Indian human rights campaigner’s special journey to Northumberland

JAILED for life and freed on bail, Indian human rights campaigner Dr Binayak Sen made a special journey to Northumberland to see his own portrait.

Indian human rights campaigner Dr Binayak Sen
Indian human rights campaigner Dr Binayak Sen

JAILED for life and freed on bail, Indian human rights campaigner Dr Binayak Sen made a special journey to Northumberland to see his own portrait.

Dr Sen, 62, came to Wall in the Tyne Valley to view for the first time the portrait of him personally created by Paul Piercy.

Mr Piercy has launched the Black Portraits Human Rights Project, featuring 20 specially-darkened oil paintings of human rights campaigners across the world.

Mr Piercy travelled to Dr Sen’s Raipur home last year to begin a special ‘natural’ portrait of the man whose case has become a cause celebre in his homeland.

Dr Sen was accused of sedition for allegedly helping the armed Maoist Naxalites group in India, and jailed for life on Christmas Eve 2010.

Supporters claim the charge was built on bogus evidence and say the conviction was politically motivated.

But the paediatrician and public health specialist, who is the national vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, was granted bail by the Indian Supreme Court in April 2011.

The court ruled that no evidence of sedition had been produced against Dr Sen by the Chhattisgarh government, and a final appeal is awaited.

While the threat of a return to prison still hangs over him, Dr Sen, regarded as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International, has been allowed to travel under strict conditions.

Six days ago at the House of Lords Dr Sen was awarded the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award, and took the opportunity while in England to travel north with his doctor wife Ilina to meet Mr Piercy again – and see his completed portrait.

“I like it very much,” said Dr Sen. “It is very brilliant, though it is important to say that I am not the whole story.

“Paul has painted black portraits of human rights campaigners all over the world and my portrait is just a part of that project.

“There are two portraits of me – one of me alone, but also a Black Portrait. In my case this new one shows the background to the situation in India, and the people living in the forest.

“I am very happy with it – though it is difficult to say I am happy, because the portrait is about human rights violations.”

Mr Piercy said: “I have painted my other Black Portraits, in which the faces of the subjects are darkened, from images I have seen. The first person I chose was Liu Xiobo, the Chinese 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and others have now agreed to be painted in Cameroon and Azerbaijan.

“I made contact with Dr Sen last year and personally travelled to Raipur to meet him and paint this portrait, which is not black, but is of natural colours.

“I returned home to complete it, and wanted Dr Sen and Ilina to be the first to see it, which they were able to do while in this country for the Gandhi award in London – I went to the award ceremony – and speaking in Edinburgh

“Now it is a great pleasure to be able to welcome Dr Sen and his wife to my home.”

It is hoped the first exhibition of the Black Portraits gallery will be staged in the North East.

Dr Sen, who has now returned to India, added: “I have the freedom to travel but my passport is held by the court and when I travel outside India I have to obtain the passport from the court.

“In India, I am still awaiting an appeal date, though I do not know when it will be.”


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