Merry Christmas Dr. Binayak Sen
The news that Dr. Binayak Sen had been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition came as a rude shock to me today morning. The shock quickly gave way to a sense of irony as I pondered the significance of the timing (unintended of course) of the judgment. For today, the world commemorates the supposed birth of one the most celebrated seditionists in history – Jesus Christ.
My faith in reason does not allow me to believe in the ‘immaculate conception’ or the ‘son of god’ thesis. Nevertheless, I do think that Christ was an amazing personality in his age. The various churches that focus more on the text than the message of the Bible might want to portray him as a serious prophet of an organized faith – for that would then justify their own bureaucratic functioning. But Christ was a man who attended more parties than religious sermons. Who was the ‘king of kings’ who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Who said that the poor shall inherit paradise and that the rich have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whose greatest message was to love and serve the poor.
Love and serve the poor. That is the crime Dr. Binayak Sen is guilty of. The place of his work is what we, the comfortably settled urban middle class, would call hell. Dirt, disease, starvation and poverty filled districts of Chhattisgarh. The wretched place cries, it shrieks for attention. And as an individual, Dr. Sen dedicated the best part of his life giving precisely that. Attention and care. Indeed, like Christ, Dr. Sen was a healer. Literally.
I have attended a few meetings in Delhi where Dr. Sen has spoken. If one identifies a person’s political ideology on the basis of what he speaks in public, I would say that Dr. Sen is definitely not a Marxist-Leninist. He is closer to Gandhi than to Marx. But it appears that the only ‘Gandhism’ that the Indian state allows is Rahul Gandhism. Even the communal cousin gets his space in democracy. Those Gandhians, who through some interpretation of the ideas of the original thinker try to make some positive difference in the lives of the masses, find themselves in the line of fire however. The state unhesitatingly clubs them with the ‘Ghandyians’. This sort of paranoia towards anyone who questions the state and its (mal)functions is hardly the sign of democracy, rather, it is a manifestation of the despotic undercurrents that plagues this system.
So there you have Indian democracy. Gun down suspected criminals in encounters and you are a local star. Kill civilians in Manipur or Kashmir and you are a war hero. Exhort people to butcher Muslims on the basis of an imagined community and you are a patriot. Even if the ‘secular’, ‘humanitarian’ elements in the polity would disagree to these statements, I doubt it if anyone would dare even suggest slapping sedition charges against a Togadiya or a Thackeray. But work for the poor and/or question why they are so and voila! Section 124a.
Maybe Sen’s life term is another crucifixion. Maybe this is the rebirth of Christ, as those who sacrifice their lives for the oppressed. Maybe this is the Kingdom of Heaven, the heart of the brave and the compassionate. Maybe like Christ who died then for the sins of humanity, such people do for ours now – the sins of inaction and silence. Maybe they are executing Christ’s message after all: “Greater Love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his fellows.”
Merry Christmas to all.
(I wrote this yesterday)