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Binayak Sen speaks out on his prison experience

From the Hindu:
Raktima Bose

“Whether a person is a convict or an undertrial, he has no human dignity…”

— Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Doctor and civil rights activist Binayak Sen and his wife Ilina Sen address a press conference in Kolkata on Friday.
KOLKATA: “My life in prison was an absolute revelation,” said doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen, who was in the Raipur Central Jail for two years for alleged Maoist links before being bailed out on Wednesday at the intervention of the Supreme Court.Addressing a press conference organised by People’s Health here on Friday, Dr. Sen said: “[I realised] how the quote from Mahatma Gandhi written outside jails — ‘Hate crime, not criminals’— is actually reversed in prison. Though everyone is talking about the problems of corruption and theft, the fundamental problem is that whether a person is a convict or an undertrial, he has no human dignity in the eyes of the bureaucracy… this is the social reality of jail life in Chhattisgarh.”

Though he said he was not subjected to any “special torture,” he spoke of the government’s indifference when it learnt about his coronary artery disease and his willingness to get treated at Vellore [at the Christian Medical College Hospital in the Tamil Nadu town]. “The State government was not willing to allow my treatment. It wanted to control my access to Vellore.” He said it insisted that he get treated in Raipur, and thus “my treatment was held up.”

He said prison helped him realise the “whole spread of people who are lodged in jails, from poor villagers falsely implicated in murder cases to land dispute convicts to hardened criminals.”

Recalling the instance of his cell-mate, a 19-year-old convicted for rape, Dr. Sen said: “He got life imprisonment because he had eloped with a girl from a rich family. Her family members manufactured rape charges.”

Criticising the judicial system, he said: “Another revelation I had was of the widespread corruption in the judiciary. We’re simply not looking at it…”

Asked for his comments on Maoist links the Chhattisgarh government accused him of, he said he had done “human rights investigation rather than any community help in the Maoist-dominated areas of Chhattisgarh.” “Several areas where we worked earlier were not Maoist-dominated. But even while working in areas which were dominated by them, we investigated encounter deaths, about Salwa Judum, about the nutritional status of villagers. We have not done any community work there,”

Dr. Sen asserted. On the issue of violence propagated by both Salwa Judum and the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, he said: “As a human rights worker, we do not condone any form of violence. We feel this whole cycle of violence — either by the government or by the Maoists — is counter-productive, and political engagement is needed to delegitimise violence-based solutions.”

On Salwa Judum, Dr. Sen said his opposition to the “land-clearing operation” of the Judum would continue even though the “[Chhattisgarh] government has given big definitions for it.” He pointed to his resistance to “structural violence to keep poor people poor and keeping them away from resources that they have been enjoying for generations.”