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Updated: April 20, 2011 10:16 IST

‘We are walking in a state of famine'

Aman Sethi
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BINAYAK SEN: 'If we can build the platform, dialogue will follow. I don't want to get into specific solutions at this stage....'
BINAYAK SEN: 'If we can build the platform, dialogue will follow. I don't want to get into specific solutions at this stage....'

After spending nearly four months in the Raipur Central Jail on charges of sedition and aiding the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), health and human rights activist

Dr. Binayak Sen was released on bail on Monday evening. In an interview with Aman Sethi at his residence in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, Dr. Sen spoke of the need to re-examine the sedition law and build a platform to tackle the structural violence, that he believes, pervades society.

Some of the most significant interventions on ideas of rights and freedom have come in the form of prison writings, for instance Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks. From mundane issues like prison schedules, to your thoughts at the time, what was your time in prison like?

In prison you feel completely cut-off, as if you are only hearing the echoes of what is happening in the outside world. We received three newspapers for our barrack — The Hitavada, The Hindu and the Danik Bhaskar — but we get papers full of holes — literally. They [prison authorities] cut out all news regarding Maoists, naxalites, and anything related to the cases or trial of any of the people in jail…We also had a television that showed Doordarshan, that is how I learnt that the Supreme Court had granted me bail.

At present, the greatest violence is structural violence. Violence is not restricted to a few groups; it pervades the structure of our society. We need to break out of this structure of violence through a process of dialogue.

Could you elaborate on this idea of structural violence?

By structural violence I refer to the fact that half our children and our adults in this country suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition casts a dark shadow over other diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

For example, a study by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau says that more than 60 per cent of Scheduled Tribes have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5. According to the World Health Organisation, if more than 40 per cent of the population of a community has a BMI of less than 18.5, the community can be considered to be in a condition of famine. A third of our live births have low birth weights, this is what I mean when I talk of structural violence.

When you speak of dialogue, who must get into dialogue with whom? Also, is it possible to address issues of nutrition in a conflict zone like Chhattisgarh?

This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: the reason we have [overt] violence like we have in Chhattisgarh is because of an underlying problem of structural violence. We need to enter into dialogue with the state and also groups involved in the issue.

Talks [with groups like the Maoists] cannot just be about abjuring arms or violence. We need to have a dialogue on issues like displacement. These problems are much bigger than us. So we need to be able to create a legitimate platform from which we can address these structures of violence.

If we can build the platform, dialogue will follow. I don't want to get into specific solutions at this stage, but how can we tackle issues if we are permanently walking in a state of famine?

A Raipur Additional District and Sessions Court convicted you of conspiring to commit sedition and also invoked provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005. Do you feel we need to rethink such laws?

On of the things that I realised while I was in prison is that there are hundreds of people who are in exactly the same legal situation as I am. I fear that governments are using this law as a short cut to imprison people. We need to find out exactly how many people are fighting such cases. The Union Law Minister, Veerappa Moily, has spoken of reviewing the sedition law. We would like to tackle things from our end by taking the matter before the people.

As for the Public Security Act, the People's Union of Civil Liberties, of which I am one of the vice-presidents, has filed a writ challenging this law in the Bilaspur High Court.

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Poverty is not the only main problem of this country. Fast growing populatation is also big problem. Every economic polices and govt. always think about how to tackle with this problem. And moreover our political leaders are busy to make how lured voters policies. They never think about real problems.

from:  Arvind Kumar
Posted on: Jun 17, 2011 at 09:49 IST

Structural violence refers the rigid social hierarchies in our society which makes it too difficult for the people at the bottom of the pyramid to live with dignity.....violence in naxalite belt is there because government want to maintain the status quo and does not want to take on feudal interests...though govt should bring comprehensive land reform and other measures aimed at dismantling the rural feudal power structure that oppresses India's poorest citizens....its largly a social problem..though some political colors have been added to it in last decade or so.

from:  Mrityunjay
Posted on: Jun 16, 2011 at 01:07 IST

i do agree with Binayak Sen about structural violence. After basic needs such as food, shelter, clothes. it actually comes to basic education of mass and self dependence of people. i guess when people in general will be ready for change they will see the change. so Mr. Sen carry on the good work. i believe a man can change his life but no one else.

from:  Hardeep
Posted on: Jun 10, 2011 at 10:41 IST

This is not the first time that scholars like Binayek Sen have been put behind bars just because inappropriate ways of applying laws without being fully aware of the whole nature of problem. Binayek Sen is serving the tribal people in remote Chattisgarh from last two decades without any aid from centre.He knows very well, the pathetic condition, the hostility tribes are facing in from government.The slanderous remark against such a noble person should be highly criticized.

from:  Pankaj
Posted on: Apr 27, 2011 at 12:04 IST

I wish 'The Hindu' would have published a more extensive interview, reportage on Binayak Sen.

from:  luhar sen
Posted on: Apr 25, 2011 at 10:20 IST

Poverty is the main problem of this country.

from:  Asghar Ali
Posted on: Apr 23, 2011 at 08:47 IST
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