PUDR invites you to the 30th Annual Dr. Ramanadham Memorial Lecture. Dr A. Ramanadham, a pediatrician and civil liberties activist was the Vice President of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC). On 3 September, 1985, he was killed in his clinic in Warangal by a group of men from a policeman’s funeral procession. Since then, this day has been observed as a day to uphold the struggle of civil liberties and democratic rights. On this occasion, PUDR has always held an annual lecture on an issue concerning people’s rights and democracy. This year, we wish to examine issues related to political prisoners.
In contemporary India, the category of political prisoners includes members/supporters of proscribed/banned organisations, and/or those charged under draconian laws (which aggravates the offence and thus the sentence), and/or millions of people living in conflict zones. In short, all those individuals and groups, whose political views fall foul of the authorities and who are persecuted for the same, are for us Political Prisoners.
The issue of political prisoners cannot be separated from the nature of the Indian criminal justice system. It is a system biased against the economically and socially deprived, the Muslim minority, lower caste Hindus or tribal people. This bias also extends to political and social organisations working among these marginalized groups. Thus instead of meeting demands for democratic political solutions or justice, the response of the State is the creation of the category political prisoner.
The category political prisoner is important because it tells us about the nature of the State. There is persecution by the State for holding or propagating and mobilising views contrary to it. Thus individuals become political prisoners not only in armed conflict zones where local people are targetted because of their potential to form mass base for the organised movements and struggles but also in areas where non-violent resistance to majoritarian agendas or interests of capital are found.
While political prisoners do not demand any special privileges; jail authorities, responsible for the personal security of all prisoners in their custody, have been guilty of imposing ‘special’ punitive measures against a prisoner, on grounds of their political crimes as members/sympathisers of a banned organisation. Members of banned organisations are marked out inside the jail and subjected to torture, mental and physical and their rights are also curtailed.
Ms. Kanchan Bala is a Delhi based activist who works in slums with working class people. She is an activist with the Mehnatkash Mahila Sangathan (मेहनतकश महिला संगठन). She also writes for a bi-monthly newspaper called Tootati Saankle (टूटती सांकलें).
Mr. Arun Ferreira is a political activist who had been incarcerated for almost five years as an undertrial under charges of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. After his acquittal and release he has been working for the unconditional release of Political Prisoners and is also a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai.
Mr. Mehmood Pracha is a Delhi based Advocate who is defending a large number of Muslims who have been charged in ‘terrorist’ offences.
Mr. Sujato Bhadra is the Vice President of the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners(CRPP). He has been involved in work related to cases of political prisoners like Chhatradhar Mahto and others in West Bengal for a number of years.