RELEASE BINAYAK SEN CAMPAIGN, UK
When a member of the Release Binayak Sen Now Campaign in the UK nominated Dr. Binayak Sen in April 2011 for the International Gandhi Peace Award in 2011 after consultation with other Campaign members, Dr. Sen was in indeterminate custody sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition under India’s draconian anti-terrorism legislation. The Campaign wished to draw British and international attention to Dr. Sen’s work and plight. Therefore, the letter nominating him put forward the following case:
A paediatrician by training, Dr. Sen specializes in public health and has devoted his life’s work to extending health care to India’s poorest people through monitoring the health and nutritional status of the people of Chhattisgarh, one of the economically-deprived and neglected regions of India.
…As Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Dr. Sen has been at the forefront of peaceful campaigns for social justice and strongly critical of the Indian state for human rights violations in the course its ongoing war on Maoist rebels. Although he has been controversially incarcerated by the Indian state on charges of assisting these rebels (he is regarded by Amnesty International as a ‘prisoner of conscience’), he has always been an outspoken public advocate for non-violent activism towards social transformation.
…Given his explicit commitment to non-violence and his sustained peaceful activism in obtaining health care and human rights for the most deprived sections of society, particularly the rural poor, Dr. Binayak Sen is an exemplary candidate for the Gandhi Foundation award [which would] acknowledge the singular contribution made by this dedicated and courageous individual towards bringing together health, food security, the empowerment of women and economic enfranchisement in the cause of the widest and most meaningful deployment of both human rights and social justice.
The successful nomination made no mention of the ‘Tribal Peoples’ or the ‘adivasis of India,’ a monolithic category which the Gandhi Foundation later and without due consultation inserted into its citation, suggesting that Dr. Sen and Mr. Bulu Imam would jointly receive the award on ‘behalf’ of the adivasis of India. After justifiable protest and representations by some adivasi activists, the Foundation changed the wording to ‘two men who have worked in different ways to address the growing violence.’
We wish to make clear that our support for the award of the Prize to Dr.Binayak Sen was in recognition of his exemplary courage and commitment to the cause of fighting rural poverty and the depredations of corporate globalisation and not because we see him as an adivasi advocate.We recognise that Dr. Sen’s work in health and human rights has been undertaken alongside adivasis in the adivasis region of India. We also recognise that there are a great many activists in adivasi causes who are themselves adivasi and who very fully articulate the rights of the indigenous peoples of India. We greatly regret that the Gandhi Foundation’s original mistake has created such a controversy around an award which rightly recognises the extraordinary contributions of two exemplary individuals to the cause of India’s most impoverished, exploited and vulnerable peoples.
We nevertheless believe strongly that Dr. Sen and Mr Bulu Imam are entitled to recognition of their work, which includes their work alongside adivasis, and note that neither has ever claimed to speak for adivasis. While we deplore the ignorance that the Gandhi Foundation showed in their original citation and insist that the Foundation acknowledge its mistakes, we stand by our nomination of Dr. Sen and his receipt of the award along with Mr. Bulu Imam. We note that Dr. Sen has himself been a victim of draconian and anti-people legislation, the The Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967), that he and others, both adivasi and non-adivasi, have been struggling against. We urge Dr. Sen to accept the this award on the basis of his courageous human rights work for which he has met with punitive treatment from the State of Chattisgarh. Dr. Sen has never sought publicity or celebrity status for himself, but the award would attest to the continuing need to bear witness to and struggle for radical change in the conditions of adivasi, dalit and other exploited communities which are continually threatened by displacement and subjugation by violent means at the hands of multinational corporations and the Indian state.