Remembering Comrade Sridhar


18th August 2017. Two years since Comrade Sridhar passed on. Over a period of almost forty years Sridhar Srinivasan contributed in a variety of different ways to the revolutionary movement.

Though no longer with us, he lives on – in his writings and in the countless memories he has left behind. He continues to be the inspiration he always was. Many is the occasion, when confronted with an organisational or political issue, one has tried to measure up to it by a Sridhar yardstick – trying to figure how Sridhar would have looked at it or tried to solve it.

A small example of the Sridhar way is the letters he wrote from jail. Even a simple communication to his lawyer regarding a legal issue could become for him an opportunity to bond politically.

Adv Dhairyasheel Patil, Sridhar’s trial court lawyer, is not only one of the seniormost in the legal profession – he has served as Chairperson of the Bar Council of India; he is also one who keenly and actively participates in the political events of the day.

Sridhar’s letter below to Adv Patil, written in 2010 from Nagpur Central Prison, illustrates a connect somewhat beyond the normal political prisoner-lawyer relationship. Apart from the political commentary, the spirit of the letter has in it the potential to inspire, not only its recipient, but also those of us who read it several years later. A reading and re-reading provides many a lesson.

Dear Mr.Patil,

Here’s to hoping that 2010 will see the people’s struggles rescue Indian Marxism from the hole that the mainstream Marxists have pushed it into.  Just a few minutes ago, the transistor blaring in the corridor outside our cell reported the demise of Jyoti Basu.  It was depressing the way the worst reactionaries heaped encomiums on him.  Depressing because it once again brought home forcefully the abysmal depravity of these ‘Marxists’  who reduced the most  rebellious and radical ideology that man has created into a tame lap dog of the ruling classes.  Praise from Chidambaram and Arun Jaitley – any respectable human being should have been revolted, but I am sure Jyoti Basu  and also those of his ilk would have probably rejoiced as if it were the crowning glory of their lives. (Jyoti Basu from wherever people like him go to when they depart this world). 

There is probably some metaphorical significance in that this icon of defanged, truncated Marxism leaves this world just as the people of Lalgarh have begun to reclaim and resurrect Marxism to its pristine and exhilarating essence. It probably symbolises the process of the old and putrefying giving way to all that is fresh and fragrant.  There is this hint of a unique process of regeneration discernible in India.  In the history of Marxism it has often required the brilliance of individuals like Lenin and Mao to extricate Marxism from the abyss of revisionism and restore it to its rightful place in the van of the proletarian struggle.  But here in India the most advanced social science finds its saviour in the most ‘backward’ tribal people.  Marxism is being expounded and elaborated, not in a rich intellectual polemic or in studied treatises, but by the collective practice of an illiterate peasantry in the forests and mountains.  You may think I am romanticising things extravagantly (maybe so).  But then how else to view these movements in Lalgarh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which are raising the most credible challenge to the ruling classes in the last 60 years.  And their challenge is not just a knee jerk reaction to deprivation but poses an alternative.  Implicit in the practice of this movement is the reassertion of all the fundamental principles of Marxist thought.  In the dialectic between theory and practice, here we find praxis leading theory by the nose.  Traditional and establishment Marxists are unable to grasp the character and essence of the movement and run behind flailing their hands, muttering inanities about violence, democracy, futility of armed struggle etc.  This movement has posed such questions which have confounded these intellectuals.  In the internet websites and columns of magazines like EPW you will find so many of these ‘wise’ men panicking at the way this movement has rendered them irrelevant and without a constituency (except for themselves). 

Undoubtedly the present people’s movement is not just some spontaneous upsurge, but the result of decades of work of a party whose hall mark has been an unswerving dedication to Marxist principles, determination to inseparably link themselves to the people and limitless capacity for sacrifice.  This party brought the theory to the people; now the people have owned it and surged ahead.  Theory now needs to keep pace with the praxis.  Maybe even the party which made all this possible too has lagged behind on drawing the correct theoretical lessons of successes and failures in this practice.  Very few of the Marxist intellectuals seem to be able to grasp or even sense the questions and challenges the movement faces or is itself raising.  Among a few who do attempt to grasp the issues or try to articulate it with some depth is one Saroj Giri.  Attached is another recent article of his which we found interesting especially since he has theoretically tried to present issues which the movement has raised in practice.  Hope you also find it interesting. 

To what extent the peoples movements will reclaim the Marxist heritage and render irrelevant the revisionist version will depend on how well the state’s offensive is repelled.  Chidambaram has wisely decided to disassociate himself from the operational name of his offensive.  He disclaimed any knowledge of ‘Green Hunt’.  He is not sure of a clear and decisive victory – so he talks of a long battle, that all those 70,000 troops are deployed to ensure ‘development’ etc.  He will not like to be burdened with a defeat or a festering war associated to him.  But unfortunately the current offensive has been irrevocably linked to him and he will not be able to wash his hands so easily.  However the balance in military terms is tilted in his favour.   However if he does not achieve significant military success in reasonable time the political initiative may tilt away from him. The consensus he has built behind him will slowly begin to crack. There are small hair line fractures already visible which seem to be coming from below.  Reformist social movements (who are essentially system status quoists), who always viewed the Maoists with anathema are more keen to distance themselves from the repressive state than from the Maoists. (A small but visible reversal of earlier trend).This was the situation a couple of years back.  Should these embryonic fault lines develop into a full blown fissure, spreading from below into the ranks of the ruling elite, then Chidambaram’s military advantage will be of no avail to him.  History shows that if asymmetric wars are stretched out over a long period then it is politics that will determine the outcome and not just military strength.  This is true even for the Maoists – something they should factor into their strategy and tactics. 

Any swing in the political balance of forces in favour of the movement cannot be easily achieved if the movement remains confined to tribal pockets.  Here in lies the Achilles heel of the Maoist movement – its immense weakness in the developed areas and urban centres.  If the Maoists succeed to build their movement in these areas it will strengthen them immensely and make it difficult for their enemies to defeat them.  All those who desire the flowering of Revolutionary Marxism in the country have no alternative but to pitch in and defend this movement from Chidambaram’s offensive.  Hope that 2010 will prove beneficial for the cause of revolutionary Marxism and democracy.

Now that we are ensconced in Nagpur jail we have been able to prod our cases along.  There has been some semblance of progress in this front.  Cases are getting committed to Sessions court and charges are being framed.  These sorts of things should have taken place as a matter of course much earlier.  But our worthy judicial system has the uncanny ability to make even these simple automatic steps in the trial of a person into occasions worthy of much rejoicing.  And jail instils a sense to appreciate small mercies.  But on the whole, things are undeniably slithering forward and who knows, in about 6 months, we may even have the first of our acquittals.  Insha’Allah.  

There is a bit of good news in the Mumbai matter.  An RTI enquiry has yielded a useful response.  It helps to establish the lie regarding the alleged seizure of explosives etc on the day of our arrest.  Attached is a copy of the reply.  Please inform as to what follow up needs to be done and also how we should use it to bring this evidence on record. 

Should we apply for bail in the Mumbai case?  We were thinking of applying for bail in cases here after achieving some acquittals. 

Earlier I had sent you a note regarding the matter of rearrests and foisting of cases after long periods of incarceration or at time of release after acquittal in all cases.  Can you suggest some ideas as to how we could challenge this in the higher judiciary? 

Hope you and your family are in good health.

Yours sincerely, Love Sridhar

17/1/2010

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Prison hunger strikes are part of struggle for azadi and democracy


When the cases are false, the authorities try all means to extend the period of the trial.

Naxalism, Odisha, Prison Reform

It is a battle for democracy and justice, a battle for azadi. It does not have the sound and lights and the cadence of the catchy “azadi” sloganeering of the current student agitations.

But that does not make it less of a fight for rights and freedoms than any of the other struggles that have captured the imagination of the country and its media over the last few months.

It is a silent, grim, almost wordless fight that is going on right now in Odisha, behind the walls of Bhubaneshwar’s Jharpada Special Prison.

There are no marches, no speeches, just a bare statement, by seven prisoners, asking for implementation of the most basic fundamental rights granted by law and by the country’s highest constitutional court – the right to a speedy trial and the right to be produced regularly from prison in order to be present at one’s own trial.

Those raising these demands are undertrial prisoners, mostly tribals and Dalits, implicated in cases of Naxalite violence. But the only violence in this struggle is the violence caused to their own bodies by their chosen mode of protest – hunger strike.

As these words are being written, the ongoing hunger strike of the political prisoners in Odisha, which began on March 30, 2016, is in its third week. This is the stage when the medical condition of the person on hunger strike worsens dramatically and it becomes difficult to even stand.

Two of the seven hunger strikers have already been shifted to hospital. The authorities, however, are not showing any signs of acceding to any of the demands. In fact, the delays in trial are mainly owing to deliberate non-appearance of police witnesses on several dates.

Since the cases are false and mostly end in acquittal, the authorities try all means to extend the period of trial so that the prisoners remain as long as possible in jail as undertrials. The police are in no mood now to give up this strategy.

The experience of the Odisha political prisoners is nothing new. Arun Ferreira (one of the authors of this article) had himself undergone a 27-day-long hunger strike along with 12 other political prisoners at the Nagpur Central Prison in 2008.

The demand of the hunger strike then too was a mere implementation of the law. They were demanding a stop to the illegal practice of re-arresting political prisoners at the prison gates immediately on their acquittal and release in earlier cases.

A recent example was the two-month-long hunger strike in August-September 2015 by 26/11 Mumbai attacks accused Zabiuddin Ansari at the Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai. He was protesting his illegal solitary confinement and non-production in court.

Thus the demands of these and numerous other strikes of political prisoners over the years have mostly been to merely secure implementation of the law and to stop violations of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

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Prisons follow colonial standard operating procedure for hunger strikes

It is, however, rare that the prison and police authorities accede to the demands of political prisoners. The standard practice is to turn a deaf ear to even the most reasonable of demands while ensuring that the prisoners on hunger strike are kept completely cut off, not only from the society outside, but also from the other prisoners. During the present Odisha prison struggle, the striking prisoners have been denied all visits – even by close relatives or defence lawyers.

Meanwhile, while keeping each hunger striker separate, all attempts are made to dupe or tempt them into giving up the strike. If such attempts fail, the next method is force-feeding. This standard operating procedure was laid down during British rule and is still followed in all the prisons of the country. It is mostly successful in breaking a hunger strike without acceding to the demands.

In spite of the low possibility of the administration agreeing to their demands, political prisoners still very often resort to hunger strike. As Arun has explained, hunger strike is often the only option to get basic human rights in prison. This was also the approach of the revolutionary prisoners during the struggle against British rule.

Bhagat Singh launched several such hunger strikes during his period in jail. It was during one such hunger strike in 1929 that the revolutionary Jatin Das gave up his life after going 63 days without food. His death anniversary on September 13 is commemorated to this day by political prisoners in jails across the country. His protest was against the discrimination between Indian and European prisoners and the inhuman conditions in prisons. Soon after his death, some changes came about.

Hunger strikes in prisons increase the democratic space

Even if demands are not immediately agreed to, the mere assertion and determination involved in a hunger strike in prison is an announcement to those who rule that the political prisoner is not one to take things lying down.

This in itself often manages to open up a democratic space where none existed and forces a re-working of the equations of power in jails. When such struggles are repeated by the same prisoners and by future batches of prisoners, the administration is forced to give in to some, if not all the demands.

The results of such repeated struggles can be seen in better prison conditions in places where political prisoners have fought for their rights, such as Punjab, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Struggles have even forced the administration and judiciary to ensure better implementation of the principle of bail as the rule and jail as the exception.

In most states, however, prison conditions continue to be extremely inhuman with the deliberate violation of most constitutional guarantees. It was Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky who said: “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

By that yardstick, the civilisational standard of our society would be pretty low. But all is not bleak. Struggles in prisons, like the present one in Odisha, are growing. Many of these struggles may not achieve their immediate demands. But they will nevertheless make their own significant contribution to the ongoing struggle for azadi and true democracy.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/prison-reform-odisha-naxalism-mumbai-attacks-bhagat-singh-maoist-azadi-british-rule/story/1/10131.html

How Maharashtra robbed Dr Saibaba of his rights


BannerUntil police can be compelled to respect basic human rights, we will continue to remain far removed from the democracy we claim to be.

“I hope you are doing well, despite the fact that you are all in a larger penitentiary, as Uncle Sam would call it. I have been in a smaller enclosure here for the last ten months. My wish to join you back in the larger prison-house has been thwarted once again. I am sure you all understand the anxieties of your friend’s existence in the claustrophobic sealed concrete enclosure of an ‘anda cell’ behind seven heavy and gigantic gates.” Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba’s words (written over three months ago from the confines of the Nagpur Central Prison) carry that gritty tone characteristic of the man ‘guilty’ of supporting and participating in sundry issues and causes of the poor and dispossessed in various parts of the country over the last three decades.

Dr Saibaba, a Delhi University Professor in English, with 90 per cent permanent physical impairment of his lower limbs, was abducted on May 9, 2014 from a Delhi road by the Maharashtra police and has since been behind bars. His story is a telling commentary on the biases of a criminal justice system that readily releases convicted film-stars and politicians but insists on incarcerating those accused of committing the ‘crime’ of supporting or believing in thought contrary to the ruling ideology. Despite many Supreme Court rulings and the recent Kerala High Court assertion that ‘being a Maoist is no crime’, the reality is that it is just this accusation that keeps Saibaba and hundreds of others like him in prison for years on end.

Excuses for Denying Prof Saibaba his Rights

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In the last thirteen months, Saibaba has had his bail rejected four times – thrice in the Sessions Court and once in the High Court. Despite his severe disability and his rapidly deteriorating medical condition, the State has not only vigorously opposed bail, but also gone out of its way to deny him proper medical care. Whenever Saibaba has applied for bail on medical and disability grounds, the prosecution has adopted the tactic of ensuring that facilities were provided in the jail when the bail application came up for hearing, but after the bail application was disposed of, those facilities are withdrawn.

It was these tactics leading to a rapid deterioration in Saibaba’s health that prompted the bench of the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court to take suomoto cognisance of the matter and pass orders on June 17, 2015 directing that Dr Saibaba should be taken from jail to a private hospital within 24 hours and be allowed to be accompanied by his wife and brother and a court-appointed doctor, where he was to be kept for a week until further orders of the court. Despite the detailed order of the High Court, the prison authorities, under the directions of the police anti-Naxal operations (ANO) department, did not implement the court’s directions and no one except the police were allowed to be with Saibaba when, as a formality, he was taken to the hospital for an hour and returned back to jail. Though Dr Saibaba is in jail custody and the court directions were to the jail and medical authorities, it was the ANO’s Inspector General of Police, Ravindra Kadam, who was directly supervising operations and even giving medical updates to the press on behalf of the doctors. It can now be expected that the doctors’ earlier report submitted to the court, which showed he required hospitalisation, will now, under police pressure, be changed to show some miraculous recovery. The long weary battle of Saibaba to salvage his health and reclaim his liberty is likely to continue its uphill course.

His letter relates an earlier experience when the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Nagpur was questioned by the Sessions Court why his treatment constituted primarily of diclofenac tablets. The CMO explained that this was because all physically handicapped persons were affected by excruciating pains for which medical science had found no answers except pain-killers. All this when Saibaba was known to have a number of medical problems, including stones in the kidney, heart problems, neurological and orthopedic issues, which were continuously being aggravated by the jail conditions.

Meanwhile the prosecution sees that the trial is deliberately delayed so that Saibaba can remain imprisoned as long as possible. Aside from the first production in court, there has been no attempt to take him to court – on the plea that the police lack a low-carriage vehicle suitable for the physically challenged. This was also a reason earlier given at an earlier hearing for not even taking Saibaba to the hospital, until a strict order from the court forced the authorities to bring such a vehicle, which had always been in their possession.

Have your say. You can comment here.The High Court is now seized of the matter and has again on June 22, 2015 taken serious note of non-compliance by the state of its earlier directives and has passed further orders in this regard. But for a Dr Saibaba, long languishing in Anda dungeons, this perhaps would bring scant comfort. One could not fault him if he were to be a bit cynical of the outcome of such orders – he has after all seen the casual contempt with which the authorities have treated many such judicial orders thus far. Until ways can be found to compel the police to respect basic human rights and the rule of law, we will continue to remain far removed from the democracy we claim to be.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/dr-saibaba-gadchiroli-police-high-court-maoist-anti-naxal-operations-naxalites-human-rights/story/1/4555.html

When even the Supreme Court’s voice drowns behind prison walls


Infringements of the rights of detenus are the norm rather than the exception in the country’s jails.

VVIP convicts and prisoners like Jayalalithaa, Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt often receive special treatment leading to an outcry that prisoners are being treated with kid gloves by the criminal justice system. But, for every “special” jail inmate, there are thousands of prisoners in the country’s jails whose basic rights are constantly trampled upon.

Over forty years ago, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court made it absolutely clear that “convicts are not, by mere reason of the conviction, denuded of all the fundamental rights which they otherwise possess”. In 1981, the court repeated, “The prisoner or detenu has all the fundamental rights and other legal rights available to a free person, save those which are incapable of enjoyment by reason of incarceration.”

However, despite the rulings of various constitutional courts down the years, jail administrations and police throughout the country continue to follow procedures that operate on the basis that prisoners deserve no human rights – perhaps assuming that detenus are “less human” or “non human” beings. Infringements of everyday rights are the norm rather than the exception. Here, we depict some of the most common breaches of rights in detention:

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Routine Torture

Torture in police custody as well as in jail custody is practiced on a daily basis throughout the country, even leading to custodial death. The Supreme Court in 1996 declared, “The increasing incidence of torture and death in custody has assumed such alarming proportions that it is affecting the creditibility of the Rule of Law and administration of criminal justice system”. It instituted guidelines to prevent torture, but the practice continues.

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Habitual Handcuffing

It was way back in 1980 that the Supreme Court laid down, “Handcuffing is prima facie inhuman and, therefore, unreasonable, is over harsh and at the first flush, arbitrary. Absent fair procedure and objective monitoring, to inflict ‘irons’ is to resort to zoological strategies repugnant to Article 21.”

In 1996, the apex court again reiterated, “We declare, direct and lay down as a rule that handcuffs or other fetters shall not be forced on a prisoner – convicted or undertrial – while lodged in a jail anywhere in the country or while being transported or in transit from one jail to another or from jail to court and back.” However, despite the law being stated so unequivocally, the sight of chained, roped and handcuffed prisoners is common in almost all the states.

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Trial in Absentia

Section 273 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides that “all evidence taken in the course of the trial or other proceedings shall be taken in the presence of the accused”. However in many areas, the police plead a lack of personnel and do not provide escort guards to take the undertrial prisoner to court.

To avoid repeated adjournments, the advocate representing the prisoner is compelled to apply for “exemption” from appearance of the accused and the trial takes place without the accused knowing anything of what has transpired in court. This most basic legal right to be present during one’s own trial is thus denied.

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Irrational Restrictions on Mulaakats

One of the few interactions that a prisoner has with the outside world is the “mulaakat”, when relatives and friends are allowed to visit the inmate in jail. The Supreme Court has held, “Considered from the point of view also of the right to personal liberty enshrined in Article 21, the right to have interviews with members of the family and friends is clearly part of personal liberty guaranteed under that Article.”

It thus ordered that jail administrations be liberal in allowing visits of family and friends. This is, however, rarely implemented. Poor and indigent families from remote and backward areas are particularly affected. They are often denied meetings on some technical ground even after travelling long distances and undergoing great expenses.

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Prolonged Solitary Confinement

Section 73 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) specifies, “… the court may, by its sentence, order that the offender shall be kept in solitary confinement for any portion or portions of the imprisonment to which he is sentenced, not exceeding three months in the whole, … ” Section 74 further rules, “In executing a sentence of solitary confinement, such confinement shall in no case exceed fourteen days at a time, …” Jail manuals of all states have similar restrictions on solitary confinement and separate confinement. However, the use of prolonged solitary and separate confinement, sometimes for years on end, continues unchecked in all jails.

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Ban on Reading and Writing

Jail administrations arbitrarily decide what the inmates should and should not read. Some prison bosses, owing to a fear of petitions and complaints against them, even impose a complete ban on writing materials. Such bans go against the writ of the Bombay High Court, which ruled that a detenu could receive any periodical or book which can be lawfully obtained and read by the general public, and of a full bench of the Kerala High Court that held that a prisoner was entitled to receive “Maoist literature”.

As regards writing material, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, way back in 1965, held that it was lawful for a prisoner to write and even publish a book from jail. However, such judgements remain on paper while the unwritten bans are rigidly applied in all jails. For many centuries the Manusmriti kept the Shudras away from the Vedas by prescribing that “the ears of him who hears the Veda are to be filled with (molten) lead and lac”. Today’s prison superintendents forcibly keep many books away from the inmates under the pain of prison punishments.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/supreme-court-jayalalithaa-salman-khan-sanjay-dutt-rule-of-law-ipc-crpc/story/1/3884.html

Why CCTVs in India won’t put an end to torture, abuse and crime


Banner 01Technology may provide some assistance, but it is only the pressure of civil society that can bring about real change.

Last month, when Union HRD minister Smriti Irani strode out in anger from the Goa Fabindia outlet that had CCTV cams peeping at the trial room she used, reactions ranged from Twitter snigger to outright outrage. Complaint was made, crime was registered, arrests were effected – all serving to draw needed attention to the voyeuristic potential and other insidious implications of a little piece of technology that has been creeping continuously into more and more areas of everyone’s lives. Aside from stores and malls, the closed circuit camera has been steadily stealing into more and more areas of day to day existence, offering itself as a panacea for a host of ills varying from shoplifting to rape. The AAP has even promised, as part of its manifesto for Delhi, to set up ten to 15 lakh cameras throughout the city in order to enhance “women’s security”. The march to a surveillance society seems inexorable and all this is happening without the least debate on whether it infringes on the right to privacy, which has been recognised as part of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Thus, at the same time as Smriti Irani was being violated by the peeping toms of Fabindia, the women prisoners of Byculla prison in Mumbai were forced to fight back the attempt by the jail administration to install cameras in all the living areas of the women’s barracks and cells. The cameras, which were supposedly a response to the escape by five male prisoners in Nagpur, were to be put up in the areas where the women change clothes and where, with little or no fans during summer, the women are compelled to remain in minimum clothes when confined within the stone walls of the barracks, especially during the nights. Naturally not wanting to offer them up as spectacles for those who use the offices where the screens were to be set up, the women refused to allow the cameras to be set up. The authorities however remained adamant despite the inmates pointing out that they could not be made into objects of lewd interest of the prison staff. The administration only retreated after a protest hunger strike by a political prisoner, Angela Sontakke.

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The whole incident only served to display the lack of any controls or regulation on the use of CCTV in all areas. In a case of hidden cameras put up in jail cells in Washington, USA, the city was sued for damages. The jail staff would watch, like some porn video, the women detenues changing and then make sexualised comments to them regarding their bodies and habits. In some Indian prisons e.g. in Gujarat, CCTV has been introduced inside barracks and such behavior by prison staff is common, but no steps have been taken to remove the cameras from living areas.

The main arguments given for introducing cameras in prisons are control on contraband, prevention of violent attacks and torture and deterrence to escape. But, since in most cases the prison staff themselves have been known to be involved in the offences, it is hardly likely that a CCTV mechanism managed by them would be effective in preventing crime. During the period when CCTV was introduced in 2008 in Arthur Road Central Prison in Mumbai the staff who normally supplied drugs would ensure that their transactions took place in the blind spots where the cameras did not reach.

Torture and corporal punishment of inmates, though forbidden by law, is a daily fact of life in prison life. Since it is perpetrated by the authorities themselves, a CCTV system offers no solution at all for this crime. An enquiry conducted under the supervision of the Bombay High Court in 2008 concluded that the authorities of Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai had used excessive force against some Muslim political prisoners resulting in several cases of grievous hurt and broken bones. Though this attack on the prisoners was conducted in full view of the CCTV cameras then in operation, the prison administration refused to hand over the record and claimed that the cameras had malfunctioned at the time of the attack. Similarly the escape of prisoners in Nagpur in 2015 was disclosed to have been done in collaboration with the jail staff itself. CCTV which is now being installed there will be manned by the same staff. The security that the system is supposed to ensure is thus a mere illusion.

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Have your say. You can comment here.Similar is the project to install CCTVs in all police stations as a means to prevent torture and custodial deaths. The Bombay High Court and Madras High Court have recently issued such directives. However a police force used to torture does not need to use the lock-up of a police station for torture. When Arun Ferreira, one of the authors of this piece, was tortured in 2007, it was done in a room in the Police Gymkhana. Even if a CCTV system were to be in place it would not have recorded the crime. Technology may provide some assistance, but it is only the pressure of civil society that can bring about real change.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/cctv-solution-crime-indian-prisons-smriti-irani-fabindia-jail-torture-atrocity-human-rights/story/1/3606.html

When the police acts above the law


Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

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Gajala Gopanna, during almost seven and half years in jail, was known to be a quiet reticent type, blending easily with the hundreds of other undertrial prisoners he was lodged with. The superintendent of the Jagdalpur Central Prison in Bastar, Chhattisgarh himself confirmed this to the press on September 30, 2014, the day of his release. During the few minutes that Gopanna then got to speak to the press at the prison gates, he said that he planned to go back to agriculture in his village in Nalgonda, Telangana.

But that was not to be. The Chhattisgarh police had, when they arrested him in early May 2007, projected him as a fierce Naxalite leader, personally involved in many violent incidents. Fifteen trials in courts in various districts had proved these claims to be quite hollow; but they were in no mood to bow to the courts’ common verdict of acquittal.

So, as Gopanna was driven off through the streets of Jagdalpur on his lawyer’s motorbike, he was followed, intercepted and rearrested by a police posse. They claimed his custody on the basis of warrants that had been applied for and obtained by them over seven years ago, but had been deliberately kept aside to be used on just such an occasion. The police officers even now do not disclose how many warrants they are going to use – five, six or more. Considering the delays in courts, this re-arrest quite easily means a few more years in jail for Gopanna; and after acquittal and release, there could yet be another round of re-arrest.

“Gate-ing”

The blatant injustice of such a deliberate ploy by the police to indefinitely extend the imprisonment of Gopanna despite his acquittal by the courts is however not something very unusual. It is known to be used in most countries where the police exercise much greater powers than are assigned to them by law. In the US the practice is so rife as to have earned a place for itself in American prison slang; it is called “gate-ing – to confront someone at the gate with new charges”. Protest singer Joan Baez too tells about it in her Prison Trilogy composition, which is based on true stories from prisons where her husband, David Harris, was jailed in 1969-70 for resisting the Vietnam war draft. The third part of her trilogy tells the tale of Kilowatt, the 65-year-old “aging con”, who, “on the day of his release … was approached by the police” to “claim another 10 years of (his) life”.

Here in India the practice is widespread, particularly for political prisoners. During the time spent by the two of us at Nagpur Central Prison, where a large number of prisoners implicated in naxalite related cases were lodged, there was a dedicated police squad deployed at the gates to monitor the releases and, where possible, to ensure the re-arrest of political prisoners. Sometimes, re-arrest in new cases would be done just before the judgment in old cases; at other times, as in Gopanna’s case, the old warrants would be fished out and executed on the day of release; but most of the time, the re-arrests took the form of sheer abduction – as in the case of one of us, Arun Ferreira.

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Abductions

On 27th September, 2011, Arun, after acquittal in eight cases, happily bowed through the prison’s wicket gate for what he thought was the last time. But, even before his foot could settle on the free earth outside the gate, he was literally lifted off the ground by a group of muscular plain clothed young men, thrust forcibly into an un-numbered car and whisked away in the presence of his parents, brother and lawyers. He was later shown to have been arrested somewhere in another district and was implicated in two new cases. There was no warrant, not even an explanation of the cause of detention. It was abduction pure and simple, but both, the jail authorities on whose premises it happened, and the local police station within whose jurisdiction it took place, were complicit, and refused to even receive a complaint.

Arun’s abduction scenario is again no exception, but one among many that are regularly played out at prison gates in various parts of the country. Most happen unseen and remain unnoticed. But there have even been cases where abductions have even been done in full media glare. Mallesh Kusma was one such prisoner in Nagpur Prison, who achieved final release only after going through three rounds of abduction type re-arrests – one of which has a detailed photographic record. Sheila Marandi, a tribal woman in her late fifties, has been acquitted or obtained bail in over ten cases but continues to remain in jail in Jharkhand for the last eight years due to four re-arrests at the gates. There are many more.

The case against re-arrest

The case against such rearrest is firstly based on the violation of the fundamental right to a speedy trial caused by the deliberate delaying tactics of the police. Further, it is also a denial of the right guaranteed under Article 22(1) of the Indian Constitution that “no person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest”. Since this provision stipulates that the information should be provided “as soon as may be”, the police tactics of deliberately concealing some cases for re-arrest, many years later, is a brazen constitutional violation.  Besides, in the case of abduction, there is the total illegality of the act and the arbitrary abandonment of all procedures established by law for legitimate arrest.

No one can thus deny that the case is very strong against gate-ing, abduction at the gates and other forms of deliberately delayed re-arrest, which are all highly violative of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. However few cases are ever filed and since high courts, which hear petitions against constitutional violations, move extremely slowly, by the time the cases reaches near to solution the victims have invariably spent numerous extra years in jail without relief and the pleas have turned infructuous.

Punishment by police without conviction by courts

The law presumes that an accused is innocent until proved guilty. In Gopanna’s case this presumed innocence has already been confirmed by the courts 15 times over and will be probably confirmed many more times again. But all that will still be insufficient to win him his freedom.

Finally, it will not be the courts, but the police higher-ups who will decide when Gopanna will be set free. Not only is it they who have decided his “guilt”, it is they who will also decide the period of his “sentence”. Thus Gopanna’s prolonged period as an undertrial will effectively be a punishment sans conviction meted out to him – not by the courts, but by the police authorities who first arrested him and who will keep on re-arresting him till they feel that they can do it no more. And this flagrant abuse of due process of law seems likely to go on; unless some means are devised to deny the police their self-claimed right to be a law unto themselves.

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 http://www.dailyo.in/opinion/punishment-without-conviction/story/1/383.html?page=category&nid=1&start=41

Man jailed for Red links tells his tale of woe


“My arms were tied to a window grille high above the ground while two policemen stood on my outstretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor. This was calculated to cause maximum pain without leaving visible injuries. Despite these precautions, my ears started to bleed and my jaws began to swell.“

It’s not often that a man who has spent years in jail on trumped-up charges of Naxalism that eventually collapse in court, comes home and writes of the ordeal in casual, easy prose, peppered with gentle humour and playful sarcasm. Arun Ferreira is one such man.

Ferreira, who was acquitted of all 11 cases slapped against him earlier this year, after spending five years in a Nagpur prison, has written a book on prison life titled ‘Colours of the Cage’ that will be launched on Friday evening.

Ferreira describes everything from mad scramble to have a bath in jail to the manner in which he was subjected to narco-analysis and polygraph tests. He takes a dig at the ludicrous questions he was asked while in a state of sedation, that attempted to prove him guilty.

The book contains many a character sketch of fellow inmates and the bonds formed between people in jail. Ferreira describes a fellow prisoner whose “cravings for the outside world were chronic,” and would complain of an allergic rash that needed immediate treatment every other day. All the man wanted was human contact. Ferreira himself was subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement in the infamous ‘anda barrack’, which he describes in meticulous detail.

From detailing the treatment meted out to newcomers, to highlighting the pecking order in a jail, and the importance of proximity to a ‘bhai’ who could ensure one got oneself decent bedding and a spot to sleep, Ferreira’s book chronicles the near-complete breakdown of India’s prison system.

While torture is illegal, Ferreira writes of it in detail. He speaks of how betterinformed prisoners had to read the jail manual to their captors who were often ignorant of provisions of the law.

He speaks of rations that are meant to reach prisoners but get lost in transit.

Amongst the most poignant parts of the book are his descriptions of his meetings with his family. He writes about how he was told of the antics of his little son whose growing years he missed and of how he skirted questions on beatings and abuse so as not to upset his parents “Were you beaten badly?” my mother asked.

Dad sat silently beside her, avoiding direct eye contact. If I were to answer truthfully, it would only cause them more pain.

“No. It’s all part of the struggle,” I said, trying to change the flow of the conversation.

Sep 26 2014 : The Times of India (Mumbai)

My Prison Diaries


DemocracyHung
Mumbai-based activist Arun Ferreira kept a prison diary during his incarceration in Nagpur Central Jail. We reproduce here a  shortened version of his experiences and some of the sketches he drew in prison
Hell
Prison nurtures spirituality. It has the merit of at least temporarily inducing the type of peace obtained by casting your lot with the supernatural (Illustration: ARUN FERREIRA)

Prison nurtures spirituality. It has the merit of at least temporarily inducing the type of peace obtained by casting your lot with the supernatural (Illustration: ARUN FERREIRA)

After spending about five years in jail, Mumbai-based activist Arun Ferreira was released on bail in January this year. In May 2007, he was arrested in Nagpur on charges of being a Naxalite. The police claimed that he along with a senior Naxal leader, Ashok Satya Reddy alias Murali, was planning to blow up the historical Deekshabhoomi complex (where Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1956). In September 2010, he was acquitted of all charges by a Nagpur court, but was re-arrested by plainclothes policemen and charged with an alleged crime that occurred when Ferreira was locked up in jail. An alumnus of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, 39-year-old Ferreira kept a prison diary during his incarceration in Nagpur Central Jail. We reproduce here a  shortened version of his experiences and some of the sketches he drew in prison.

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The anda barracks are a cluster of windowless cells within the high-security confines of Nagpur Central Jail. To get to most cells from the anda entrance, you have to pass through five heavy iron gates, [and] a maze of narrow corridors and pathways. There are several distinct compounds within the anda, each with a few cells, each cell carefully isolated from the other. There’s little light in the cells and you can’t see any trees. You can’t even see the sky. From the top of the central watch tower, the yard resembles an enormous, airtight concrete egg. But there’s a vital difference. It’s impossible to break it open. Rather, it’s designed to make inmates crack.

The anda is where the most unruly prisoners are confined, as punishment for violating disciplinary rules. The other parts of Nagpur jail aren’t quite so severe. Most prisoners are housed in barracks, with fans and a TV. In the barracks, the day-time hours can be quite relaxed, even comfortable. But in the anda, the only ventilation is provided by the gate of your cell, and even that doesn’t afford much comfort because it opens into a covered corridor, not an open yard.

But more than the brutal, claustrophobic aesthetic of the anda, it’s the absence of human contact that chokes you. If you’re in the anda, you spend 15 hours or more alone in your cell. The only people you see are the guards and occasionally the other inmates in your section. A few weeks in the anda can cause a breakdown. The horrors of the anda are well-known to prisoners in Nagpur jail, and they would rather face the severest of beatings than be banished to the anda.

While most prisoners spend only a few weeks in the anda or in its cousin, the phasi yard, home to prisoners sentenced to death, these sections were where I spent four years, eight months. This was because I was not an ordinary prisoner. I was, as the police claimed, a ‘dreaded Naxalite’, ‘Maoist leader’, descriptions that appeared in newspapers the morning after I was arrested on 8 May 2007.

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I’d been arrested at Nagpur railway station on a brutally hot summer afternoon. I was waiting to meet some social activists when about 15 men grabbed me, bundled me into a car and drove away at high speed, kicking and punching me all the while. They took me to a room in a building my abductors later told me was the Nagpur Police Gymkhana. They used my belt to tie my hands and I was blindfolded, so that the police officials involved in this operation could remain unidentified. From their conversations, it became evident that I had been detained by the anti-Naxalite cell of the Nagpur Police. The assaults never stopped. Through the day, I was flogged with belts, kicked and slapped, as they attempted to soften me up for the interrogations that were to follow.

I had my first brush with social activism as a student at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College in the early 1990s. I’d organised camps to villages and welfare projects for the underprivileged. The religious riots of 1992-93 really shook me up. Thousands of Muslims were displaced in their own city, and we helped run relief camps. The callousness of the state, which allowed the Shiv Sena to conduct its pogrom unimpeded, could not have been on better display. I soon joined the Vidyarthi Pragati Sanghatan, a student organisation that aimed to build a democratic, egalitarian society. We organised many campaigns in rural areas to help the dispossessed assert their rights. In Nashik, tribals were organising themselves against atrocities of the Forest Department. In Dabhol, villagers were resisting the Enron power project. In Umergaon, Gujarat, fisherfolk were protesting their imminent displacement by a gigantic port. Looking at these struggles up close made me aware that [offering] relief to the poor wasn’t as important as helping them question the skewed relations of power and justice and organise themselves to claim their rights.

However, post 9/11, there was a change in the way peoples’ movements came to be perceived. The so-called War Against Terror made security the prime motive of State policy. In India, special laws were promulgated to squash inconvenient truths. Organisations were banned, opinions were criminalised and social movements were branded ‘terrorist’. Those of us who worked to organise tribals or the oppressed in rural areas were termed ‘Maoists’.

In 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that Maoists were “India’s greatest internal security threat”. Some were ‘encountered’ or ‘disappeared’, while others were arrested. In places like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Vidarbha in Maharashtra, all non-partisan political activity was branded as ‘Maoism’ and dealt with accordingly. In the months before my detention, many Dalit activists in Nagpur had been arrested on charges of radicalising the Amberkarite movement by infusing it with the politics of Naxalism. All this meant that I wasn’t entirely unprepared to be arrested myself.

Despite having contemplated this hypothetical situation, I wasn’t quite prepared to become a target of [State] excesses myself—to be arrested, tortured, implicated in false cases with fabricated evidence, and locked away in prison for several years.

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At midnight, 11 hours after I had been detained, I was taken to a police station and informed that I had been arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004, which is applied to people the State believes are terrorists. I spent that night in a damp, dark cell in the police station. My bedding was a foul-smelling black blanket, its colour barely concealing just how dirty it was. A hole in the ground served as a urinal and could be identified by paan stains around it, and its acrid stench. I was finally served a meal: dal, roti and a couple of abuses. Having to eat from a plastic bag with jaws sore from [the day’s] blows wasn’t easy. But after the horrors of the day, these tribulations were relatively insignificant and allowed me a brief moment to pull myself together. I managed to ignore the putrid bedding and humid air and doze off.

Within a few hours, I was woken up for another round of interrogation. The officers appeared polite at first but quickly resorted to blows in an attempt to make me provide the answers they were looking for. They wanted me to disclose the location of a cache of arms and explosives or information on my supposed links with Maoists. To make me more amenable to their demands, they stretched my body out completely, using an updated version of the medieval torture technique of [the wrack]. My arms were tied to a window grill high above, while two policemen stood on my stretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor. This was calculated to cause maximum pain without leaving any external injuries. Despite their precautions, my ears started to bleed and my jaws began to swell up.

In the evening, I was made to squat on the floor with a black hood over my head as numerous officers posed behind me for press photographs. The next day, I would later learn, these images made the front pages of papers around the country. The press was told that I was the chief of communications and propaganda of an ultra-left wing of Naxalites.

I was then produced before a magistrate. As all law students know, this step has been introduced [to the legal process] to give detainees an opportunity to complain against custodial torture—something I could establish quite easily since my face was swollen, ears bleeding and soles so sore it was impossible to walk. But in court, I learnt from my lawyers that the police had already accounted for those injuries in their concocted arrest story. According to their version, I was a dangerous terrorist and had fought hard with police to try to avoid arrest. They claimed that they had no option but to use force to subdue me. Strangely, none of my captors claimed to have been harmed during the scuffle.

That wasn’t the only surprise. In court, the police said that I’d been arrested in the company of three others—Dhanendra Bhurule, a local journalist; Naresh Bansod, the Gondia district president of an organisation called the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti; and Ashok Reddy, a resident of Andhra Pradesh, people I had never met before. The police claimed to have seized a pistol and live cartridges from us. They said we had been meeting to hatch a plan to blow up the monument at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur. If the police could convince people that Naxalites were planning to attack this hallowed shrine, this could convince Dalits not to [have any] truck with leftists.

But mere allegations couldn’t suffice. They needed to create evidence to support their claims. The police told the court that they needed us in custody for 12 days to interrogate us. While the journalist and I were kept at Nagpur’s Sitabuldi police station, the other two were taken to the Dhantoli police station. Every morning, we would be transported to the Police Gymkhana for continuous rounds of interrogation that lasted late into the night. First, they attempted to force us to sign a confessional statement they had drafted. When that failed, they got the court to agree to allow us to be subjected to the scientifically dubious practice of narco-analysis, lie detectors and brain mapping tests, which they hoped would bolster their allegations. So although legally I was no longer in their custody, the police could still interrogate me under the guise of conducting these forensic tests. Preparations were made to transport us to the State Forensic Science Lab in Mumbai.

Before that, we were formally admitted to Nagpur Central Prison. I stooped through the low narrow door into the complex that would be my home for 54 months. In keeping with procedure, first-time prisoners are presented before the gate-officer. Tradition, and perhaps training, demands that even the most mild-mannered gate-officer be at his aggressive best while dealing with new entrants, who, in jail slang, are called ‘Naya Ahmads’. It is the gate officers’ job to give the newcomer a crash course in meekness and mindless subservience. A lathi at his side serves as a teaching aid.

The officer is also supposed to enquire whether the new prisoner has suffered injuries due to torture in police custody, and, if so, record his statement. In my case, I had a bleeding ear, swollen jaws and sore feet. But in reality, the officer threatens anyone trying to make a complaint. By custom, all injuries are recorded as having existed before the prisoner was arrested. A strip search followed, standard protocol for new entrants to the prison. I was stripped to my underwear and ordered to squat in a line with the other new entrants awaiting my turn with the jadthi-amaldar (the man in charge of searches). Our every belonging was scrutinised and thrown on the dirty road for us to humbly gather together again. Hazards like packets of biscuits and beedis were pocketed by the staff.

We were unfortunate to arrive in isolation, but if the prisoner’s wait at the gate coincides with the entry or exit of one of the senior jail officials, he is privileged to witness a ceremony of colonial vintage. Senior jailors and superintendents can’t be expected to bend low to enter through the door. So the main gate is swung open to allow these sahibs to walk through, heads held high. When they are sighted at a distance, the gate guard issues a yelp of caution: “All hup!” All staff stand to attention and all lower life forms are swept into corners out of sight or forced to their haunches.

Most Naya Ahmads are then taken to the After Barrack, where they spend a night or two before being assigned to a fixed barrack. This waiting period allows the jail staff, convict-warders, inhouse extortionist gangs and other sharks to assess what they can extract from the latest catch. Middle and upper class entrants are easy targets. They are softened up with dark stories of prison-life horrors and not-so-veiled threats. Young boys are targeted for free labour and as sex toys. Contacts are made and deals are struck to ensure better treatment when moved to the regular barracks.

Next is the mulaija or check-in-process. New prisoners are lectured on the value of prison discipline by a convict warder or jailor. Each new inmate has his identifying marks noted and is weighed, measured and examined by a doctor and psychologist, before being presented before a phalanx of prison divinities, led by the Superintendent. A Body Ticket is presented to each prisoner, listing his prisoner number and offences registered against him. These offences form the basis of how he will be classified, and, to some extent, how he’ll be treated in jail.

Even though the law proclaims that an accused person is innocent until proved guilty, such niceties lack meaning behind prison walls. The allegations of the police are sufficient evidence for the jail authorities to punish even those awaiting trial. Alleged rapists and homosexuals are routinely targeted by officers and other prisoners at the encouragement of the staff. Those implicated in murder cases are compelled to wear a convict prisoner’s uniform and are consigned to special ‘murder barracks’. As a sign of their patriotism, many jail superintendents personally preside over the beatings of people accused of terrorism.

Before the mulaija, procedure requires the new entrant to be bathed. However, shortages of soap and water often prevent the diligent observance of these rules. Instead, most Naya Ahmads are rushed through the rough-and-ready hands of the nai kamaan (literally, the Barber Command), one of the work groups to which prisoners could be assigned later. The Naya Ahmad’s next stop is the Badi Gol, the area in Nagpur Jail that houses the prisoners awaiting trial. Each is allotted a barrack. That, theoretically, is where I should have been headed too. But in my case, the procedures were all jumbled up. Twelve days after I had been picked up by the police, I was hurriedly put into the anda barrack, given a prison uniform, and after a quick meal at 4 pm of besan and chewy rotis, [put on my way] to Mumbai by train.