India is shining yet again…
In Chhattisgarh, May 14th, 2008 marks the one year anniversary of Dr. Binayak Sen’s incarceration. The arbitrary arrests we remember from Punjab in the 80s and early 90s have continued in other areas of India like Chhattisgarh.
The renowned public-spirited paediatrician Dr. Binayak Sen is General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (“PUCL”), Chhattisgarh and Vice-President, National PUCL. He was arrested May 14th, 2007, under the provisions of the Black Laws (The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act [CSPSA], 2005, and the Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act, 1967 as amended in 2004). The CSPSA, a creation of the Manmohan Singh regime, provides for arbitrary detention backed by an “ouster of jurisdiction” clause providing that action under the “Act by any officer authorized by the government for this purpose or by the District Magistrate shall not be questioned before any court.” The charges are farcical: meetings with Narayan Sanyal, an imprisoned leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) that took place in jail and in the presence of a jailer.
Sen is well known and highly respected for his work with tribal populations in Chhatisgarh.
Sen is famous for drawing up one of the most successful community-based primary healthcare schemes in India, based on the Mitanin, the local barefoot health worker who gives the rural poor invaluable advice on preventative health.
Some of his other achievements in making health care available to vulnerable populations:
Dr. Sen helped to set up the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha’s Shaheed Hospital, a pioneering health programme for the region. The hospital is owned and operated by a workers’ organization for the benefit of all, regardless of caste or any other background.
Dr. Sen and his wife, Dr. Ilina Sen, are the founders of Rupantar, a community-based nongovernmental organization that has trained, deployed and monitored the work of community health workers spread throughout 20 villages. Rupantar’s activities include initiatives to counter alcohol abuse and violence against women, and to promote food security.
Dr. Sen is an advisor to Jan Swasthya Sahyog, a health care organization committed to developing a low-cost, effective, community health programme in the tribal and rural areas of Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh.
He was also a member of the state advisory committee set up to pilot the community based health worker programme across Chhattisgarh, later well-known as the Mitanin programme.
He also gives his services to a weekly clinic in a tribal community. Doctors across India have started holding free clinics for the poor in tribute to the example of Dr. Sen, and to peacefully campaign for his release.
For visiting a patient in jail, he is accused of waging war against the government.
Sen, a human-rights activist who frequently visited jails to treat inmates, protests his innocence. He is now accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation and conspiring to wage war against the government. He has been denied bail and his trial began last month.
His arrest has not gone unnoticed. On this first anniversary of his incarceration, 22 Nobel Laureates have written a letter to the Prime Minister questioning the grounds for his incarceration and India’s draconian laws that make arrests immune from court review.
In their letter to India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, the 22 expressed “grave concern that Dr Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental rights”. They also said the two internal security laws under which he had been charged, “do not comport with international human rights standards.”
If you’re tired enough of these arbitrary arrests and draconian laws to sign a petition, you can do so here. Or for a laugh, you can even call Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or the President.
You may be thinking- these petitions don’t actually work. Well, think again my friend. Amnesty International has found that its’ petitions calling for the release of prisoners have often been life saving. Governments know people are watching, and they get embarrassed. Even for a government, it’s harder to be inhumane with a spotlight shining on you. So email away!