a Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge CB2 3RQ, United Kingdom
Available online 14 April 2011.
The health of adivasis’ (Scheduled Tribes or indigenous peoples) is far worse than the general Indian population. Binayak Sen, a renowned Indian public health practitioner, has worked with adivasis in central India for over thirty years. On Christmas Eve 2010 Sen was convicted of involvement with Maoist insurgents and sentenced to life in prison. Sen’s conviction has been condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and medical journals such as The Lancet and the British Medical Journal are campaigning for his release. This short report addresses the apparently vexing question of how such a miscarriage of justice could happen to a well-reputed physician in a country that is widely referred to as ‘the world’s largest democracy’. Both Sen’s conviction and the health crisis among adivasis in central India are symptoms of what Paul Farmer (2005) refers to as ‘deeper pathologies of power’; specifically, the neocolonial political economy in which the state is very active in dispossessing adivasis but inactive in providing benevolent functions. Thus, the case demonstrates the manner in which public health is intimately related to social, economic and political processes.
Keywords: India; Binayak Sen; Public health; Indigenous peoples; Insurgency; Naxalites; Political economy