Bobby Ramakant – CNS
(CNS): An appeal has been sent to the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Stop TB Partnership by noted health advocates to come forward in support of Dr Binayak Sen - a medical doctor who is allegedly wrongly serving a life sentence in India. Dr Binayak Sen, a medical practitioner and a civil liberties' activist, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Chhattisgarh. Probably his stand for human rights exposing gross injustices meted out to tribal population by the state, and a report had irked the government which slapped upon him violation of two draconian laws: Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
His wife Ilina Sen, who is a Professor at the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya in Wardha, said to CNS: "It is a sad reflection on our system that once a false case is registered in the name of security, it is almost impossible to turn the clock back, even if facts stare us in the face indicating that the case had no basis. To this, if we add dimensions of face saving, prestige, and drubbing the nose into the ground of uncomfortable critics, we have Chhattisgarh and Binayak Sen" said Ilina Sen.
So what is the 'evidence' against Dr Binayak Sen? According to Ilina Sen, the 'evidence' against Binayak Sen in court is as follows:
- Hearsay evidence from police officers about Binayak's presence in naxal meetings, his supposed association with 'hard core naxals' who are not even named in any case anywhere in the country
- Supposed seditious literature pertaining to resistance of US imperialism and atrocities committed during the salwa judum seized from their house during police search
- Correspondence addressed to the ISI (not Pakistan's ISI but to Walter Fernandez, Director of Indian Social institute (ISI) in New Delhi)
- Correspondence with people bearing Muslim names constitutes the rest of the evidence
Authorities claimed Dr Binayak Sen is a 'fake doctor' because no stethoscope was found in his house. Should every doctor hang a stethoscope in his house as well? Does a gold medal from second-ranked medical institute in the country - Christian Medical College (CMC) Vellore, the 2004 Paul Harrison Award, Global Health Council's Jonathan Mann Award 2008, founding Shaheed Hospital in Chhattisgarh and serving tribal communities for close to thirty years are not evidence enough to give him due recognition as a medical practitioner?
That is why civil society from a range of stakeholders has appealed to the WHO and also to the Stop TB Partnership to come out in support of this medical doctor who has been victimised unduly in Chhattisgarh.
"He has also fought actively for the state to examine and redress the social determinants of poor health and huge burden of malnutrition that contributes to and co exists with the significant burden of TB amongst the marginalised tribal communities" said the letter submitted to the heads of WHO and the Stop TB Partnership.
"Dr Binayak Sen is a paediatrician and public health specialist who has dedicated himself to the welfare of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society, and since 1978, well before DOTS was introduced in India, has been working in the field of tuberculosis (TB). In 1978, leaving his academic career at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Dr Sen joined a Quaker-supported rural tuberculosis center in Central India. It was here Dr Sen practised innovative and needs-based approaches to control TB by convincing the authorities to be flexible in providing anti-tubercular drugs to communities who would otherwise discontinue their treatment for specific and understandable reasons, for example, difficulties to access health facilities during monsoon. We believe his approach was similar to community DOTS that has been adopted at a much later stage" further reads the letter submitted to the WHO and the Stop TB Partnership.
"Subsequently, during 1982-87, Dr Binayak Sen established a DOTS centre at a hospital run by mine-workers in Chhattisgarh state which he helped set up and initiated TB promotion involving the mining communities themselves in awareness activities. Later, in 1994, founding a non-governmental organisation, Dr Sen focused on poverty and malnutrition in TB control and spoke about it in various forums, governmental and non-governmental. In a recent writing he expressed his concern about the growing trend of drug resistant forms of the disease in India and emphasised the need for systematic WHO studies to explore the relationship between TB and body mass index (BMI) in the country" said the above mentioned letter to the WHO.
"Dr Chan and Dr Ditiu, it is in this context we would like to bring to your attention that Dr Binayak Sen's incarceration is a huge tragedy and loss to the field of public health. At the local level we fear that the loss of this champion and also the services he provided and have not been replaced will contribute to an increased risk of further spreading of tuberculosis. Dr Sen has and would have continued to contribute tremendously through public health policy formulation and advocacy at the state level and the education and training of health activists and through his own practice to the effective control of tuberculosis in India. But Dr Sen is now in prison on false charges, sentenced for life. India urgently needs him to be free" said the letter submitted to Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO and Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.
Let's hope that the apex institutions in the world on health and TB will come out strongly in support of public health champions like Dr Binayak Sen. (CNS)
Bobby Ramakant – CNS
(The author is a World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General's WNTD Awardee 2008 and writes extensively on health and development through Citizen News Service (CNS). Email: [email protected], website: www.citizen-news.org )