Minnie Vaid puts on record Binayak Sen’s story in the admiring tone of a believer, says Kunal Majumder
WHEN BINAYAK Sen was sentenced to life by a Raipur district court on a charge of sedition last December, many around the world asked — WHY? Some accepted as the gospel truth the government’s version. Some condemned the trial and the draconian laws. But the popular media has largely remained silent on the man himself. Despite all the talk of ‘injustice’, no one actually travelled to Chhattisgarh’s heart to talk to the tribals he treated. No one spoke to his wife Ilina about the ordeal of raising two kids even as she fought to free her husband. Minnie Vaid travelled and Minnie Vaid spoke. From Sen’s arrival in Chhattisgarh 30 years ago to his convictio, her book A Doctor to Defend is an attempt to present Sen’s side of the story.
We know from the beginning whose side Vaid is on. In her first meeting with Sen, two months after the Supreme Court granted him bail, in a chapter titled ‘A Reluctant Hero’, she tries her best to make Sen acknowledge his “heroic-ness”. Vaid has no doubts about Sen’s innocence. Perhaps on a polarised subject like this one, the story is best told by taking sides.
Vaid travels to various parts of the country to meet Sen’s friends, family and admirers, and narrate his story through their voices. To Dalli Rajhara in Chhattisgarh, where Sen helped set up a hospital for mine labourers; Vellore where he studied at the reputed Christan Medical College; Mumbai where his daughters study; Kalyani where his mother lives and Dantewada where Salwa Judum showed its ugly face. As a documentary filmmaker, this seems to work the best for her. His teachers at Vellore speak about his leftist, socialist attitude as a student. His daughters Pranhita and Aparajita talk about their unconventional-yet-free childhood. His wife Ilina recalls the death threats while working as a professor at Wardha. Vaid creates a certain sense of intimacy through her interaction. Her account of meeting Sen’s younger daughter Aparajita in Mumbai is heart-warming. Aparajita was in Class X when her father was arrested.
The USP of the book, perhaps, is the insight it gives into Sen’s mind. He speaks about poverty, industrialisation and the need to involve the larger populace to effect change. “Individuals do not make history,” he says. He rejects the hero’s tag that the author thrusts on him and voices his weariness at his ‘heroics’ turning counterproductive. Vaid paints a portrait of a man who knows he is making hard choices in life and is now paying a price for it. Yet, he says, he doesn’t believe in self-sacrifice. “Everyone lives their lives according to certain principles. I do so too and I take decisions based on those principles.”
While Vaid dedicates a chapter to Salwa Judum, the State-sponsored vigilante force, she is silent on the charges levelled by the State against Sen on his ties with the Naxals. She visits Salwa Judum camps on the insistence of activist Himanshu Kumar and mentions the alleged violence committed by them against the tribals. But she is silent on the violence committed by the Maoists. Perhaps talking to the other side could have given a more balanced touch to the book and Vaid’s narrative. Even so, she has managed to write the first comprehensive piece on Binayak Sen and has put his side of the story on record.