Saturday May 31 2008 17:52 IST
The new Indian Express
G Babu Jayakumar
AS the band of drummers danced their way into the hall, the motley crowd waiting outside, followed them to join those already seated in the gallery, kickstarting the two-hour cultural extravaganza organised to protest the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen, a human rights activist in Chhattisgarh and also to coincide with the presentation of the Jonathan Mann Award to him at Washington on Thursday.
Organised by the committee for the release of Dr Binayak Sen in Chennai, the event, at the Chandralekha Centre in Besant Nagar, saw several groups of artistes from the marginalised sections of the society highlighting the atrocities committed on the common people by the establishment through folk songs, dance and a skit.
Unlike several protests that had been held in the city and elsewhere in the country since the arrest of Binayak Sen under the draconian Chhattisgarh Public Security Act on May 14, 2007, Thursday’s event saw no fire and brimstone speeches. For the day was also a celebration – Binayak’s wife Ilina Sen was in Washington to receive the award for Global Health and Human Rights that day.
But right from the gates of the shaded premises, the home of dancer Chandralekha, who was a revolutionary on her own right in her times, posters demanding the release of Binayak Sen welcomed the participants.
One of the posters even wanted the government to let him go to the US to receive the award, instituted in the name Jonathan Mann,who as the first director of the World Health Organization’s Special Program on AIDS from 1986-1990 pioneered the approach to AIDS that continues to shape public health policy even today.
However, Binayak had already made his stand very clear: That he will not leave the jail just to receive the award. He would like to go his clinic at Bagrum Nallah in Chhattisgarh first and treat his patients. Till his arrest, Binayak Sen was visiting the remote village twice a week – Tuesdays and Wednesdays – attending to patients, some of whom trekked even 150 km, and providing them free medical care.
That is the only public medical service that Binayak,who did his MD in Paedatrics from the Christian Medical College, Vellore, has been doing in Chhattisgarh for over three decades. He is the founder doctor of Shahid Hospital in Dallirajhara, the second trade union-run hospital in the country and he is the advisor for Mitanin, a community health workers scheme of the government.
Yet, he was arrested on the charge of meeting a Maoist Narayan Sanyal ‘33 times in four months’. He was calling on him in the presence of the jailors, that too on the behest of Sanyal’s brother, only to treat him for arthrititis. While the charge is that Binayak was passing on information to Naxalities through Sanyal, the government had not booked Sanyal under the CPSA. When the lawyers pointed that out in court, the government went on to clamp CPSA on Sanyal, too.
The government might have seen Binayak Sen as a thorn in the flesh, ever since he has been raising issues relating to Salwarjudhan, police encounters, tribal replacement and land acquistion by the government.
Those issues were a part of the skit, staged by Puthia Thor, an NGO that works for the slum children, as the finale of Thursday’s event. Earlier Chennai Kalai Kuzhu presented a few songs. But it was the Kanchipuram Makkal Mantram team that stole the show with their parai attam, oyilattam, sila attam and songs that highlighted the lack of equal opportunities among other things.
Not much was spoken about Binayak Sen. The ongoing nation-wide protest against his arrest, too, is now seeing it not as an isolated case. For more human rights activists are being jailed now. The event was to throw light on the bigger picture.