Monday, June 22, 2009

Binayak Sen and Gandhi

A grave miscarriage of justice by the Chattisgarh Government was recently overturned by the Supreme Court of India when they ordered the release of Dr. Binayak Sen on bail after two years of incarceration without even a hearing.

Notwithstanding the fact that his long incarceration was a blatantly illegal act of the Chattisgarh Government, I must confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by Dr Sen and his pronouncements. His claim to fame seemed to arise more from this illegal act of the Government than from anything he had done which was exceptional - other than being a good doctor serving the poor and needy in these under developed regions of the country and as a human rights activist. (There are many others who would score higher on that count). Recently Binayak Sen gave an interview to Tehelka magazine. The interview is notable for being fairly balanced and non controversial. However, one particular phrase struck me very forcefully. He says he is averse to violence and then immediately adds as a rider that this aversion does not stem from being a "Gandhi romantic (I’ve always been slightly repelled by his bania personality)" . (My emphasis).

Now, I think it is fair to say that the Mahatma was no saint (he never claimed to be one). There were too many unsaintly facets to his character -- his autocratic methods in getting his way in the Congress, his behaviour towards his family, his quirky and eccentric views on sex and celibacy, his extreme views on prohibition...one could go on. Even his most devoted disciple Jawaharlal Nehru chose not to follow all his diktats in independent India. But to call his personality repellent is clearly, in my opinion going overboard, and that too, not for any of the reasons above but for being a bania (a pejorative caste description), shows a somewhat unprepossessing side to Binayak Sen's personality. I am particularly disturbed by this because in the past I have heard some of my CPI(M) friends also describe the Mahatma as 'that bania'.

I do not wish to read more than necessary into what was presumably a casual remark, and he could well have been 'misquoted' or 'quoted out of context'. However, even Binayak Sen's admirers will admit that it does not leave one with a very pleasant taste in the mouth.

4 comments:

Anant said...

I am shocked to hear of this pejorative remark, especially tained by the caste reference. Thanks for pointing this out.

Sourendu said...

One hears this so often. I wonder what specifically was "bania" about his methods. Could it be swadeshi? It was meant to hurt the British in their wallets. Could it be non-violence? Maybe these means were too mundane for people who wanted to create mayhem. Maybe conflating these with the tendency of a shopkeeper to keep out of violence gave people the caste-laden term to bash Gandhi with. I wonder.

Rahul Basu said...

Interesting thought, Sourendu. Just as a shopkeeper would rather have peace so that his business is not affected (after all, his bottom line is crucial to his survival), so conversely everyone who would rather have peace is a shopkeeper!! In other words

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jaidev said...

It would be interesting to get Dr Sen's comments on this. What did he really mean by ' being slightly repelled by the bania'