The Future of DFID's Programme in India - International Development Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Release Binayak Sen Now Campaign (UK)


1.1  This submission emphasizes that DFID must not play a mere passive role in the giving of aid but also ensure that its aid is used in the most effective manner so as to help in attaining the millennium development goals and maintenance of the rule of law. This submission is important for the DFID as we focus on the link between protecting human rights and promoting sustainable development, as a truly democratic environment and access to basic human rights of people are the minimum requirements for the kind of sustainable development the DFID would wish to and indeed need support.

1.2  This submission highlights importance of DFID aid to India for tribal rights and human rights violations in Central India and the manner in which DFID can and ought to intervene in the welfare of victims of human rights violations in that region and prevent the persecution of activists working for such causes. On a rather specific note, this submission highlights the manner in which DFID ought to intervene in the case of renowned doctor and human rights defender, Dr Binayak Sen, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for "Sedition" by a Sessions court in Chhattisgarh on 24 December 2010 despite the absence of any substantive evidence of wrong-doing.

1.3  The submission describes the condition of human rights and the persecution suffered by human rights activists in many parts of India. The submission has been drafted by the "Release Binayak Sen Now Campaign UK", which is a civil society campaign group consisting of academics, doctors, lawyers, students, workers and other individuals from around the UK. The "Release Binayak Sen Campaign UK" is supported by a number of organizations including Amnesty International. Sources of information for this submission are almost entirely in the public domain. Some additional sources include the work and research carried out by campaign members in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh and reports produced by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

1.4  In brief, we first argue that considering that DFID gives more than £110 million to aid programs for tribal welfare in conflict regions in central India, it must not choose to ignore the human rights violations occurring on innocent tribal populations as a result of the conflict. Second, if the Millennium Development Goals must be achieved through the giving of DFID aid, this must also involve monitoring the effective implementation of the rule of law and the prevention of human rights violations in Central India through the giving of aid. Third, the DFID must also play a role in preventing the blatant persecution of human rights activists in the region. Such persecution is best indicated by the manner in which the Government has charged Dr Binayak Sen in clear violation of due process and constitutional tenets. The later part of this report seeks to present evidence of the character and integrity of Dr Binayak Sen and suggest that when evidence of his innocence is clearly imputable and that the international community is openly coming out in support of him; DFID must not stand in ignorance of the issue and in light of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, come out in support of him and ask for the immediate release of such person.

1.5  Section 2: Outlines the issue at hand and the manner in which the DFID can justify its intervention in the cases of human rights violations in Central India.

Section 3: A summary of some of the remarkable work carried out by Dr Binayak Sen over a period of 30 years in the field of health, welfare, subsistence and other development areas in some of the poorest parts of India.

Section 4: A description of the political persecution Dr Sen has been subjected to since 2007. We also describe the worldwide condemnation of his persecution and the ever-increasing support for Dr Sen which includes the support of 40 Nobel Laureates in February 2011.

Section 5: A summary of the issues which the DFID need consider both in respect of the human rights situation in parts of India, and of Dr Sen's persecution. We also outline our recommendations on the DFID's role in the protection of human rights which we believe is a fundamental necessity for supporting real and actual development.


2.1  Globalisation is greatly increasing the divide between urban and rural India while at the same time creating a climate in which a high priority is given to the development and the growth of the economy as a whole. However the picture has been marred in the past few years by human rights violations to populations occurring as fallout of the development program. DFID rightly recognized this tension and has sought to achieve a development policy in harmony with human rights practices. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seek to achieve this aim.

2.2  While various groups have presented different perspectives on this tension, we would like to address the issue of human rights violations on tribal populations in Central India and the persecution of activists who seek to work for the welfare of such people.

2.3  Since 2007, the DFID has been actively involved in the development of rural and tribal regions in central India. More than £110 million pounds have been sanctioned for the development and protection of tribal communities in these regions. The situation however, is far worse than it has been represented in earlier reports.

2.4  Much of the following relates to Chhattisgarh and while we note that DFID's assistance to tribal regions has mainly been to projects in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal, we would argue that the problems of development in the tribal belt need to be considered as a whole. The state borders do not neatly coincide with ethnic or linguistic divisions and although the political history of each state is distinct there are common themes, one of which is the economic marginalization of tribal populations and their neglect by and alienation from the state. Related to this is the fact that armed insurgents attached to the CPI (M) operate in parts of all the states in the tribal belt and frequently cross borders. The different states have adopted slightly different legal and policing strategies but in all there appears to be an increasing tendency to try to suppress the insurgency by force despite evidence that people in the affected areas have genuine and serious political and economic grievances which police action is aggravating. In Chhattisgarh large numbers of people have been displaced, and many fled across state borders.

2.5  The tendency which particularly concerns us in Chhattisgarh but which we think is common to several of the adjacent states is the extent to which Maoist insurgency is being used as an excuse for neglect, oppression and rights violations across the state and in some cases linked to the clearances of population to make way for mining and processing. In Chhattisgarh, the year 2005 witnessed the creation in the Bastar region of a state-sponsored militia named "Salwa Judum" that together with the state police and security forces began to engage the Maoist insurgent forces in quasi military clashes. The most controversial aspect of these operations was the harassment and displacement of civilian tribal populations. In 2006, Human Rights Watch reported that in just the two districts of Dantewada and Bijapur in the state of Chhattisgarh, there were more than 45,958 tribal[32] people displaced as a result of the conflict and given the status of "Internally Displaced People" (IDP). Reports also indicate that in the initial years of the conflict, more than 5,000 people lost their lives, 230 villages were burnt and thousands of innocent tribal people were missing. All this testifies to the condition of an "armed conflict" triggering the protection of the Geneva Conventions in international law.

2.6   The now discredited "Salwa Judum" was formed shortly after the state election in which the BJP toppled the former Congress Government but one of the principle advocates for the militia was the Congress politician, Mahendra Karma, and the industrial and business elite of the state, irrespective of party affiliation, largely supported the development. Official rhetoric represents "Salwa Judum" as a "response" to the Maoists and in particular to an escalation of the insurgency. Yet evidence for an escalation prior to 2005 is limited and it is certainly the case that well before the creation of Chhattisgarh State Maoists had a presence in some peripheral forest areas and had made parts of the Bastar region "no go" areas for the police. It is important to bear in mind that both before and after 2005 the Maoist presence has been limited to sections of the State's most thinly populated areas. The government counts as affected 10 and of 18 districts but in most of these the towns and densely populated rural areas are unaffected. So, it is clear that the vast majority of the population including some in tribal villages are untouched. The point here is to suggest that the authorities exaggerate the extent and the significance of the insurgency and that it is disingenuous to blame it for the generally poor standard of public services and civil rights. There is no reason why the presence of a few armed guerrillas in a Bastar forest should prevent the government educating children in a Raipur slum.

2.7  Intense criticism of "Salwa Judum" by national and international organisations has apparently had some modest influence in so far as the Chief Minister, Raman Singh, announced in February 2011 that the militia under that name was abolished. Currently the official position appears to be that it was an experiment which failed. This development is too recent to tell whether it signals a retreat from the use of force in Bastar but so far this seems unlikely. Reports of violence by SPOs continue[33] and an organisation very like "Salwa Judum", the "Danteshwari Adivasi Swabhiman Manch", is still operative. There is certainly no evidence of a softening towards local critics of "Salwa Judum" and it is notable that the conviction of Dr Binayak Sen in a local court, in the circumstances described below, took place only a month before the announcement that "Salwa Judum" was disbanded.

2.8  The negative fallout of the anti Maoist campaign does not only affect tribal communities. People and solidarity groups that are involved in the protection and welfare of tribal populations are being persecuted. An obvious example in Chhattisgarh is the destruction of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, in Dantewada, a Gandhian NGO which had been working with tribal communities in Dantewada for 17 years and since 2006 had been helping some of the victims of "Salwa Judum".[34] Medecines Sans Frontiers and the Red Cross have also had their activities in Chhattisgarh curtailed after accusations, denied by those organizations, that they had helped people linked with the Maoists[35] Journalists are being harassed if their reports displease the security forces or state supported militias, as in the recent case of death threats made against journalists by Danteshwari Adivasi Swabhiman Manch[36] Moreover, although the Maoist affected areas bear the brunt of the anti Maoist campaign some measures threaten civil liberties throughout the relevant states. Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, for example, removes many safeguards against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and, by defining as an offence almost any contact, inadvertent or not, with members of the CPI (M), it effectively criminalises large sections of the population who live in areas where some contact is inevitable.

2.9  The pattern of repression has extremely serious implications for development because it creates a climate of fear which deters anyone from speaking out against the numerous scams which are known to subvert development initiatives. A recent study of a Jharkand village,[37] for example, details a pattern of complicity between village elites and local administrators which perpetuates the marginalisation of the tribal poor who fail to claim their right to services or their share of development funds. While it is naïve to assume that social activists and journalists generally work for greater transparency or civic probity it is certain that the campaign of arrests, harassment and threats documented in Chhattisgarh reduces the likelihood of any attempting to do so. It is notable that Binayak and Ilina Sen and Himanshu Kumar, the founder of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, stood out among social activists for their critical and independent thinking.

2.10  Insofar as DFID's programs are targeted at the development of the tribal populations in Central India, DFID needs to monitor direct and indirect effects of human rights violations in the regions. DFID programs also have the ability to prevent or at least reduce human rights abuses. It is widely recognized that the giving of aid may not just directly contribute to development and improvement of quality of life of human rights victims but also has an indirect ability to exert pressure on groups and government to prevent further human rights abuses.

2.11  The Millennium Development Goals have a common aim of making globalization fully inclusive and equitable so that it may benefit all peoples. Along with having aims of reducing poverty, hunger, democracy and good governance, the Millennium Declaration also enjoins nations to take measures to prevent human rights abuses wherever possible. Aid programs can also be used to achieve such purposes.

2.12  The tribal regions of central India are perhaps the most mineral rich areas in the world. Nevertheless, Government of India Planning Commission statistics[38] show that they are among the poorest regions in the country. Some observers have linked the deteriorating human rights situation with increasing pressures from industry to exploit mineral resources, a suspicion which colours the controversy surrounding the UK based Vedanta group and its activities in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Certainly, the violence in the region coincides with a rapid increase in forest land being taken for extraction or industry[39] DFID needs to be alert to the possible connection between development and oppression in the region and should ensure that its own policies and aid are directed towards the protection of and prevention of exploitation of the tribal populations.

2.13  Along with emphasising the importance of aid for the development of such regions, it is our submission that DFID must also play a role in monitoring human rights situations in Central India and prevent the arbitrary persecution of journalists, organisations and individuals working in the region. Considering the amount of aid being given to the development of populations in the region, DFID cannot and must not play a passive role and tolerate such abuses.


3.1  DFID sees the Millennium Development Goals in health as critical milestones in its aim of helping maximise and sustain high levels of growth in India because high growth levels require an educated, healthy and diverse workforce. To further these objectives DFID has worked with national and state partners to catalyze systemic change in primary education, maternal mortality, infant health, water and sanitation and malnutrition. Significantly, as we discuss below Binayak Sen's work and contributions are exactly to these areas.

3.2  In addition as the share of DFID's total India aid framework going to health has increased from 27% in 2005-06 to an estimated 44% in 2009-10. DFID has moved from disease-specific projects to supporting national programmes on Reproductive and Child Health and tuberculosis, which set policy directions and are targeted at the poorest states. Dr Sen's work too targeted reproductive health and Tuberculosis and helped to introduce new policies.

3.3  Introduction to Dr Binayak Sen

Dr Binayak Sen is a pediatrician, public health specialist and a promoter of sustainable development. Dr Sen and his wife, Dr Ilina Sen (Head of Department, Gender and Women's Studies, Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, Wardha, Maharashtra state, India) are the founders of Rupantar, a community-based non-governmental organisation that, through trained female community health activists, focused on tuberculosis and malaria, activities to counter alcohol abuse and violence against women, and promotion of food security. This programme also focused on the idea of health as a human right and of developing that consciousness in the community through the activists.

3.4  A distinguished academic career

In 1972, Dr Sen graduated in Medicine from the Christian Medical College (CMC), a prestigious teaching hospital of national and international repute, a number of whose alumni hold senior positions in the NHS and research centres in the UK. Dr Sen went on to specialise in pediatrics at the CMC exploring hunger, malnutrition, poverty, morbidity and mortality in his thesis "Marasmus and Malnutrition in Children".

After teaching at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi between 1976 and 1978, he joined a rural community health project supported by the Quakers at the Friends Rural Centre in Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh state focusing on the problems of tuberculosis.

3.5  Contributions in medicine and public health

From the early 1980s on, Dr Sen and his wife have worked in the Chhattisgarh region closely associated with government health programmes.

In 1981, Dr Sen joined a clinic for workers in iron mines run by their trade union[40] and helped develop it into a hospital (which now provides low-cost, general and specialised medical and surgical care for the poor and is funded entirely by mineworkers). He remained associated with the hospital in an advisory position.

Alcoholism was a serious problem in this community, caused by long hours in the mines. Dr Sen and his co workers resolved this by training women to take financial responsibility for their families and empowering men and women to be responsible for their health and civic needs. Dr Sen eventually left the hospital and set up similar campaigns elsewhere. . Between 1988 and 1992, he worked at a Mission Hospital in the region in pediatrics and community health.

3.6  Contributions to community development

In 1994, Dr Sen and his wife set up a voluntary organisation, Rupantar,[41] which worked amongst marginalised communities practicing health in the fullest sense. The work (severely affected since his arrest) involved training health workers, addressing illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis which are highly prevalent in the area, raising health awareness, providing primary education, organising literacy camps, promoting organic farming (particularly of indigenous varieties of rice) and setting up grain banks for food security. In addition to the work at Rupantar, the Sens also remained associated with community development initiatives in Chhattisgarh and the local government recognized the value of their work.

3.7  Working closely with the government

Both Dr Binayak Sen and his wife have contributed enormously to the state health and education programmes. For example, Dr Sen was engaged in monitoring health and nutrition status in Chhattisgarh and was closely associated with the State Health Resource Centre at Raipur, Chhattisgarh. He became a member of the Advisory Committee set up by the Chhattisgarh government to pilot, Mitanin, a community-based women health worker scheme, partly based on the model of community health activists that the Sens had initiated through Rupantar. He also helped to draw up a list of essential drugs for the State Health Department and established guidelines for standard treatment as part of the rational use of drugs. Rupantar took the lead role in implementing the Mitanin training programme that was later adopted by the Accredited Social Health Activist initiative, a key component of the National Rural Health Mission of the Indian Government preparing a volunteer force of 60,000 women community healthcare workers. Dr Sen was a member of the State Advisory Committee which conceptualized and set up operational guidelines of this programme which was described by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Yogi as "an ambitious innovative programme launched by the Government of Chhattisgarh with the active partnership of civil society and with the financial support of the European Union.[42]

3.8  An advocate of universal health coverage

In January this year, The Lancet published a series of articles examining the state of India' health care provision in this period of its fast economic growth. The series, India: Towards Universal Health Coverage, included a contribution from Dr Sen, titled "Securing the right to health for all in India". He wrote, "The health status of people transcends the health-care sector, and the social determinants of health, such as food, water, sewerage, and shelter, still elude large numbers of the poorest citizens of India". In this context the recently prepared National Health Bill (2009), addresses, for the first time, questions of equitable entitlements to essential health facilities, goods, drugs, services, and conditions for all, especially marginalised and vulnerable people. The Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the Indian chapter of the People's Health Movement (see 3.7 below) had a major role in lobbying for and preparing the grounds for the draft bill. Unfortunately, Dr Sen was unable to attend the launch of the Lancet series or participate in the panel discussion in London because of his imprisonment.

3.9 To help health professionals understand the challenges of health care in marginalised communities, CMC, Vellore asked Dr Sen to develop a pioneering course, "Social determinants of health and the effects of inequities in health care", for its undergraduate curriculum for medical students.[43] Unfortunately the work too remains unfinished because of his imprisonment.

3.10  Dr Sen represented the National Alliance of People's movements on the National Council of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and took part in the People's Health Assembly in Dhaka in this capacity. He was the General Secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) unit of Chhattisgarh which investigated the extent of poverty (for example, starvation deaths) in the districts of Dantewada and Bastar and recommended measures for avoiding such deaths in the future. He was also Vice President of the National PUCL.

Dr Sen also spoke out against the violation of fundamental human rights such as the Right to Health and the Right to Food, eloquently summarising these concerns in an address, Hunger, Dispossession and the Quest for Justice, to the Asian College of Journalism on 3 May 2010.[44] An excerpt from the lecture is given below:

"Most people think that genocide has to do only with large scale direct killing, but the declaration of the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, which was issued on 9 December 1948, one day before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, tells us clearly that in addition to killing, the creation of "physically and mentally hazardous conditions which could put the survival of particular communities at risk" would also come within the ambit of genocide. Evidence that what is happening in central India is tantamount to genocide on a massive scale stares us in the face. What is shocking is the inability of large sections of our leadership to read the writing on the wall……. In a country where 33% of the adult population have a BMI below 18.5, and which also has 1/6 of the world's population and 1/3 of the total global burden of tuberculosis, one would think that the bidirectional association between malnutrition and tuberculosis would be the focus of intense study. This is not the case. India is the single largest contributor to the global burden of morbidity, mortality and drug resistance in tuberculosis. An estimated 8.5 million Indians suffer from tuberculosis. There is an annual incidence of 87,000 cases of multidrug resistant tuberculosis ,and an estimated annual mortality of 370,000 persons.…..[with] Certain groups like scheduled tribes and women [experiencing] life threatening levels of under-nutrition…this is a stark illustration of the adverse synergy of the epidemics of under nutrition and tuberculosis…. The need to address the nutritional needs of poor patients with tuberculosis is an urgent imperative on scientific, ethical and humanitarian grounds."

3.11  As a civil rights activist

Dr Sen's work was initially concerned with investigating and intervening in cases of torture, deaths and rape in police custody. The victims were invariably poor adivasis. By 2004, Dr Sen raised his concerns over the worsening human rights situation in Chhattisgarh with a growing number of custodial deaths, fake "encounter" killings and state violence against civilians. In particular, he was alarmed by the meteoric rise of deadly armed militia groups, such as the Salwa Judum, which involved the state training and arming civilians, allegedly to "combat Maoists". As a first-hand witness of the atrocities committed by these armed militias, he was deeply concerned by the condition of the poor in this anarchic civil war and as a doctor he was grieved by the impact of forced displacement on the health of the poor. He appealed to the human rights community to intervene and stop the violence. A 14 member team from five organisations then carried out an investigation in Dantewada to document the killings by the state-backed Salwa Judum and the Maoists. The record of deaths, interviews with the local people and other findings of this investigation was compiled in the PUCL report—"When the State makes war on its own people."[45]

We would recommend that DFID examine this and other reports on the human rights situation in India since it is highly relevant to DFID's concerns with health and human rights and also would help understand why Dr Sen has been subject to political persecution since 2007.

3.12  Awards and Commendations

Paul Harrison Award—awarded by Christian Medical College Vellore on 25 October 2004

"Dr Binayak Sen ... has carried his dedication to truth and service to the frontline of the battle. He has broken the mould, redefined the possible role of the doctor in a broken and unjust society, holding the cause much more precious than personal safety"

R R Keithan Gold Medal—awarded by The Indian Academy of Social Sciences on 29 December 2007

"The Academy recognizes the resonance between the work of Dr Binayak Sen in all its aspects with the values promoted by the Father of the Nation."

The Jonathan Mann Award—Awarded by the Global Health Council for global health and human rights on 21 April 2008

"Dr Sen's accomplishments speak volumes about what can be achieved in very poor areas when health practitioners are also committed community leaders' He staffed a hospital created by and funded by impoverished mine workers, and he has spent his lifetime educating people about health practices and civil liberties - providing information that has saved lives and improved conditions for thousands of people. His good works need to be recognized as a major contribution to India and to global health; He is certainly not a threat to State security." —Dr Nils Daulaire, President of The Global Health council.

3.13  Binayak Sen and the Social Determinants of Health in the context of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5:

  • (a)  The Alma Ata Declaration 1978 recognized the social determinants of health and gave a central place to the importance of equity in health so that no one should be disadvantaged from achieving their potential for: "the highest standard of health" because of their social position. Disparities in health and health inequities stand in the way of India's commitment to reduce child mortality by two-thirds (MDG 4) and maternal mortality by three-quarters (MDG 5) by 2015. Data on the health status of Adivasis in India have highlighted the extreme health disparities in this group of vulnerable people. The maternal mortality rates (Chhattisgarh's (including Madhya Pradesh) MMR at 335—SRS 04-06) is above the national average of 254. The IMR (SRS 2007) is at 57 (SRS 2007). India still carries a disproportionate amount of the burden as it accounts for 21% of the under-five children dying in the world. Dr Binayak Sen, as a scientist and public health physician, recognized this in the studies that the Rupantar organization did in the villages in which they worked.
  • (b)  Action on the social determinants of health is necessary to reduce child mortality by two-thirds (MDG 4) and maternal mortality by three-quarters (MDG 5) by 2015. In the last 200 years, increases in life expectancy owe much to clean water, safe housing, healthier food and education, social and health services. Meaningful work and the ability to earn a livelihood free of exploitation have played a crucial role in ensuring people's health.
  • (c)  To Binayak Sen, like Virchow before him, the bodies of his patients told the story of generations of inequity. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), based on Amartya Sen's capability approach developed and applied by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) corroborates these findings in their assesses a range of critical factors or "deprivations" at the household level: from education to health outcomes to assets and services. There are more MPI poor people in eight Indian states alone (421 million in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal) than in the 26 poorest African countries combined (410 million). They found that the India's Scheduled Tribes have the highest MPI (0.482), almost the same as Mozambique, and a headcount (the percentage of people who are MPI poor) of 81%. This is the reality that Binayak Sen chose to see, and then to highlight, and to intervene to make health a reality for the most vulnerable.
  • (d)  As a public health physician cognizant of the fact that social inequities in health are systematic differences in health status between socioeconomic groups, as measured by income, education and occupation. These inequities in health are both unfair and avoidable, as they are caused by unhealthy public policies and lifestyles influenced by structural factors (Whitehead & Dahlgren, 2006). They also contradict the basic human rights principle that everyone has "the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health" (Kälin et al, 2004).
  • (e)  Binayak Sen steadily highlighted and then tried to implement strategies to increase equitable access to health—making health care affordable, accessible and available to the most vulnerable people, based on health equity and the principles of primary health care that had been so successfully used in the famous Jamkhed model in India and on a larger scale among communities in Brazil.
  • (f)  In the face of the swamp of disparities, as a socially committed health worker Binayak Sen also tried to work on the wider social determinants of health, in the context of Chhattisgarh such as access to food and the right to life.

3.14  In view of the description of Dr Sen's work and its broader context, we request the DFID to review Dr Sen's work and achievements with a view to understand his significant contribution to India's development, the reasons for his political persecution and the possible repercussions of his persecution for sustainable development in India.


4.1  On 14 May 2007 Dr Binayak Sen was arrested after he had voluntarily visited a police station in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh to quell the rumors he had heard about police allegations being made against him. The case against him was based on the allegations that he was acting as a courier on behalf of Narayan Sanyal, a 79 year old Maoist ideologue and political prisoner, who Dr Sen had been treating for his medical condition whilst in prison. This fabrication of the Prosecution relates to Sen's prison visits to Sanyal in a Raipur jail, after a request was made by Sanyal's family for Sen to visit him following concerns of his welfare and health. (Dr Sen had been concerned with the rights of prisoners in his capacity as a Human Rights worker). Sen facilitated Sanyal's surgery and kept his family informed about the process.

"During this period there was considerable correspondence between the prisoner's family, jail administration and medical authorities, of which copies were marked to me."

A Statement by Dr Binayak Sen[46]

Dr Sen was accused of having passed letters onto one Piyush Guha, who was then supposed to have passed them on to a Maoist group. This was defined by the Prosecution as a "chain of conspiracy". The fact remains that Dr Sen has ever meet or had even heard of Piyush Guha. The entire incidents were total fabrications used to accuse Dr Sen of Maoist sympathies and Sedition. (Dr Sen has never been a Maoist sympathizer and has in the past spoken out publicly against both their and the Salwa Judum acts of violence).

4.2  Following his arrest, Dr Sen was incarcerated for over two years without bail. He was finally granted seven months bail in 2009 after his health condition deteriorated. This followed several refusal by prison authorities for Dr Sen to be allowed to visit a hospital of his choice (as is lndian law). On 24 December 2010 a Sessions Court in Chhattisgarh sentenced Dr Sen to life imprisonment. On 9 February 2011 the High Court of Chhattisgarh refused to grant him bail. The case has now been referred to the Supreme Court of India.

4.3  The legal counsel for Dr Sen has highlighted major flaws and fabrications in the politically motivated case against him. The arguments of the defense include the following:

  • The Case against him is based on circumstantial evidence.
  • There can be no conviction on suspicion, surmises, or conjectures.
  • No presumptions can be raised against an accused unless it is permitted by Law.
  • Inadmissible evidence.
  • Inadmissible confessions by a third party.
  • The evidence of the jail officials is that no letters could have been passed to Dr Sen by Sanyal during the interviews.
  • Important omissions of statements.

4.4  The facts: Full permission was obtained from the police authorities for all of Dr Sen's visits to Narayan Sanyal. All visits were under the strict supervision of prison guards who later refused to testify against Sen of any suspicious or in-appropriate behavior during these prison visits.

4.5  Sen suffers from a heart condition and his health condition deteriorated significantly in prison. Sen has also been forbidden to treat his numerous inmates suffering from TB without any medical care. (For a doctor of his humanitarian nature, not being allowed to treat fellow prisoners for a disease that is easily curable is tantamount to a form of torture).

4.6  While in jail in December 2007, Dr Sen was awarded the RR Keithan Gold Medal for his Gandhian services to humanity by the Indian Academy of Social Sciences. The citation begins: "Dr Binayak Sen's work offers fresh and radical interpretation of Gandhiji's core concerns and his present predicament is a challenge to all who profess and practice similar ideals."

4.7  This perspective was reflected by Nobel Laureate Prof Amartya Sen: (8 January 2011 in The Times of lndia)… that the life sentence given to the doctor-activist looked like a "miscarriage of justice".

A. Sen also hoped that the judgment convicting Binayak, will not "survive the challenge made to the higher courts of the country." A. Sen was addressing the book launch of: "A Doctor to Defend—the Story of Binayak Sen" written by journalist and documentary filmmaker Minnie Vaid. He referred to the "exemplary" work Dr Sen did to reach healthcare to people in rural Chhattisgarh and said "the judgment also raises some questions about India's democracy, legal framework and Indian engagement with issues of equity." "As Indian citizens, we have right to pose questionslike how some petty thinking became so dominant in the Indian legal system. In a democracy, we have no obligation to air only patriotic sentiments. If some people don't understand it...this is about the foundation of democracy."

To a question whether this judgment would discourage physicians who want to work in remote rural areas, he replied:

"It can be a discouragement if it survives the challenge made to higher courts."

A social worker Abdul Jabbar reflected this view by saying: "If Binayak Sen, who has worked in remote areas of the country and fought for the causes of downtrodden, can get convicted it means no activist is safe in the present situation. We should fight till he gets justice".

A crucial point raised: The effect of Dr Sen's persecution on the willingness of present and future physicians, development workers and human rights activists to work in remote rural areas of lndia is an extremely significant issue which the DFID should give serious consideration to and assess.

4.8  On 9 February 2011, a group of 40 Nobel Laureates[47] from 12 countries made the following statement demanding the immediate release of Dr Sen. The statement reads:

"We, the undersigned Nobel Laureates, respectfully express our astonishment and dismay at the unjust life sentence handed down last month in India to a fellow scientist and human rights advocate, 61-year-old Dr Binayak Sen. We note that, when Dr Sen was on trial in 2008 and many of us appealed for his release on bail, a year later the Supreme Court of India concurred with our opinion and ordered his immediate release. Several months after voicing our concern about Dr Sen's detention, one of us traveled to Chhattisgarh; met government officials; consulted Dr Sen's family, lawyers, and colleagues; visited his remote clinic to learn more about his selfless work with the Adivasis; and, after a few days and many hours spent waiting in the Raipur prison yard, finally met with Dr Sen himself in the presence of the prison warden. We have seen that Dr Sen is an exceptional, courageous, and selfless colleague, dedicated to helping those in India who are least able to help themselves. Yet his recompense has been two years in prison under difficult conditions, a blatantly unfair trial lasting two years in the so-called "Fast Track" Sessions Court, an unjust conviction of sedition and conspiracy, and condemnation to life imprisonment. We earnestly hope that our renewed appeal is heard. We know that there are leaders in India who have the power, humanity, patriotism, and decency to speak out against this injustice. We entreat those leaders to act now, to urge Dr Sen's immediate release on bail, and insist that this time his appeal is heard without delay under the highest standards of Indian law. Surely, those who would see the largest democracy in the world survive and thrive can do no less at this crucial time for both Dr Sen and for the future of justice in India." The signatories were Peter Agre, (Chemistry 2003), Kenneth J Arrow, (Economic Sciences 1972), Richard Axel, (Medicine 2004), David Baltimore, (Physiology or Medicine 1975), Martin Chalfie (Chemistry 2008), Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Physics 1997), Robert Curl (Chemistry 1996), Johann Deisenhofer (Chemistry 1988), Richard R Ernst (Chemistry 1991), Edmond H Fischer (Physiology or Medicine 1992), Walter Gilbert (Chemistry 1980), Roy J Glauber (Physics 2005), Paul Greengard (Physiology or Medicine 2000), David J Gross (Physics 2004), Roger Guillemin (Physiology or Medicine 1977), Dudley Herschbach (Chemistry 1986), Antony Hewish (Physics 1974), H Robert Horvitz (Physiology or Medicine 2002), François Jacob (Physiology or Medicine 1965), Daniel Kahneman (Economic Sciences 2002), Eric R Kandel (Physiology or Medicine 2000), Lawrence R Klein (Economic Sciences 1980), Roger D Kornberg (Chemistry 2006), Sir Harold W Kroto (Chemistry 1996), Finn E Kydland (Economic Sciences 2004), Yuan T Lee (Chemistry 1986), Rita Levi-Montalcini (Physiology or Medicine 1986), Roderick MacKinnon (Chemistry 2003), Sir James Mirrlees (Economic Sciences 1996), Joseph E Murray (Physiology or Medicine 1990), Douglas D Osheroff (Physics, 1996), John C Polanyi (Chemistry 1986), V Ramakrishnan (Chemistry 2009), Sir Richard Roberts (Physiology or Medicine 1993), Jens C Skou (Chemistry 1998), Jack Steinberger (Physics 1988), Sir John Sulston (Physiology or Medicine 2002), Charles H Townes (Physics 1964), Klaus von Klitzing (Physics 1985), Torsten N Wiesel (Physiology or Medicine 1981). We request the DFID to review the statement made by these 40 Nobel Laureates to understand the reasons why the British Government should proactively support this statement and urge for the release of Dr Sen.

4.9  Similarly on 9 May 2008,[48] in a letter to the Indian Prime Minister 22 Nobel Laureates raised concerns that Dr Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights, in contravention of Articles 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—to which India is a state party. Further it says "…he is charged under two internal security laws that do not comport with international human rights standards".

We request the DFID to review the statement made by these 22 Nobel Laureates to understand the reasons why the British Government should proactively support this statement and urge for the release of Dr Sen.

4.10  The Global Health Council[49] expressed its concerns in a statement of support on 21 April 2008 by stating that "the distinguished jury of public health and human rights experts who decide this award each year selected Dr Sen on the basis of his service in poor and tribal communities in India, his effective leadership in establishing self-sustaining health services where none existed and his unwavering commitment to civil liberties and human rights. We also would like to convey our concern and dismay that Dr Sen remains imprisoned, after nearly one year without trial, on allegations that he passed notes from a rebel leader, whom he treated in jail to a person outside the prison." We request the DFID to review the statement made by the Global Health Council to understand the reasons why the British Government should proactively support this statement and urge for the release of Dr Sen.

4.11  The repercussions and larger context of Dr Sen's persecution has been analyzed in a report compiled by nine doctors and a civil rights lawyer/teacher/author who knew Sen personally and possessed an innate understanding of his work. This report includes an appeal to fellow citizens, doctors and health workers to join the Release Binayak Sen Campaign. They wrote: "We believe that it is our duty as doctors and public health workers that we inform ourselves of the developments in the country which are going to have long term impact on the health of our people. ln the context of Binayak Sen's arrest we need to perhaps understand the root cause of the Naxalite movement so that we better understand why the State has tried to frame Dr Sen as being a Naxalite and denied his contribution in the field of public health by calling him a namesake doctor."

4.12  In Dr Sen's absence approx 260 villages in rural Chhattisgarh are being denied attention from their doctor and proper medical care. Consequently many of his patients have died or their health conditions have deteriorated. Others have had to resort to desperate measures to be able to access and afford alternative health services, many clinics being over 40 km from their homes and often having to be reached by foot.

4.13  To date there have been two Early Day Motions (EDM 1615 on 5 June 2007 and EDM 1441 on 6 May 2009) in the UK Parliament in support of Dr Sen (Give number and link). George Freeman MP and Alistair Burt MP have expressed their support for Dr Sen and the leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas MP has written to the Prime Minister of India in support of Dr Sen and demanding his release. In formulating its response the DFID may want to consult the various MPs who have signed these EDMs and supported Dr Sen.

4.14  The worldwide campaign to Release Dr Binayak Sen includes group and individuals throughout India and around the world. Individuals who have come out in support of Dr Sen include Activists, lawyers, doctors, writers, artists, journalists and filmmakers and some politicians and former Supreme Court judges. Other supporters include 55 solidarity groups in the UK, US and Canada, and the global voices of Amnesty lnternational, Human Rights Watch, the Global Health Council and Physicians for Human Rights. Indigenous communities around India have come out in support of Dr Sen and have participated in mass rallies and hunger strikes. Dr Sen had also worked for the Bhopal Gas tragedy victims[50] and a large number of the survivors from the gas disaster have also participated in mass rallies. The political empowerment of indigenous communities through participation in this campaign is something which the DFID should support.

4.15  Within India, critics of Dr Sen's life sentence include senior judges like Justice Rajinder Sachar, who stated "Denial of bail for Binayak Sen is a blot on the Indian judiciary". The former Attorney-General and noted jurist, Soli Sorabjee, said it was the "tone and the tenor" of the ruling that was "worrying". He added that there was "an atmosphere of paranoia."

4.16  The European Union[51] and some of its member-States sent representatives as "observers" during the High Court hearing of Dr Sen's bail application in the Chhattisgarh High Court at Bilaspur. Daniele Smadja, Ambassador, Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to India, said that apart from the EU, individual member-States such as Belgium, Germany, France, Denmark, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Sweden would send their observers for the hearing."There are EU guidelines on human rights defenders. We give utmost attention to cases of individuals involved in the upholding of human rights. We have informed the Indian government of the decision to send observers," she remarked. Ms. Smadja said she was mandated by her colleagues in the EU to take up the matter. The EU observers were not welcomed in some quarters, especially by some politicians from the party that forms the state government of Chhattisgarh.

4.17  Significantly, there is a general feeling of discontent within the state government of Chhattisgarh that the life sentence to Dr Sen is now attracting worldwide attention, thereby exposing the fabricated evidence used against Dr Sen, therefore the unlawful practice of the judicial system.

4.18  Significantly, the case also highlights the wider picture of the State and corporations colluding to create (in 2005) fund and maintain the Salwa Judum; an armed vigilante group used to forcibly clear indigenous Adivasi peoples from their land in order to gain the lands for industrial developments, from both State, lndian and foreign investors.


5.1  The DFID need to continue giving aid for tribal welfare in Central India. Grave human rights violations have occurred in the region and aid will surely help in mitigating the suffering and welfare of such people.

5.2  The DFID need also condemn human rights violations in the region and take decisive measures to prevent the same.

5.3  DFID must intervene in the persecutions of human rights activists working in the region; most notably Dr Binayak Sen. Dr Sen (together with his wife Dr llina Sen), has gained remarkable results from actively working on Development issues as well as proactively lobbying for a Democratic environment and access to basic rights of people; the minimum requirements for sustainable development. Consequently, he has been subjected to growing political persecution since 2007.

5.4  The DFID and the British Government cannot afford to ignore the case of Dr Sen and the cases of other human rights defenders who are currently being subjected to similar persecutions. At a time when the international aid being given to India has not been reduced, there is a risk that ignoring these human rights violations could lead to the British government being seriously criticized for its "narrow vision of development", the continuation of a "colonial mindset" and the refusal to acknowledge the acts of lndian State funded atrocities being carried out alongside projects that are actually funded by DFID resources.

5.5  Dr Sen's case is not simply a legal issue neither an anomalous case of political persecution in Chhattisgarh. It is, rather, an issue that seriously affects the real and sustainable nature of the development of India as a whole. This is due to the case being representative of the alarming condition of human rights violations in Chhattisgarh and other parts of India; the safeguarding of human rights being a fundamental necessity for real and actual development.

5.6  In the immediate short term the DFID should request the Government of India to make an in-depth investigation into the case of Dr Sen. The DFID should convey the concerns and issues raised in this report to support the validity of issues raised.

5.7  In the immediate short term the DFID should urge the Government of India to urgently intervene in the case to secure the immediate, safe and un-conditional release of Dr Sen.

5.8  In the medium to long term the DFID should be willing to fully understand and embrace the human rights issues Dr Sen was engaged with, including the use of armed militia and the effect of forced displacement on the health and development of the displaced communities and especially in the areas the DFID are supporting. By their very nature, these human rights issues are integral to development issues.

5.9  The DFID is in a strategic position to observe and ratify the work of people such Dr Sen, and to offer protection and support when subjected to political persecution. Defending human rights activists and development workers such as Dr Sen is in the interest of sustainable development, indeed it cannot be separated from these issues. The funding of aid to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in India is a high priority of the DFID. This funding relates to the interest of the British taxpayers who support the £280 million annual international aid to India. The British public should not be kept ignorant of the extraordinary achievements of such people as Dr Sen whose past and future works only offer expertise and success to DFID initiatives. Dr Sen's incarceration is not only of a personal loss, but a severe impeachment to the development of the disaffected people in lndia, many of whom the DFID hopes to reach and actually affect.

We appreciate and have welcomed this opportunity to provide written evidence to the UK Parliament's International Development Committee's inquiry into the country's bilateral program, and an assessment of the DFID's programme in India.

30 March 2011

32   Report by the Human Rights Watch titled, Being Neutral is our biggest Crime, available at Note that this data represents only the displaced till June 2006. Two years hence, the numbers have increased substantially if not doubled. Back

33   Chhattisgarh Net Digest Number 2473 21 February 2011. Back

34 , June 6 2009 Back

35   ( 21 January 2011. Back

36, Jan 6th 2011. Back

37   Alpa Shah, In the Shadows of the State, Duke University Press, 2010. Back

38   Planning Commission Report, "Chronic Poverty in Remote Rural Area: Evidence from the Central Tribal Belt of India", 

39 7 March. Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 June 2011