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The Curious Case of Binayak Sen

Book Review By Mahtab Alam

16 December, 2012

Book Review: The Curious Case of Binayak Sen

Author: Dilip D’Souza

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India

Pages: 187, Price: 250, Year: 2012

Ever since the pediatrician, public health and human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen was first arrested (leading to Life term imprisonment for allegedly waging war against the Country with the help of a Maoist) in a fabricated case in May 2007, much has been written about his life, work and the case against him—both positive and negative. The book under review, authored by Mumbai based writer, Dilip D’Souza is the fourth positive work in the form of a book, captivatingly titled, “The Curious Case of Binayak Sen”. However, the author in the very beginning, first chapter, makes it clear that, “this is really not a book about (Binayak) Sen, this one man. It is instead about his way of thinking about the world.”

Unlike previous works, this book, notably, covers what Binayak has been doing after he was released on bail granted by the Supreme Court of India’s direction in April last year. The author notes, “Since his release on bail, Sen has spoken often about another kind of connection: between malnutrition and secession” and “there’s an articulation of the same concern with human rights—indeed, with the human condition—that Sen speaks about.” Binayak believes and rightly so, that his case is no different from those of thousands of others who are suffering. He says, “Whatever has happened to me is the result of the suffering of thousands of people. Any personal imprint would by ghoulish.” But, the author tells us that through this Sen has “a broader point to make. The communities that face (this) structural violence are facing annihilation—strong word, but Sen clearly saw it as possible—because of famine and an inability to survive”.In an earlier occasion, the authors quotes Sen while explaining what he really means by structural violence. In Sen’s words, “By structural violence I refer to the fact that half our children and our adults in this country suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition casts a dark shadow over other diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.” Citing data produced by government’s own institution, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau and the World Health Organisation’s norms, Sen concludes, we are living in condition of famine. And “a third of our live births have low birth weights, this is what I mean when I talk of structural violence.”

Elaborating the flimsy and fabricated case against Binayak, digging in to charge sheets and reading out from the judgment of the trial court, which convicted him with life imprisonment, the author raises certain pertinent questions not only about the Chhattisgarh government and its Police, on whose behest Binayak is convicted for no crime but also about the state of the judicial system in our country, especially in the state of Chhattisgarh. The author ably exposes the holes in the charge sheets, selectivity of the prosecution and the executive mentality of the judiciary.

Commenting about two emails, which were produced as major ‘evidence’ against Sen, totally out of context and selectively, the author observes: “It is hard for me to believe that any reasonable prosecution would actually seek to make a case like this.” He is referring to the fact that, for the prosecution, how the mere mention of the ISI (here, meaning the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi and not the Pakistani Intelligence agency ISI which is the “chimpanzee in the White House”), prove that Binayak and his wife Ilina are part of an International terror network! In this regard, he further observes, “It is harder still for me to believe that any reasonable judge would listen to this and take it seriously.” Towards the end of the book, the author does not forget to ask very simple yet important questions, while commenting on the state of Indian democracy. “The one major attempt to shut down Indian democracy happened in 1975 and was called the Emergency. Luckily, it lasted less than two years…But we can still ask: is democracy as we have known it in India really democracy? What constitutes democracy, after all? Elections? Freedoms? Rights?”

The book is an important addition in the available literature on Binayak Sen case, the issues of public health and state of democracy in India and its institutions. However, one strongly feels that the language and presentation could have been much simpler than one adopted in this book. Nevertheless, it deserves to be widely read.

(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based Civil Rights Activist and Independent Journalist. A slightly edited and shorter version of this review first appeared in the Hard News monthly. Email: activist.journalist@gmail.com )




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