In the brief moment it takes me to press the button of my choice on the voting machine, I become the master of our rulers and that feeling is exhilarating, though only in fleeting. Democracy above all forms of government is the most natural and enduring because in principle, every individual citizen is counted and respected.
Unfortunately, in our country, the power I wield is very ephemeral. Till I get another chance after 5 years at pressing that button again, the people whom I am supposed to have anointed to rule over my destiny run amuck. They amass wealth, plunder, and run rough-shod over the people on whose behalf they govern. During those 5 years, I become part of an amorphous, formless crowd. Let me tell you the sad story of Dr.Binayak Sen so that you may understand the other side of the dance of democracy.
Young Binayak wanted to be a doctor and he went to C.M.C, Vellore to do his M.B.B.S in 1966. He was a gold medalist and was selected to do M.D course in paediatrics. Here again he excelled and was among the top students. He then joined the faculty of the Centre for Social Medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Though as a bright doctor the world was his for the asking, his idealism led him to join a rural health programme in Madhya Pradesh.
Later, he And his wife, Illina, a teacher, chose to go to rural Chattisgarh, to work with mine workers’ unions. The husband-wife team plunged headlong into various projects aimed at improving the rural health and education of the community. The tribal Adivasis lived in a world of abject poverty, injustice and a system that bred exploitation. He then worked for a salary of Rs.600.
Dr. Sen and his wife, Dr. Ilina Sen, founded Rupantar, a community-based organization aimed at training and supporting community health workers in several villages, fighting against alcohol abuse and violence against women. Dr. Sen has been involved in various other organizations committed to developing a low-cost, effective, community health programme in the tribal and rural areas of Chhattisgarh. He holds the postion as the Vice President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
It soon became clear to him that health of the community he sought to serve was linked to organized movement towards attainment of human rights. He raised his voice against human rights violations and the fake encounters involving supposed Maoists. He also spoke up against the war waged by the government of Chhattisgarh against the adivasis in Dantewara in the name of Salwa Judum which is an army of private citizens armed and supported by the government supposedly to fight the menace of the Maoists. What Salwa Judum initiative has achieved is to pit Adivasis against Adivasis and break their bond and unity.
On 14 May 2007 Dr Binayak Sen was arrested and thrown into a Raipur prison on trumped up charges of supporting Naxal activity in Chhattisgarh. He is charged under various draconian laws pertaining to sedition, waging war against State under various sections of the repressive Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 and the Unlawful Activities Act, 2004 (Amended) and various sections of the IPC. He has been denied bail though the case against him is very weak. To compound matters, Dr.Sen has a weak heart condition and he has been denied permission to get treated in Vellore Medical Mission hospital.
Two years of continuing sentence in jail is the price a non-violent, peace loving Dr.Binayak Sen has paid for giving three decades of his life for the sake of the poor and the voiceless. It is a shame that we in India allow a person like him to be sent to jail while carrying on our shoulders some elected looters and murderers masquerading as our leaders. Just as we celebrate the greatness of our democracy through these elections, Dr.Sen’s case should prick our conscience. In this case, the less said about the Indian judiciary, the better. It has repeatedly denied Dr Sen bail for two years.
Is it not frightening when the state wages a war against its own citizens and the rights of the individual is confined only to the constitution? What is even more depressing is that Dr.Sen is a non-issue for most of us Indians.
There is a nice quote from Martin Niemoller to wake us up. “First they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.”
At the heart of democracy is the right of the Individual. The rights of the individual should last beyond the act of voting. It should last a life time. We have a long way to go.
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