The wife of doctor Binayak Sen, who has been held in an Indian prison for more than a year, told about 40 people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that her husband still needs the support of the international community. Ilina Sen spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on June 3 explaining the situation in Chhattisgarh, a state in central India, and the circumstances leading to her husband’s arrest.
The government of Chhattisgarh tricked villagers into giving away their lands to international companies that are building mines to extract bauxite and diamonds in the region, Mrs. Sen said. The villagers were then forcibly relocated to camps that have no water or sanitation, where women sometimes had to resort to selling their bodies because no other work was available, she said.
“In village after village people refused to give consent to land acquisition and in village after village consent was manufactured,” Mrs. Sen said. “In one village, [the government] tore out pages that said ‘no’ and replaced them with new pages that said ‘yes.’ People were forced at gunpoint to put their thumbprints.”
Dr. Sen, a pediatrician who had helped Indian laborers build their own hospital where no one would be denied healthcare, was arrested in May of 2007 and accused of smuggling his letters to Maoist leaders to help them continue their revolt against the government, Sen said. Dr. Sen has previously spoken out against the private militia that the Chhattisgarh government supplied with arms and money and wrote a report entitled “When the State Makes War on Its Own People.”
Mrs. Sen traveled to America this spring to receive the Jonathan Mann award on behalf of her husband. The award for health and human rights is given in honor of the first director general of the World Health Organization, who died in an airplane crush. Mrs. Sen said she was touched by the 700 people in Washington, D.C. who attended the award ceremony, but she did not accept the money that came with the recognition.
“I asked them to hold on to that until we decide where this money can best be used,” she said, estimating that it was several thousand dollars. “Since the award is for health and human rights we’d like to use that mandate in India,” she said.
About 40 people attended Ilina Sen’s lecture at MIT, including Dr. Sen’s former classmates from the Christian Medical College in India and alumni from the school who are currently employed at Boston-area hospitals – as well as members of local organizations “Secular and Democratic South Asia,” “Association for India’s Development” and “South Asians Stepping in Solidarity.”
A group of protesters called for Dr. Sen’s release in Harvard Square on May 13 — the one-year anniversary of his imprisonment.