Since before Maoists were declared terrorists, Binayak Sen was treated like one for almost two years. The social activist, who works among the tribals and mine workers of Chhattisgarh was lodged in Raipur Central Jail, accused of being a Maoist conduit. His crime - being a doctor, he had agreed to treat the Naxal ideologue Narayan Sanyal. In a stunning move that one hopes is not routine, the state government clamped the dreaded Unlawful Activities Act on Sen and kept fighting against his release - without any proof, without any witness.
Released on bail and recuperating at his house after undergoing heart surgery at the Vellore Medical College, Binayak Sen tells Zeenews.com’s Shashank Chouhan about his days in prison and how this country needs to reclaim its lost values.
Shashank: Is your case only an example of what’s happening across Chhattisgarh?
Binayak: Indeed. I have earlier also described mine as an index case- it only highlights problems in the other parts of the state. I had a lot of support from NGOs, Nobel laureates etc; think of the hapless tribals who don’t have that.
Shashank: Were you treated as any other prisoner?
Binayak: As such, I was not given any special treatment, good or bad. Some special restrictions were placed on my mobility; certainly I had no special privileges.
Shashank: Why were you denied bail and request for medical treatment?
Binayak: It is fair to ask this to the concerned persons who denied me bail earlier. The Supreme Court actually directed the state to give me the best possible medical treatment even before the grant of bail. But my requests went unheeded.
Shashank: What legal and illegal hurdles were created in your release?
Binayak: The local media was cleverly used by the police to create a perception that I was anti-national. This influenced everybody and I was kept behind bars. Only on perception and because the government thought I was Naxal or working for them.
Shashank: Did it appear that the entire state mechanism- including judiciary- was not letting you free for a reason?
Binayak: The state chose to make it a prestige issue, particularly after a significant body of protest had built up about the illegality of my arrest. It looked like an ego tussle.
Shashank: What is your view on the Maoists active across India?
Binayak: I do not condone violence by any party. However, the Maoist activity has become prominent in India’s most deprived regions. Why should such deprivation exist in this day and age?
Shashank: How should the state tackle them?
Binayak: A commitment to long term solutions, addressing the root causes is essential. You can not be surgical with your own people. Their voice needs to be heard and their problems tackled. This is the only solution.
Shashank: What is the ground reality of Salwa Judum? Why isn’t the government changing track?
Binayak: The human rights reports on the Salwa Judum (including ours) have documented their violent excesses. The state has chosen to make this constructive, open criticism another prestige issue.
Shashank: Yours is a fascinating journey- why didn’t you take up the lucrative medical career that lay before you and chose to work where you are working today?
Binayak: My work in nutrition and people centered health care has led me to where I stand today. I believe this is the logical point to be in. It has come out of my professional interest. That now it has taken a wider dimension is a different story, but it begins with my practice as a doctor, really.
Shashank: Will you still continue your struggle for rights of the deprived?
Binayak: I will of course continue to work. I want to advocate actively for peace and for a renunciation of violence.
Shashank: What if you are tagged an anti-national again?
Binayak: Who is a national and who is anti-national? Do we really know that? We as a nation need to understand the definitions of pro and anti national. I hope the campaign for my release has at least begun a process in this direction.
Shashank: Where have we as a society and a nation gone wrong?
Binayak: Equity and social justice, the values enshrined in our Constitution, must guide our journey forward. That is not happening since years now. Course correction is seriously needed, as we have deviated from these goals.