In India, Treating the Poor is a Crime

Binayak Sen, MD, behind bars ( ailing pediatrician and human rights defender, Dr. Binayak Sen, has languished for two years in the central jail in Raipur, the capital of the state of Chhattisgarh in central India.? The government accuses him of aiding and abetting terrorists – a charge Dr. Sen has consistently denied and one that Amnesty International deems baseless and politically motivated.

I have always condemned violence, whatever the justification.? (Dr. Binayak Sen)

The government’s allegations against the 59-year-old physician belie what the Global Health Council announced a year ago this month when Dr. Sen won the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights for his work with the rural poor and tribal communities and for his steadfast support of civil liberties and human rights in India.Why would such humanitarian activities land the renowned doctor in jail?Dr. Sen has worked for more than 25 years in Chhattisgarh setting up primary health centers, training community health workers, treating miners, prisoners, and other marginalized groups.? But his public health outreach and provision of medical care to the underserved poor put him in direct contact with alleged supporters of Naxalism – a Maoist movement that the government considers a threat to India’s national security.? But in its war on terrorism, the government has erroneously targeted an innocent man with trumped up charges.While visiting a local jail, Dr. Sen began treating an elderly man, Narayan Sanyal, whom authorities claim is a Naxalite terrorist.? Despite being thoroughly searched each time he visited the jail, Dr. Sen was charged with ferrying letters to and from Sanyal in support of the Maoist insurgency.? As soon as he learned of the warrant for his arrest, Dr. Sen immediately and voluntarily presented himself to the authorities to sort out what could only be a simple misunderstanding.? But there was none.? Police arrested Dr. Sen on 14 May 2007, and he has since been detained while his trial is ongoing.? ?While the prosecution has deposed 61 witnesses, none has corroborated the accusations against Binayak Sen.What’s worse is that now Dr. Sen is being refused specialist medical care.? He suffers from coronary artery disease, which can at any time present as a medical emergency.? His wife, Ilina Sen, wrote an impassioned letter last week detailing his current state. Physicians for Human Rights strongly urges local authorities not to delay treatment and to allow Dr. Sen to receive medical care of his choice for this potentially fatal disease.

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