The saga of Dr. Binayak Sen continues. Now imprisoned for life on unconfirmed charges, Binayak joins the rank of many political prisoners who remain incarcerated behind bars without any proven record of unlawful activities. What amazes me more is the massive following that Binayak has now and that includes Nobel Laureates, educationists and politicians of all hues from across the globe. A few days back, I heard about the total shutdown of all businesses and government institutions in the province of Chhattisgarh for a single day in support of the good doctor.
Then who is Binayak Sen and why should the far right Bhartiya Janta Party led government in Chhattisgarh be acutely involved in hounding him? The process of unfurling fraudulent allegations against him did not just start a few years back. His close association with the tribals and dispensing of free medication to them dealt a severe blow on the corporate- government strategies. Binayak got bolder and started a mini hospital and chain of clinics in deep tribal interiors which he and his wife Ilina ran them successfully.
Many would ask me that why should be so inclined in writing about Dr. Binayak Sen. Why shouldn’t I? When Dr. Papiya Ghosh was murdered brutally at her Patna house, the Indian intelligentsia kept quiet. My colleagues in the medical fraternity sided with the powers controlling the investigation and gave conflicting opinions. It was only after her sister, Tuktuk Ghosh, an Indian Administrative Officer attached to the former speaker of the Parliament, Communist leader Somnath Chatterjee approached the Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh that the inquiry of her murder case was seriously taken.
I was posted at Kondagaon in Bustar as an Assistant Surgeon by the Madhya Pradesh Government sometimes during 1983. I did go there but came back and joined a bee line to Bharat Bhavan , Bhopal for a transfer to Gwalior. The living conditions in the tribal belt during those years were beyond any human understanding and it remains as such after the formation of the new province of Chhattisgarh.
The British Medical Journal and the Lancet has highlighted the unjust conviction of Dr. Binayak Sen but then the Indian Medical Association and its various subgroups never gave a single statement of condemnation, neither the various Padama shri nor Padma vibhushan awarded doctors decided to look beyond medicine and crass commercialisation of their daily practice. I remember the time when the complete health system of the Madhya Pradesh Government was paralysed because of a lightning strike for a pay hike by doctors yet the same doctors would not now think of even raising a single thought favouring Binayak Sen.
Today I live in a city where the statue of Steve Biko stands opposite the grand architectural buildings from the colonial era and now housing the Mayor’s office. Steve Biko was admitted at the University of Natal Medical School. He was expelled later for his political inclination
On the 18th of August, 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619 (sometimes numbered as 6-1-9). The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.
On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1500 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities. However, he was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September. The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors.
In the same way as the Indian Medical Association, the South African Medical Association kept quiet and later apologized after democracy opened its windows in South Africa. Aren’t we a democratic nation? The murder of the intellectual Azad in a false encounter by the police, the removal of Dr. Binayak Sen from the free tenets of a society, the ever-growing scams where politicians from the ruling and opposition never lose their hunger for money and power and ordinary citizens with free political thoughts are brutally subdued, such remains the tatters of a democracy that is India today.
I remember the famous heart surgeon, Dr. Chris Barnard who hugged me once at Colombo many years back, He said, Amitabh, Democracy remains a delusion, true democracy can never be achieved. South Africa had just won a democracy then. I didn’t believe him then.
Some of my poems on Dr. Binayak Sen –
Binayak Sen – A Poem in Hindi by Amitabh Mitra
Chhattisgarh – The poem is being recited outside the Indian Consulate in Washington