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Voice of conscience

SOHINI CHAKRAVORTY
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Passing by Speaking at the inaugural Bimal Roy Lecture, physician and civil rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen highlights inequities in a changing world. SOHINI CHAKRAVORTY reports

Man with a missionHuman rights campaigner and national Vice-President of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Binayak SenPhoto: Nagara Gopal
Man with a missionHuman rights campaigner and national Vice-President of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Binayak SenPhoto: Nagara Gopal

The tumultuous romance between a Brahmin man and a Dalit woman in Sujata and a farmer's love for his land and his migration to the city to save that land in Do Bigha Zameen were portrayed by a pioneer of neo-realistic Indian cinema. Bimal Roy's subjects have not lost their relevance even though they were created five decades back. Who would understand that better than Dr. Binayak Sen?

Many words have been used to describe paediatrician, social activist and Vice-chairperson of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Dr. Binayak Sen. His struggles, his fight for justice and his work are not an unknown story. So when it was announced that Dr. Sen was to be a guest speaker at the inaugural Bimal Roy Lecture at the University of Hyderabad, it was a curious crowd that gathered to listen to the man who was accused of sedition by the Chhattisgarh government and granted bail by the Supreme Court.

Dressed in a maroon cotton kurta with a jhola slung from his shoulders, the activist seemed to shrug off the heavy words ‘extraordinary,' ‘courageous' and ‘unprecedented' often used to describe him.

Joy Roy, son of Bimal Roy, called his father and Dr. Sen the “fragile conscience of a fractured nation” as he brought them together in the same frame. Scientist P.M. Bhargava said that the compelling desire that transcended personal interest, and a commitment towards society, country and the human race, were some of the common factors between the filmmaker and the civil rights activist. As he introduced the guest speaker, P.M. Bhargava took a potshot at power and said, “If Dr. Binayak Sen was a doctor to the Ambanis he would have been the recipient of the Padma Bhushan by now.”

When Dr. Sen took to the stage, anticipation hung in the air. His resonating, oddly placid voice boomed through the microphone but it was the humour at the beginning of his speech that threw the listeners off guard. “My name is Binayak Sen and sometimes it's hard to explain that it's B for Bombay and not V. But there is no such problem with the name Bimal Roy. Everybody is familiar with the name.”

The subject of his speech was ‘Sujata's Children: Inequity in a Changing World.' “We are all Sujata's children and have lost our do bigha zameen ,” he says, describing the 20{+t}{+h}century as a violent and disturbing one.

Dr. Sen, who has always described malnutrition as a part of structured violence, drew attention to the alarmingly low body mass index of not just children but also adults in India. Of that malnourished population, half belong to the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. Also citing the high maternal mortality rate, he said the country was in “a state of chronic famine.”

“Inequity does not happen on its own accord but it's made to happen and impunity emboldens the case of perpetrators of inequity,” he points out.

Calling the government's Food Security Bill an impending disaster, Dr. Sen said, “Resistance is the only strategy of the victims of countrywide displacement, because of loss of access to the common property and resources.”

He asserted that unless the poor were provided with their fundamental rights to food, education and health care, society was headed toward apocalypse. “Not just the media but all conscientious citizens should concentrate on the real issues of survival,” was his message.

He ended his speech quoting Bimal Roy, “Real progress depends entirely on achieving the basic rights of man.”

We are all Sujata's children and have lost our do bigha zameen

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