The prisons in India are brimming with the underclass. The great majority of those locked up as criminals come from the bottommost sections of society – women, dalits, adivasis and Muslims. For some years now, they are joined by others of the same class
– militant workers of Gurgaon; adivasi poor peasants across war zones in all States; dalit landless agricultural labourers and backward caste poor peasants of Bihar; people opposing government’s mega ‘development’ projects; nationalist Kashmiris, Manipuris, Sikhs, Kamatapuris and others; political and cultural activists; Muslims caught in the dragnet of ‘war on terror’; Maoists. The list is long. As contradictions in society have continued to intensify in the last ten years, the number of prisoners has also swelled, and so does the number of prisons.
They include tens of thousands of political prisoners lodged in jails all across the country, particularly in regions where people’s movements are confronting the state. Proportionately, the number of prison struggles have grown and are becoming more frequent. More prisoners are joining the Maoists in the fight for prisoners’ rights. Coordinated protest actions in prisons across a State and even the whole country are being carried out.
Campaigns are conducted outside prisons in solidarity and demanding the unconditional release of political prisoners, for their democratic rights, to provide legal aid and other forms of support. Political Prisoners Day on 13 September is being observed inside and outside prisons every year to draw attention to the demands of the prisoners. A countrywide democratic movement is gradually shaping up on the central demands of the legal recognition for political prisoners and their unconditional release. The struggling prisoners are also encouraged by solidarity events like the International Day observed in early 2014 on a call given by the International Committee to Support the People’s War in India.
Prisoners Rights Week
The Prisoners’ Rights Week is observed every year from March 23 to 29. This year, in response to a call by the Central Regional Bureau, CPI (Maoist), a bandh was successfully observed on March 29 in Dantewada District (Chhattisgarh) on the concluding day, and 16 vehicles belonging to the Essar company were destroyed. During the week several rallies were conducted and pamphlets distributed along with postering, wall writing, public meetings and press conferences.
Apart from others, family members, friends and relatives of political prisoners spoke in the meetings and press conferences, describing the plight their near and dear ones have to undergo in various jails of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. They condemned the gross violation of human rights going on and drew attention to what the overwhelming majority of poor adivasi families of the political prisoners were made to go through by the ruthless Indian state.
A huge rally of 2000 people culminated with a demonstration in front of the Dantewada jail. Several more hundreds were stopped on their way to the rally by the police and forcibly sent back. The District SP and Collector met the demonstrators and gave assurance to look into their demands. Protests and rallies against illegal detentions and prisoners rights are a regular feature in this region, braving brutal repression.
Sixteen members of the party’s PB and CC continue to languish in jail along with several State Committee, Division/District/Zonal Committee, Area Committee members, party members, revolutionary mass leaders and the people. Most of the leaders were abducted by the police and intelligence agencies, kept in illegal custody, interrogated for days together and produced in court only after democratic and civil rights organisations raised alarm fearing for their lives.
All of them have been repeatedly charged with tens of fabricated cases registered across several States. They have been charged under the UAPA, and several other draconian laws, making procurement of bail, speedy trial or early release a near impossibility. A few are serving life terms, while others are undergoing long periods of imprisonment. Even in the few instances when they have been able to procure bail they are being rearrested from the prison gates itself.
Comrade Shiela di (CCM) is being charged with fresh cases under different names to block her release. The aim of the rulers is to keep the revolutionary leadership in its dungeons for life. Many of the imprisoned leaders are of an advanced age and are Janardhanji, Shiela di, suffering from multiple age-related ailments that require urgent and Narayan Sanyal, Kobad Gandy intensive medical care.
Veteran comrades Narayan Sanyal (77), Jagdish Master (75), Pareshda (79), Kobad Ghandy (69) and Chintanji (60) suffer from serious health-related problems. Similarly, Sahebda (68), Sadanala Ramakrishna (68) and Chandrashekhar Reddy (68) too need adequate treatment which is being deliberately denied by the ruling classes. The serious deterioration in health and eventual death of our beloved comrade Sushil Roy (PBM) was caused by the state’s denial of timely medical treatment during seven years of his incarceration in Paschim Banga and Jharkhand.
So too was the death of ‘People’s March’ Bengali edition editor Swapan Dasgupta. From 30 January 2014, hundreds of political prisoners undertook simultaneous jail struggles in the prisons of Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and some other States. The prisoners demanded granting of bail, speedy and fair trial, release of life convicts who have spent more than 14 years in jail, implementation and improvement of the jail manual, better prison facilities, recognition of the status of political prisoners and their unconditional release, etc. In Maharashtra, 177 undertrial prisoners including seven women prisoners lodged in Nagpur central jail undertook an indefinite hunger strike from 30 January 2014.
200 other inmates joined the struggle by participating in relay hunger strike every day. In Behrampur jail (Odisha), ten political prisoners booked under UAPA started an indefinite hunger strike on 26 January, demanding speedy trial and regular physical appearance in court. On the fifth day of the strike, the authorities accepted their demands and promised fulfilment within a month. The strike was thus withdrawn on 30 January after this victory.
In Jharkhand, around 1,500 political prisoners in 26 central and district jails of the state went on indefinite hunger strike on 30 January 2014. Struggles were taken up in the prisons of Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Daltonganj, Palamu, Garhwa etc. The main demand of the striking prisoners was the release of convicts who have completed their sentence but are still languishing in jail due to the delay of the government in forming the mandatory State Sentence Review Board to recommend their release.