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Not making Sens

Binayak Sen is a dangerous man. He must be, because he has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Manas Chakravarty writes.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2011 22:20 IST

Binayak Sen is a dangerous man. He must be, because he has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Consider the facts. This man won a gold medal from the Christian Medical College, Vellore. It's difficult to get admission to that college, let alone get a gold medal. After that triumph he could have easily gone to the US for his post-graduation and built up a lucrative practice, earning millions of dollars. He may one day have had the honour of treating our prime minister as a distinguished visiting surgeon. At the very least, he should have set up a nursing home in a big city, specialising in liposuction.

But instead, this strange man decided to spend his life treating poor tribals. What a waste! Why did he not, like the rest of us, roll up his car windows, turn up the air-conditioning and wait impatiently for the light to turn green when confronted by beggars at traffic signals? This is suspicious behaviour. Who does he think he is, Mahatma Gandhi?

Things were fine as long as he confined himself to doling out medicines to the poor. But who asked him to start dabbling in human rights? Consider the message he is sending. He is saying it's not enough just to treat the poor, but that they must fight for their rights too. He is saying they need not just medicines, but also food and human dignity. He is saying the State tolerates charity as long as it doesn't harm the interests of the powerful.

He is blaming the State for allowing malaria and dengue and cholera to rampage through the country's fetid slums every year, for all the deaths from hunger, for the fact that half our children are malnourished, in spite of us having one of the highest rates of economic growth. He even opposed the government's scheme that evicted hundreds of thousands of tribals from their villages and herded them into camps, so that the State could fight the rebels. This is seditious stuff. Why doesn't he have patience? The poor have waited for 63 years since Independence. How does it matter if they wait a few years more?

Dr Sen's mother recently said that he has led a Spartan life with very few needs. This may seem a virtue, but it actually isn't. Has he ever considered what would happen to the economy if we all stopped consuming? We should be thankful that consuming as much as we can is not just a duty but a highly pleasurable one.

Even his trial has been very dangerous, raising all kinds of uncomfortable questions. He has been successful in converting it into a campaign. Former chief justices have said that the judgement is flawed. People might even begin to wonder: who was actually on trial, Dr Sen or the judicial system? It is a very disquieting thought.

Gandhiji, Tilak and Subhas Chandra Bose too were charged with sedition. People might start comparing him to Gandhi fighting against an oppressive State. And, if they took that logic a step further, they might even come to think that when the British left Lutyens' Delhi, all that happened is that a new set of rulers stepped into their palaces. That would be dreadful.

But perhaps the most dangerous thought of all is that Sen's life imprisonment might lead people to start believing change is not possible within the system. For, after all, what has Irom Sharmila achieved? Or Medha Patkar? Or Jayaprakash Narayan? Or, indeed, Binayak Sen?

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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