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50% of scheduled caste population chronically undernourished: Binayak Sen

Dr Binayak Sen, recently nominated to the Planning Commission’s steering committee on health draws attention to starvation in India and says government policies are only adding to the problem

Thirty-seven per cent of India’s adult population, 50% of the scheduled caste (ST) population and 60% of the scheduled tribe (SC) population suffers from chronic undernutrition, according to Dr Binayak Sen, the human rights defender who was recently released on bail by the Supreme Court after being convicted by a Chhattisgarh court of sedition and awarded a life sentence.

“Large sections of the Indian population are chronically in the condition of famine,” said Sen, a paediatrician who ran a clinic in a remote area of Chhattisgarh before his arrest and has been a vocal crusader for better healthcare for the poor. Speaking at a function held to honour his work in the field of health and human rights, in Kolkata, Sen said that the only way these communities have managed to survive all these years is because of their access to common property resources including land, water, forests and biodiversity.

“But now the state wants to assert its right over these resources under the provisions of eminent domain,” which essentially means that “the state is acting as a guarantor for a process of expropriation that is seizing all resources from the poor and handing it over to private interests.”   

Since his release on bail, Sen has been nominated to the Planning Commission’s steering committee on health. He is a strong advocate of universal access to healthcare and, as a member of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, part of the campaign to roll back ‘black laws’ such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and the British-era law on sedition.

PUCL aims to collect 10 lakh signatures in support of its demand to abolish these laws and raise the issue in Parliament later this year.

Sen recently received the Gwangju prize for human rights, South Korea’s most prestigious award for those working on peace, democracy and justice in Asia. Another rights activist Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for more than a decade demanding a repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in force in her home state of Manipur, is also a recipient of the prize.

Source: The Hindu, May 25, 2011
            The Statesman, May 24, 2011