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BackYou are here: NewsIndia Ignoring hunger is nothing short of genocide: Binayak

India

Ignoring hunger is nothing short of genocide: Binayak

Priyanka Borpujari, TNN, Jan 2, 2011

While human rights activists across the world express their shock and outrage at Binayak Sen's life imprisonment sentence, one of the biggest blows will be felt by his alma mater, Christian Medical College (CMC) Vellore. Until the verdict, the gentle doctor was busy, among other things, with a new project which could usher in a new light for healthcare education in India. Following the Social Determinants of Health report of 2008 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Sen was appointed by CMC Vellore as a consultant to draft a curriculum model that would incorporate human rights within the ambit of healthcare and thus pave the way for a more socially equitable society.

Ignoring his exemplary work among the tribals of Chhattisgarh, the Indian State imprisoned Sen in 2007 on charges of having links with the Maoists. In 2008, while still in jail, he was announced winner of the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. After several campaigns as well as appeals by 22 Nobel laureates, he was released on bail by the Supreme Court in May 2009. But the relief was short-lived: on December 24, Raipur district and sessions court judge B P Varma sentenced him to life imprisonment for the same 'crime'. In such a scenario, CMC's desire to implement the curriculum - which would have been the first to reinstate the Utopian notion that doctors are next to God - stands crippled.

How did the seed for such a curriculum come to be planted? "The WHO report has made a remarkable statement that social inequity is killing people on a grand scale. CMC has been in the process of incorporating the idea of social inequity into the curriculum. Except for some specific work done by organisations like CEHAT, JNU Centre for Social Medicine, Sama and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, there is no precedent in India in unifying health and social inequity," Dr Sen told this reporter a few days before the verdict. His placid tone as always belied the burning passion that has seen him devote 30 years of his life to caring for the underprivileged.

"There is widespread hunger in the country today and the increasing levels of displacement and dispossession are further robbing the poor of their meagre means of livelihood," continued Sen. "The situation is nothing short of a genocide, particularly since we have allowed this to happen for such a long period of time. The country is hungry for a Right to Health."

The new project in Vellore did keep the activist doctor busy and away from his family for days on end. While still at the draft stage, the curriculum has already managed to get students to survey malnutrition in the hinterland. But it is Sen's clinic in Dhamtari village in the now-famous district of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh that has faced a lull in functioning. The brewing violence between the armed forces and the Maoists - in which the tribals have been trapped and victimised - has stalled every kind of work undertaken by activists. Sen had been trying to get back the clinic - which includes a pathology laboratory, a pharmacy and a training centre for health workers - to its previous form. "I haven't been able to attend to the clinic on a weekly basis because of my extensive travel as well as the fact that the area has been declared as extremely sensitive," he said. "It is tough indeed because no doctor is willing to go there. It will take time to reinstate the confidence of volunteers." But patience is a virtue that one could best learn from the man who was arrested on charges of being a Maoist after he blew the whistle on the state's atrocities against tribals by the vigilante militia Salwa Judum.

While the sessions court verdict may have angered scores of human rights activists in the country, Sen has always believed that the truth will eventually triumph. As a doctor - a healer and nurturer - his only concern most recently has been the issue of hunger. "It is tragic that when 40 per cent of our countrymen go hungry, the government is gearing itself for military confrontation," he said. "The government asserts that it has been unable to undertake any developmental projects in central India because of the presence of the Maoists. But what about those areas where there are no Maoists? We are in the middle of a crisis, and this cannot be solved with military intervention. If such measures are not stalled now, we are moving towards human annihilation. I feel inadequate that I haven't been able to do much."

Those who've been instrumental in foiling the doctor's exemplary work would perhaps be happy to hear his momentary words of failure.

Before his imprisonment, Binayak Sen was working on a unique medical curriculum model for his alma mater to incorporate human rights in the realm of healthcare

"The WHO report has stated that social inequity is killing people on a large scale. Christian Medical College Vellore has been in the process of incorporating the idea of social inequity into the curriculum. This is the first time this is happening in India" http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Ignoring-hunger-is-nothing-short-of-genocide-Binayak/articleshow/7203373.cms#ixzz19qgx56gG