A Political Prisoner


Twenty-five years ago, when Dr. Binayak Sen and his wife Ilina moved to the remote Adivasi area of what is now the state of Chhattisgarh in central India, they never imagined the situation they would find themselves in today. “It was love at first sight for me,” Dr. Ilina Sen remembers. “I was attracted by the culture and the women. They are strong women there. But their way of life is being destroyed.”

So is her husband’s. For over a year, this pediatrician, who has spent his entire career serving the poorest of the poor in Chhattisgarh, has been imprisoned for alleged ties with Maoist rebels. Binayak Sen denies the charges, and human-rights activists in India and around the world support his cause. Recently, twenty-two Nobel laureates sent an open letter to the government of India demanding his immediate release. Demonstrations were held all over India on May 13, the first anniversary of his arrest. So far, however, the government isn’t budging. According to activists here in India, it’s not likely to any time soon. “The government is sending us all a message,” says Aruna Roy, a well-known activist and the winner of the Magsaysay Award (the Asian Nobel Prize). “This is what happens if you raise your voice about human rights.”

The issue of the Maoist rebels, called Naxalites in India, is complex and disturbing. Activists like Sen reject the rebels’ violent tactics, but the authorities accuse them of...

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About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.