Restoration of dialogue and the legitimisation of dissent are essential and my appeal is for this to be effected as early as possible.”
Mr. Sen, who is also the vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said the region’s issues could not be resolved in an atmosphere of violence “whether the violence comes from the State or those opposing the State.”
The petition stated,“The close scrutiny of the answer sheets of the successful candidates related to the judges, law secretary indicates that they have been manipulated.”
To: All the Democratically Concerned People of Tamil Nadu, India and the World
Respected Friend, Madem/Sir:
Sub: False Charges filed on me to curtail my professional and democratic duty to warn the people I am serving about the ill effects of the nuclear radiation around the Kalpakkam Nuclear Power Plant
I am a medical doctor practicing in Sadras village near the Kalpakkam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu, India, since 1989. I was a gold medalist during my undergraduate years at Madurai Medical College, but chose not to pursue higher education because I felt I should work among the poor masses in the villages. I chose Sadras as the place for my practice since I had many friends at Kalpakkam, who happened to work in the Kalpaakam Nuclear Power Plant.
From 1989 to 2000, my professional work was focused principally on serving the Dalit and the Fisher folks. My interests were in Primary Heath Care and I had devised many innovative cost efficient methods to treat the most prevalent diseases among the masses. I had written profusely about these methods in many journals and have published books highlighting these. My work was recognised by the local and national media and they had interviewed me many a times with regard to this. The noted magazine “Outlook” had published an exclusive article about me on 21 June 2004. I was even fondly nicknamed as “One Rupee Doctor” by many magazines that had interview me. I had started a small health awareness movement called Makkal Nala Vazhvu Pani Iyakkam (Forum for People’s Good Life) and had opened a clinic at Vayalur exclusively for this purpose among its Dalit populace. Impressed by my work, former Justice of the Supreme Court Shri.D.K.Basu came unannounced to grace this occasion. (1)
Against Chhattisgarh Government and Police
Demand the Release of Soni Sodi and Lingaram Kodopi
Demand unfettered access to Journalists and Civil Society activists across the
conflict torn areas of Chhattisgarh
Demand the repeal of black laws like Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Ac
Shankar Subbu Sr.Adv, High Court of Madras
V Geetha Writer
A Marx Human Rights Activist
Mangai Theater activist
R Mohan Madras Union of Journalist
Tamilazhagan Journalist for Change
Date: 4th November 2011 (Friday)
Venue: Near Panagal Maaligai, Saidapet Bus Stand
Despite a Delhi High Court directive to the Chhattisgarh police to ensure the safety of the jailed adivasi teacher who had apprehended custodial torture, Soni Sori has alleged that in clear violation of the Court’s order, the Dantewada SP gave her electric shocks, underdressed her and tortured her on the night of October 8. In a letter addressed to the Supreme Court, and received by a social activist in Delhi today, Sori has described the torture to which she was subjected by the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and has demanded to know who is responsible for her condition.
On the night of 8.10.2011, from 12 midnight to 2:30 am, SP Ankit Garg called me into a room in the police station, gave me electric shocks (current shock), took my clothes off and severely tortured me. Why has no action been taken against him? Sori has asked in the letter in Hindi, a scanned copy of which is attached herewith. Sori, whose case is currently being heard in Delhi, has written this letter on a small scrap of paper and asks the apex court five incisive questions.
Describing herself as a suffering adivasi women who is also a daughter and sister of this country, she asks the Court to tell her who is responsible for the brutal custodial torture to which she has been subjected by the police in Chhattisgarh. It may be recalled that Soni Sori had apprehended this physical torture when she was picked up by the police in Delhi, and had moved the Sessions court and the High Court in Delhi to oppose her remand to the custody of Chhattisgarh police. Keeping her fears in mind, the Saket Court in Delhi had awarded her custody to the Chhattisgarh police only upon receiving their assurance of her safety. The Delhi High Court also asked the Chhattisgarh police to submit a report listing out steps to ensure Soni’s safety.
The Trustees of The Gandhi Foundation, London.
Ilina and I appreciate deeply the solidarity and support extended by so many friends from the United Kingdom and across the world in the course of my trial and incarceration. We were looking forward to meeting at least a few of you in the course of our proposed visit to the United Kingdom in November.
The original citation of the Gandhi International Peace Award when it came, was a surprise, as I on my own had never claimed to be a representative of the tribal people of India. However, I had always proudly claimed the heritage of a vernacular and indigenous life-world that was egalitarian and sustainable, and since the awarding body was free to make its own ascription, I humbly accepted the responsibility being put on me. I was fully aware that there could be many views about my fitness to undertake such a task, but it never occurred to me that my ethnic identity, in that I was not ethnically a member of the tribal people of India, would stand in my way.
To my understanding, the ethnic indigenous people of the world have suffered terrible violence in the course of the development of the capitalist state, a violence that has been directed equally against all colonized people, the working class, and other subaltern sections. Efforts to build a new society must be made by all oppressed people together. To claim to take on board the politics of genetic ethnicity as a part of this effort is a form of racism, and racism never smelt sweeter merely because it was articulated from the platform of a subaltern identity.
What we are confronting throughout India today is widespread hunger, compounded by widespread displacement, to the extent that it constitutes a stable famine spread over large parts of the country and over large sections of its people. Access to appropriate health care remains a dream for all except a privileged minority. The penetration of global capital into resource rich ‘undeveloped’ regions, and the operation of industrial and mining interests in these areas have been responsible for this displacement and disenfranchisement of communities. State policies in countries like ours are aiding rather than curbing these processes. Urgent measures are needed to combat this hunger, stop this displacement and ensure equity, human rights, and social justice. However, voices of dissent are deliberately suppressed through outdated laws and juridical processes, and thousands of citizens languish in prison for opposition to these policies.
In the context of the award, the changed citation has only led to further contention and acrimony. Unfortunately, the process of nomination, the thinking behind the original citation and that behind the second, were never made public by the Gandhi Foundation. If the first citation was problematic, the second was even more so, as in this, the “Tribal People of India’ of the first citation did not find any mention at all. This was not a position in which I could afford to be complicit. The level of debate is now such that the paramount issues outlined above threaten to be replaced by a palimpsest of ethnic fundamentalism. Under the circumstances, the really important task of delineating and combating the tragedy being enacted before our eyes gets pushed to the background.
Accordingly, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that at the present juncture it will not be appropriate for me to receive this award. My thanks go to those who nominated and to those who selected me for this award. It was never my intention to give offence or show disrespect to any of the parties in this controversy. I greatly regret any inconvenience that the organisers may be put to as a result of my decision.