Radio Netherlands report on the life term sentence to Dr Binayak Sen

Indian doctor and activist sentenced to life in prison

Published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, on : 13 January 2011

By Dheera Sujan

Dr Binayak Sen is a prominent community health advocate and civil liberties activist in India. He’s won recognition and awards from national and international bodies. Late last year he was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy and sedition.

Coming from an elite background, Binayak Sen trained as a paediatrician but rejected the option of a comfortable job in a city hospital. Instead, he set up shop in a tiny office in a desolate area, dedicating his life to the most marginalised of the country’s poor – the adhivasis (tribal communities) of central India.

Community health pioneers

Along with his wife Ilina, a prominent feminist and scholar in her own right, Dr Sen set up the NGO Rupantar in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Rupantar has built a village health clinic, initiated agricultural programmes focusing on food security and distribution, and established several projects to empower women, including helping victims of domestic violence. The Sens pioneered community health in a region that receives little or no government help.

Dr Binayak Sen
Dr Binayak Sen

Government critic

Dr Sen has always insisted that education, economic development, community health, nonviolence and human rights are all essential elements in lessening the influence of Maoist insurgents on the tribal communities of central India. He has long been a critic of the government’s neglect and persecution of the adhivasi.

The fact that the District Court has delivered such a harsh sentence could be, according to Human Rights Watch spokesperson Elaine Pearson, “an attempt to make an example of him… [to show just how] indignant the state is about the fact that he criticised their policies.”

Violence in the “Red Corridor”

Chhatisgarh lies in the heart of what is known as India’s “Red Corridor”, a region that spans five states and encompasses hundreds of thousands of kilometres of hilly jungle. The region has immense potential mining wealth – but is also home to millions of rural poor. This has led to what campaigners like Arundhati Roy say is a “clearing out operation”, where land is cleared of its inhabitants so its mineral resources can be exploited.

A government-backed militia group called the Salwa Judum has destroyed entire villages and raped and killed with impunity. Thousands of people have lost their homes to the violence and are languishing in “temporary” camps. Personal testimonies of atrocities by the Salwa Judum were documented in a 2008 Human Rights Watch report called “Being Neutral is our only crime”.

Maoist insurgents have pitted themselves against both the state authorities and the Salwa Judum. However, they too participate in the cycle of violence, destroying schools and villages and killing those they believe collaborate with the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF).

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the Maoists of central India the country’s most “serious national security threat.” In November 2009, the government launched Operation Green Hunt and sent in tens of thousands of troops to deal with the Maoists once and for all. The action is on-going.

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