Dr.Binayak Sen, a normal middle class family man and a pediatrician, concerned about his fellow beings, is according to his own sarcastic words different from the rest of the audience in that he has had “the privilege that the majority of the middle class in India have not had: to be jailed and handed a life sentence for sedition”.
A senior human rights activist, pediatrician and now an icon of sorts because of the conviction by the District Court of Raipur guilty of ‘sedition’ for alleged Naxal links and due to the global support his cause received. His work in universalizing health and nutrition in rural India have also gained him wide accolades.
In an interaction at the Indian Institute of Science, Dr.Sen elucidated some of the aspects of his work, the concern he shares with the rest of the population and his take on the current “Sedition Law” in India.
Here is a gist of the interaction:
Malnourishment in India
Dr.Sen being a health specialist and having been part of the Steering committee for the National health policy revealed some data which are hard to fathom.
With about 37% of our population having a Body-Mass-Index less than 18.5, implying malnourishment, India according to Dr.Sen has been in a state of stable famine over large periods time. With this figure today India is the country with the highest number of hungry people in the world.
Deriving from the statistics, Dr. Sen also conveyed the fact that the annual grain consumption per family has declined, and although certain set of people are relating it to increase in consumption of meat, he infers a further worsening impoverishment of the population.
He invokes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent futile sigh about such conditions where in the PM called it “a national shame”.
Universal health care
Another important aspect that Dr.Sen has been working in and wanted the audience to ponder about was the access to Universal health care to all citizens.
Malnourishment interleaved with the lack of basic amenities: starting from sanitation to primary health care at affordable costs has been rendering a huge section of the Indian rural population, scheduled castes, scheduled tribe population into the fangs of diseases such as tuberculosis, diabetes meningitis etc.
According to Dr. Sen, there is no resource crunch in terms of funds, but only lack of planning and reluctance in implementing policies such as health insurance, strengthening Public Distribution system, subsidising prices.
People and politics
When the audience recurrently raised questions on what each one of us could be doing to impact the situation, Dr. Sen had a recurrent answer :
“You cannot stay at an arm’s distance to politics and say no to politics and still hope for change in the conditions.
People cannot outsource democracy to about 500 of their so called representatives and forget about democracy until once in five years. Ordinary citizens should get involved in active politics.”, were Dr.Sen’s views. He also made it clear that he was not talking of any party politics, but only active engagement by people in democratic processes and ensuring that the Government would give heed to the request of its people.
Sedition Laws in India
After having handed a life sentence in the name of sedition by a District court, rejection of bail plea by High court and over ruled bail by the Supreme Court, Dr Sen obviously had a critical view of the current sedition laws.
He said,”In an active democracy dissent should be legitimised, only then can a democracy function. But, according to the sedition law ‘any disaffection towards the government in power’ is deemed as sedition and a life sentence could be rewarded”. This according to Dr. Sen is ironic and a flawed take on democracy itself.
In conclusion, Dr. Sen also hinted at the current neo-liberal policies which allow thriving expropriation of natural resources for profit either by the Government, or the Government in nexus with the corporates. Encapsulating this disparity, Dr Sen recollected a Supreme court verdict in which the Judges analyse the Government’s vision as:
Tax breaks for the rich, and guns for the poor!