Vol. XLII No. 49 December 09, 2018

Remembering Comrade Amit Sengupta (1958-2018)

DR. Amit Sengupta, a leading activist in the science and health movements, died tragically on December 28, 2018 in a swimming accident off the coast of Goa. He had turned 60 earlier this year. He is survived by his wife Tripta Narang, who is currently working with several international media outlets, and their son, Arijit Sengupta, pursuing BSc Mathematics at Shiv Nadar University.

Amit Sengupta, a medical graduate from the Maulana Azad Medical College in Delhi, played a leading role in many progressive movements, the most significant of which was the Peoples Science Movement (PSM) in India and the global Health Movement. His work was especially noteworthy because it combined intellectual rigour with hard organisational work.

He was among the founding members of the Delhi Science Forum (DSF) and participated in its National Seminar on Self-Reliance in 1979, from which the Forum was launched. Within a few years, he began working full-time in DSF and its sister organisation, the Centre for Technology & Development (CTD), dedicated to technological innovation for pro-poor rural enterprises and livelihoods.

During this early period of his working life, he made significant contributions in the form of analysis of the long-term health impact of the Bhopal Gas Disaster. Even today, his 1986 analysis of the Indian pharmaceutical industry, and public policy on drug formulations and pricing, is widely recognised as authoritative. It helped give direction to a growing movement on public health as well as broader issues of intellectual property rights, issues that would remain part of Amit’s life-long concerns.

Amit played a leading role in bringing many health-related groups into the mainstream of the PSM. From the 1990s onwards, he was a part of the National Working Group on Patent Laws, which brought out a people-centric perspective on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regulations in India. Amit extended this work to continue significant involvement with the struggle against the WTO and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime being imposed universally by global capital and the major imperialist powers.

Amit assumed greater responsibilities in the Peoples Science Movement and contributed to building and shaping the All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN), a platform of today close to 40 diverse and independent but united PSM organisations covering the major states of India. Along with other science movement colleagues, he helped organise the Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha in 1987 and the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Jatha in1990. In the mid-90s, he played an important role in the Delhi Saksharta Samiti (DSS) which worked with mass organisations of youth and women to take up the total Literacy Campaign in the national capital.

He served as treasurer of AIPSN from 1999-2003, and later as its general secretary from 2007-2011. Amit played a guiding role in shaping major AIPSN campaigns, its bi-annual Congresses, and producing much of the resource and campaign material for the AIPSN.

In collaboration with other science movement colleagues, Amit played a key role in the anti-capitalist globalisation World Social Forum organisation and events in India and globally, besides the Asia Social Forum in Hyderabad in 2003, and the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. 

In recent years, his attention was increasingly focused on the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (Peoples Health Movement) in India, and the Global Health Movement of which he was a founder member in 2000, and later its joint convenor. He co-edited the bi-annual Global Health Watch which included chapter contributions from many countries. Most recently Amit led organisational efforts for the Peoples Health Assembly in Raipur this year, a precursor to the Global Health Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in November 2018. It was after a gruelling three weeks in Dhaka that Amit decided to take a short vacation from which, unfortunately, he did not return.

 Amit never took up an institutional job as a doctor; nor did he set up private practice. As he put it, he could not reconcile himself to the idea of earning money on the basis of knowledge that should be used to help others. Yet he remained fully in touch with his profession; he was the first person many comrades sought for medical advice.

Amit was an active member of the CPI(M) since 1978, and he strove to promote a Marxist perspective in all the activities he was part of. He was the convenor of the All India Popular Science Committee of the Party; he was a regular contributor to the ‘Science and Development' column of People's Democracy; he was a regular participant in running health camps at Party or mass organisation rallies in Delhi; and he also held regular clinics for Party activists. He helped the Party in formulating policy, and the significant amendments in parliament to the Indian Patents Act during UPA-1. These amendments are what makes the Indian Patents Act unique: they utilise TRIPS flexibilities to retain pro-people provisions as against the pro-big pharma version initially presented by the NDA and UPA governments in parliament.

Comrade Amit’s intellectual capacities, hard work and his fierce will to fight will be sorely missed in these critical times. The CPI(M) and all his comrades extend their heartfelt condolences to his family and express their solidarity with the various networks and fronts Amit worked with.