New Delhi: Obaid Siddiqui, a neurobiologist at Bangalore’s National Centre for Biological Sciences, has proposed that scientists set up a human rights body to take up causes such as the 2009 imprisonment of Binayak Sen, a Chhattisgarh-based doctor.

“The initiative to support Sen had been taken by the human rights office of the US National Academy of Sciences and the International Human Rights Network spearheaded by it. Several of us have felt that scientists, especially those belonging to India’s principal academies, need to form a committee on human rights, which can deal with such matters," Siddiqui said in a letter to the journal Current Science.

Binayak Sen. File photo

Proponents of the move say the proposal is at a preliminary stage. “Much more discussion is needed, but certain recent events have made the need for such a body relevant," said M. Vijayan, a senior molecular biologist at the Indian Institute of Science, who was also a co-signatory to the letter.

Earlier this year, Jadavpur professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested by the West Bengal government after emailing a cartoon satirizing chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Separately, Partho Sarothi Ray, a molecular biologist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, was arrested by the same state government for being part of a stir to protest against the eviction of slum dwellers in Kolkata.

Typically, concerns of scientists and their relationship with the government are taken up by India’s science academies. Vijayan, a former president of the Indian National Science Academy, said that a human rights body ought to be independent of the government. “An academy can take up the cause of a scientist, but ultimately academies derive funding from the government. A truly effective body ought to be independent."

Suneet Verma, a physicist at Pune University, is sceptical. “We’re yet to constitute an effective body that can address scientific plagiarism," said Verma. “The proposed body is certainly much harder to form. Also, I think that a human rights body that would only push the cause of a researcher seems morally awkward."