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How do you begin to understand a man like Binayak Sen? For writers, that would be an exercise in empathy and understanding. What makes a man trained in medicine from Christian Medical College, Vellore—where students will have you know that community is king and who are taught to serve the community well—go and spend his life with people both ailing and healthy, but who have fallen off the collective conscience of a nation?
Now, that is a question that is posed by writers like Dilip D’Souza who seek to engage with Sen. But if you are the government of India, you won’t spend time agonising over this. You, as representatives of the people of India, will assume the worst and prefer to have the man incarcerated, preferably for life, especially because he chose to work in Chhattisgarh, a state blighted by Maoism.
D’Souza’s question is troubling, as answers are hard to come by. The book charts Binayak Sen’s story, beginning with his arrest in 2007, when he stood accused by the state and stood charged with sedition—the worst offence a citizen of the country can be charged with—and accused of being a go-between for a jailed Naxalite leader and a businessman, to his eventual release in 2011, when the Supreme Court set him free.
D’Souza dips into news reports to understand Sen, and the book is sprinkled with accounts of Sen’s constant engagement with issues like malnutrition and power. He contrasts this with the image of a doctor which the prosecution, the state, sought to create by questioning Sen’s credentials to be a doctor. The state was trying its best to conclude that Sen was a doctor only in name. In examining the case against Sen, D’Souza is scathing about the evidence that was shored up by the plaintiff to bring the man down. After having spent time in jail, Sen had to be set free—for “appallingly weak evidence”.