To make sense of the growing impunity of the Indian State and its various institutions it is important that we look into the basic nature of this state, its beastly face of brutal repression, which forces the common people to take recourse to different methods of self-defence that gets conveniently branded as ‘acts of terrorism’ by the powers that be with an obliging, sensation-driven media, the so-called fourth estate. Thus the people fighting for justice suddenly become ‘terrorists’ for the State. The pro-imperialist, Development State that was ushered in, post-1947, in the Indian subcontinent has systematically pushed these peoples to the margins so much so that their survival is under peril. Every effort of the people to do away with this model of development that replicates the exploitative, oppressive structures of surplus maximisation of the local parasitic classes in alliance with imperialist interests have been met with criminal profiling by the Indian State. So the efforts of the Indian State to bring in more draconian laws as well as centralized coordinated structures with enormous powers to tackle the increasing discontentment of the masses of the people was spelt out by the Prime Minister himself, albeit couched in the rhetoric of ‘development’.
‘Development’ as national security
Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India has already made it clear that with evident signs of a perilously slow economy of the subcontinent—aggravated by the tightening grip of imperialism riddled with the worst global economic crisis—all aspects of development should henceforth be considered a national security issue. Thus any dissent against the full fledged implementation of the pro-imperialist policies of Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation will be considered anti-development and hence ‘anti-national’, and also could be branded as ‘seditious’. Significantly even before making this statement Mr. Manmohan Singh had declared the Maoist movement as the ‘single largest internal security threat’ to the Indian State.
Not a single people’s movement in India today has escaped the criminal profiling of the government, central or state, with many of its activists and leadership being trumped up with numerous cases or are facing the danger of being killed in the hands of the army/ police/paramilitary/vigilante gangs.
The historical demand for the right to be recognised as the Political Prisoner
So then who are the political prisoners? Tracing the history from the colonial period till date, those who have stood up against injustice, oppression, exploitation and discrimination, those who have dared to dream a world free of all forms of exploitation and oppression, world based on sharing and self-reliance have been the targets of the ire of the State—be it the colonial one or the Post-47 Indian State which is servile to the imperialist interests. From the days of Martyrs Bhagat Singh, Raj guru and Sukhdev and their fellow comrades such as Jatin Das during anti-colonial struggle against the British there has been the demand to be recognised as political prisoners. It is not only revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and his comrades but the Gandhians also talked about the need for the recognition of the rights of the political prisoner during the intervening period between the two world wars when the anti-colonial struggle was also gaining momentum. All these anti-colonialists were fighting for a future free from the yoke of colonialism and many like Bhagat Singh had the vision for a self-reliant Indian subcontinent free from all forms of exploitation and oppression. The raging storm of various national liberation straggles in the subcontinent during the 1940s also saw the Colonial State enacting various Preventive Detention as well as other repressive laws to criminalise all such people’s aspirations. With the communal division of the subcontinent and the formation of the brahminical Indian State in the image of imperialism, the necessity to further criminalise any such aspirations was all the more evident. From the Telangana Armed Struggle of the 1940s through the Naxalbari in the 1970s and the national liberation struggles in the 1980s and 1990s through the growing tide of various people’s movements against the increasing assault of the ruling classes pushing the policies of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG) from 1991 till date along with the growing spectre of the Maoist movement have all ensured that the definition of the political prisoner keep expanding as an indicator of the multifarious expression of the manifest discontent of the peoples of the subcontinent. In the 1970s when the Emergency was declared by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India suspending all fundamental rights, apart from the Naxalite prisoners who survived the hundreds of thousands of custodial and secret executions and had been fighting for their rights as political prisoners, the liberals sections of the Lohiate Socialists, Gandhians as well as the social democrats belonging to the CPI also raised the question of the need to recognise the right of the political prisoner.
The Penal Indian State—Legalisation of Growing Impunity
As the Brahminical Indian State was a consensus of the Post World War II re-division of the world among the imperialist powers under the leadership of US imperialism, the inherent nature of the State was Hindu communal. The process of state building that ensued in Post-1947 India had this emergent sentiment as the defining factor so much so in the beginning of the 21stCentury, when the renewed imperialist offensive on the peoples of the world was unleashed through the ideology of the so-called ‘war against terror’ Indian State became an able ally of US imperialism in South Asia. The Muslim as the other, Kashmiri Muslim as the traitor, other fighting nationalities as threat to the grand idea of resurgent India, the Adivasi,
Dalit and other oppressed castes as reasons for incompetence, inefficiency and obstacles for the march ahead to ‘catch up’ with the West are Orientalist stereotypes inherited in the ideological edifice of the Indian State. The anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit, anti-minority nature of the Indian State has been sharply foregrounded in the present phase with increasing atrocities on the people.
Muslim Youth: Target of Hate Politics Camouflaged in the Ideology of ‘War against Terror’
Thousands of Muslim youth have been the target of the so-called ‘war against terror’, many of them being framed in several bomb blast cases such as the Samjhauta train blast case, the Bangalore blast cases, Coimbatore blast case, Jaipur Blast case, Hyderabad Blast cases, several blast cases in Delhi, Bombay, Surat in Gujarat, Nashik, Nanded and Malegaon in Maharashtra, Blasts in Uttar Pradesh and attempts at the same in several places in Kerala, the list is endless. The most striking aspect of all these blast cases is that none of these cases could end up in the conviction of any of the incarcerated Muslim youth. Rather all of them were taken to custody, brutally tortured mentally and physically, many of the methods indulged in by the investigating agencies even putting the much talked about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo into oblivion.
The Malegaon blast case is perfect illustrative example to bring forth the glaring fact how Muslims have become easy cannon fodder for selling the ideology of the so-called ‘war against terror’ as a conduit to facilitate increasing intervention of the US imperialist forces in South Asia let alone the deepening convergence of interest between moribund capital and the Hindu communal fascist forces. Malegaon case in brief is as follows:
On 8 September 2006 a bomb explodes at the Hamidia Masjid and its premises in Malegaon town. Within hours the Maharashtra police declared that it was the proscribed Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) that was behind the blasts triggering of a spree of arrests of Muslim youth. Though many didn’t buy the story that in a Mosque Muslim youth have put the explosives the media and the police created an atmosphere of terror and intrigue to the extent that for saner voices to brave the motivated hyperbole and come forward was impossible. Gradually the people of Malegaon mustered courage and they unitedly came forward with their strong condemnation of the manner in which the whole incident was used to put innocent Muslim youth behind bars. After 5 years of incarceration due to increasing public pressure the State was forced to release on bail nine of the accused as there was hardly any evidence and it was becoming increasingly clear through the statements of Hindu communal elements that it was their organisations which were behind such heinous acts. Further the doubts of the people about the police version was grounded on various facts as the prime accused in the blast Shabbir Massihullah was two months before the incident arrested and put behind bars in another case. Another accused in the case Shahid Ansari was the priest (Imam) of a Mosque in Yvatmal which was 520 km away from the site of the incident. The people belonging to the Mosque in Yvatmal had given witness that Shahid was at the Mosque presiding over the prayers on the day when the blasts happened at Malegaon. Further Abrar Ahmad who had turned approver later had told the court that he was offered money by the police to turn approver. Along with all these developments was the incriminating findings of Hemant Karkare the then Maharashtra ATS Chief about the extensive network of Hindu Communal organisations involved in the various blasts. No wonder Hemant Karkare was mysteriously killed in the much publicised attack on the Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus (erstwhile Victoria terminus) and other places in Mumbai. The case finally collapsed with the confession statement of Swamy Aseemananda recorded before a magistrate about his as well as various networks of Hindu communal, supremacist organisations involvement in the planting of bombs. Despite all such incriminating findings the extent of communalisation of the investigating agencies are so deep rooted that they are still harping on the old disproven theories so as to find ways to rescue the Hindu communal elements who have been arrested in the case. Thus despite being offered bail the fate of all the 9 Muslim youth who got framed in the case is still uncertain.
There are many such blast cases which have a similar story to tell. Notwithstanding the facts and emptiness of the claims made by the investigating agencies, Muslim youth still are easy targets for the politics of the so-called ‘war against terror’ and to a considerable extent the State machinery has been successful in spreading stereotypes about the Muslim community who are the poorest economically, socially and educationally. Muslim youth from the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala have been framed in several blast cases. The State of Gujarat under the fascist, communal Narendra Modi, the darling of the imperialist and domestic comprador capital, have taken hate politics laced with jingoism to new heights thus criminalizing and incarcerating the Muslim youth in an unprecedented manner. The dubious links between the notorious Andhra Pradesh Special Branch and the Gujarat police in manufacturing terror plots and cold blooded murder in the name of ‘encounter killings’ have already been brazenly pushed beneath the carpet as Narendra Modi and his henchmen have played patron to the communalization and criminalization of the police and intelligence. The genocide of Muslims in Gujarat let alone the framing up of Muslim youth in various cases after the notorious Godhra train accident a livid memories in the minds of every discernible mind as instances towards consolidating the Hindu communal forces as the main plank of vote bank politics and hence capture and maintenance of political power at the central and state level governments in the India.
In many of these cases the trials happen at snails’ pace with many a time the judges of the respective courts getting transferred midway through the trial. The imminent ‘threat’ of the Muslim ‘other’ is well subsumed in the politics of the ban of Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Several arrests of alleged SIMI activists from various states have been publicized in the media with many acts of ‘terror’ attributed to the SIMI. The arrested Muslim youth have been slapped with numerous cases. But the fact remains that almost all the cases either on the Muslim youth in particular or SIMI in general have collapsed like nine pins without any shred of evidence. Despite such glaring facts the Brahminical Indian State has persisted with the ban on SIMI. Another fiction of the imminent ‘threat’ is the hyperbole campaign in the media about a so-called organization called Indian Mujahideen. No one knows if such an organization really exists. But several Muslim youth have been rounded up under the garb of being members of that organization. In many a case the educated Muslim youth is also a target of the Indian State. The politics of vilification of the Muslim community around the bomb blasts as well as the threats of ‘terror’ attributed to the community through the organizations like SIMI and Indian Mujahideen needless to say with the stereotypes about the Muslims have made the average Muslim a potential suspect in the non-Muslim psyche.
Kashmiri Muslims—the targets of occupation translated as impunity
The case of Dr. Qasim Muhammad Faktoo stands testimony to the brutal face of political vendetta of the Indian State on the people of Jammu & Kashmir as he is yet to see the light of the day being incarcerated for more than 20 years in prison. Initially arrested and put under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) the courts had later cleared him of the charges under TADA and the police also had written to the authorities about the need to consider the case against Dr. Qasim Muhammad Faktoo on its merits and his prolonged incarceration without any charges. But as regards every political prisoner the decision to put them behind bars or to release are political and true in Qasim Faktoo’s case it has taken the toll of twenty years (almost two life terms) as the powers that be still look at his case with political vendetta—a test case of the Kashmiri Muslim being targeted for his political convictions. If twenty years is not enough for the authorities to consider the release of Dr. Qasim Muhammad Faktoo, for other Kashmiri Muslims it is not different.
For a Kashmiri Muslim to spend as an undertrial for a life term in the jails in India is not very uncommon. And like his/her Indian counterpart for a Kashmiri Muslim to be implicated in the numerous blast cases that happen like mushrooms sprouting, in the length and breadth of the subcontinent is a normal thing. To arrest a Kashmiri Muslim for such cases is also common sense. The Lajpat Nagar Blast case shows the growing impunity of the police and other investigative agencies when it comes to framing Kashmiri Muslims. The blast took place on 21 May 1996 at the Lajpat Nagar market in New Delhi and of the six Kashmiri Muslims arrested on this count Mirza Nissar Hussain, Mohd Ali Bhat and Mohd Naushad were given death sentences by the trial court while Javed Ahmad Khan was given life sentence and the other two Farooq Ahmad Khan and Farida Dar were given seven years and four years two months under the Explosive Substances Act as well as Arms Act which are standard charges slapped on the political prisoners belonging to the National Liberation Struggle areas / Adivasis / Maoists. It took the trial court fourteen years to conclude the trial and finally give the judgement. So the undertrials had almost completed a life term awaiting the trial to finish. Finally it took the Delhi High Court to slam the police and the investigating agencies for not evening following the minimum procedures while conducting the probe as well as apprehending the suspects. It was not the first time that the higher courts in India had expressed its displeasure about the flouting of vital norms and procedures by the investigating agencies and it was not the first that the Higher Courts left it at that without taking any action on the criminal intent of the authorities. Interestingly the court after making a song and dance of the set pattern of increasing instances of impunity on the side of the police and the investigating agencies then keeps a studied silence. Till date there is hardly any case worth noting where the grave misconduct of the police and the other investigating/intelligence agencies have been held accountable by the court of law.
So finally when the High Court of Delhi acquitted Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohd Ali Bhatt on the 22 November 2012 both of them had spent 16 years in prison—14 as undertrials and the rest 2 years as convicts—waiting for the court finally to dawn upon and say that they are innocent. Despite flimsy evidences the HC still persisted with the life sentence of Javed Ahmad Khan while commuting the death sentence of Mohd Naushad to life. There are thousands of such cases of tell tale instances of impunity of the police, paramilitary and numerous investigating agencies vying each other to show that they can deliver the results which can add substance to the ideological propaganda of the ‘war against terror’.
As mentioned before the edifice of the Indian State was built violently by repressing the demands of Right to Self-Determination of the Peoples of Jammu & Kashmir, Nagas, Manipuris, Mizos, Assamese, Bodos, Dimasa. Even the demands for autonomy and separate statehood (internal federalism) within the Indian union by the people of Telangana, Vidarbha etc. also meant with violent repression from the State resulting in the death of thousands of people. Kashmir especially has become the flashpoint in the geo-politics of South Asia. Both the ruling classes of India and Pakistan would want Kashmir to remain as a contentious issue in their competitive political gamesmanship to become the reliable ally of US imperialism. India uses Kashmir to further entrench the Brahminical Hindutva jingoism caricaturing the Kashmiri Muslim as a grave threat to India’s sovereignty and integrity. This has made possible the Indian State’s acts of impunity in Kashmir with close to 100,000 people being killed by the Indian Army and paramilitary, more than 60,000 rotting in torture and detention centres and around 10,000 subjected to enforced or involuntary disappearance with the fate of many having been unearthed time and again from unidentified graves. Apart from the prisons in J& K, Kashmiri Muslims have been put in prisons in Ranchi, West Bengal, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra etc. In many a case, trial goes on for more than 10 years (in some cases 14 years) for the court to finally declare the undertrial as innocent! As one of the Kashmiri Muslim prisoner stated after being sentenced to death in a bomb blast case in Delhi: ”Being a Kashmiri in itself is a crime in India”!
The draconian Public Security Act of Jammu & Kashmir is a one of a kind law amply used by the state to see to it that dissident voices remain behind bars for years together. It is totally within the discretion of the army who holds sway over the civil administration as to how many times a person can be put behind bars using this draconian act. Easily once evoked this act can prevent a person from seeing the light of the day for the next two years after which it is again put before the court. Even when the civilian court of Jammu & Kashmir orders the release of a particular prisoner the army court can often over rule it.
Indian expansionism and the North East
If the Indian State has converted Kashmir, one of the most beautiful places in the world, into a graveyard, the situation in the entire region of the North East has not been different. The principle approach of the Indian State in this region has been to entrench itself as the main adjudicator of all the outstanding disputes of the peoples in the region by pitting one nationality against the other. Since 1947 the ‘carrot and stick’ policy of the Indian State has ensured that it has its stranglehold over the destiny of the peoples in the region. One of the main strategies for this has been to engage in prolonged talks (peace talks/ceasefire) with various national liberation movements engaged in armed resistance so as to wear them down politically and thus create dissension within these communities and their liberation movements. The Indian State could manage this with the Assamese, Mizos and the Bodos of the region while at the same time engaging in the longest ever talks with the Nagas (15 years)—which is often termed in the security parlance as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’. One of the main leaders involved directly in the negotiations from the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (IM) Anthony Shimray was kidnapped from a foreign country (Nepal) by the Indian intelligence services and later shown as arrested from the state of Bihar by the RAW. The Indian government has slapped the charges under UAPA and waging war on Anthony Shimray who is one of the main leaders involved in the negotiation. No other case can illustrate much better than this as to how authoritarian and fascist the Indian State and its various arms can be. The Manipuris have been facing arrests as well as fake encounter killings of their leadership and activists with the army enjoying blanket powers under the AFSPA as mentioned above. In the last 5 years alone more than 1500 cases of fake encounters have been reported from the valley of Manipur of which the Supreme Court has just taken note of just half a dozen killings. Thus in Manipur like in many parts of the subcontinent people’s activists are mainly killed than being arrested and kept behind bars. Apart from Manipur and Assam fake encounters or what the state conveniently describes as ‘firing in self-defence’ are quite common in areas where national liberation struggles are raging such as Jammu & Kashmir, Naga areas, Bodoland, Kamtapur strugglein North Bengal etc. In the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh also the trend is rampant with Andhra Pradesh leading and showing the way in acts of impunity. The mandatory guidelines set by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and other legal provisions are never followed anywhere in such claims of encounter.
Assam and Manipur has also faced rape and murder by the army and paramilitary as an instrument of repression. The killing of Manorama Devi an activist of the national liberation struggle in Manipur is a case which attracted the attention of world-wide media. The novel protest of women stripping themselves before the Indian army camps with placards asking the Indian army to rape them shows the extent of brutality and impunity to which the Indian State has descended to while dealing with movements with clear political aspirations of the peoples in the region. This is despite massive protests from the people’s movements and the civil and democratic rights organisations. Assam also has been witness to numerous fake encounter killings of democratic rights activists of the MASS along with the fake encounters of ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) activists and Maoists in the region. Several youth fighting for their basic needs in the extremely backward regions of Upper Assam has also been put behind bars.
Besides, the entire NE is rising up against the new colonial project of development being pushed by the Indian State euphemistically called as the Look East Policy (LEP). As per the LEP the Indian State is planning to build a whopping 168 dams in the entire NE to produce a massive 100,000 MW of power which will be sold mostly to the international market through the Free Trade Zones being planned in the Burmese border. All anti-dam, anti-displacement movements in the region is being penalised by the State through the instruments of UAPA. The regions of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have been facing severe repression on peoples’ movements against displacement. The prisons conditions in Arunachal Pradesh are worst in the world with hardly any proper shelter as well as food for the prisoners. It goes without saying many of the prisoners in this region are national liberation fighters or tribals unable to cope with the enforcement of laws on their everyday life in the forested hill tracts.
Prisons in India—overcrowded, unhygienic and abysmal living conditions
As the graph of discontentment among the masses of the people is threatening to shoot over the roof, prisons in the Indian subcontinent are getting overcrowded with the living conditions being abysmal. In December 2012 the inmates lodged in the crowded prisons of Gadchhiroli in Maharashtra went on a hunger strike demanding the authorities to shift them to the newly constructed prison with more amenities. Despite the new prison being constructed the authorities deliberately delayed the shifting of the prisoners from their present jail which had fewer amenities and crowded with prisoners which is the common feature of prisons in India. Overcrowded with inmates and unimaginably unhygienic from the prisons in India several diseases are reported due to food and water contamination as well as bad sanitation with clogged toilets and bathrooms. There is hardly any recreational facility for the prisoners. For a prisoner to get timely and competent medical care he/she will have to wait for days. Bad diet, inhuman, totally unhygienic living conditions, torture and humiliation in various forms are what these prisoners face day in and day out. Long years of captivity have made many of them victims of psychological trauma, physical degeneration, mental breakdown and derangement. Some prisoners have already died unnatural deaths in prisons, some died after being released on bail, The legal process is also very long, frustrating and very much expensive and often unbearable.
The case of Swapan Dasgupta, editor of People’s March in Bangla and Publisher of Radical Publications, is of serious concern for anyone fighting for the rights of the prisoners. He was diagnosed of cancer in the prison. Being a Maoist political prisoner the authorities saw to it that his treatment be delayed to the last moment. Even after he was shifted to the hospital at a critical stage after many protests from the civil and democratic rights sections of West Bengal the medical prescriptions of the doctor treating him were ignored and kept beneath his bed by the police officers in duty at his hospital bed. Only towards the fag end could his comrades reach out to him to realize what was done to him. This was nothing but custodial killing in cold blood. Another case that needs mention is the struggle for life from death of Shushil Roy, senior Maoist leader (aged 76) who was kept in the Giridih prison in Jharkhand for 8 months with just pain killers after he reported to the jail doctor about blood in his urine as well as excruciating pain in lower abdomen. Finally when he was shifted to the Rajendra Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences in Bokaro there too like Swapan Dasgupta he was left unattended in the ward for prisoners as the police watched him floating on stools and urine for days in a semi-conscious state. The catheter which was inserted to ease the flow of urine got clogged as there was no one to periodically clean it thus choking flow totally damaging one kidney while partially destroying the other. Only the dogged efforts of the CRPP along with his brother could salvage his life back and his conditional release after prolonged treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) where he got his cancerous tumour and urinary bladder removed to survive precariously with one partially damaged kidney. If such senior leaders of the Maoist movement are treated deliberately with vendetta in such a way to ensure their death in custody one can imagine the condition of the poor adivasi and dalit arrested from the areas of intense struggle of the people for their lives and livelihoods.
The Naxalite/Maoist prisoner or the single largest internal security threat
The 1970s were abound with the stories of torture, disappearance and custodial deaths of thousands of Naxalite prisoners. Especially in the State of West Bengal, while UP, Bihar, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala also reporting cases of a similar albeit in lesser numbers. The methods of specific targeting of the Naxalite prisoner in terms of isolation, torture—psychological as well as physical—surrender policy and in many cases death due to prolonged incarceration that were reported in the 1970s and early 80s are still the case as about 25000 Adivasis from the States of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jangal Mahal in West Bengal abound the prisons. Apart from the Adivasis, the profile of the Maoist prisoner encompasses the other oppressed castes, sections of the educated middle class etc. As mentioned in the case of Sushil Roy and Swapan Dasgupta the leadership is specifically targeted with numerous cases in different states slapped against them. Senior Maoist leaders like Pramod Mishra, Amitabh Bagchi, Narayan Sanyal, Tushar Bhattacharyya, Kobad Ghandy, Jhandu Mukherjee, PP Singh, most of them above their sixties with Narayan Sanyal being the eldest at 77 despite being directives by the Supreme Court of India to speed up the trial of senior citizens there is hardly any progress in the cases filed against these leaders. Narayan Sanyal who was about to be get bail in all the cases in Jharkhand and was about to be shifted to Andhra Pradesh was prevented by the Jharkhand police by putting him under the NSA thus preventing any possibility of getting bail in the remaining cases in AP at least for another year. Most of the cases that are put on the leadership are solely based on third party confessions. Since the alleged confession made by a particular prisoner has the names of all the CCMs included as and when a Central Committee member is arrested he/she becomes automatically accused in such numerous cases spread in various states thus making their release almost impossible.
As has been discussed in the case of political prisoners belonging to the Muslim community and national liberation struggles the manufacturing of evidence by the police and investigating agencies flouting all norms and procedures go unabated in the case of the Naxalite/Maoist prisoner too. The premises of the detained/arrested are searched without the presence of independent witnesses, no seizure lists are handed over to the members of the families, and, in certain cases, some literature or articles are implanted without conducting any search. Fake seizure lists are later submitted to implicate the person in criminal cases. In fact, works of Marx and Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, biography of Shaheed Bhagat Singh adorn almost all seizure lists. Even those of Romain Rolland or any liberal Indian author such as Manik Bandyopadhyay are not spared.
Once given bail or acquitted in cases then they are virtually kidnapped at the time of their release by police with new warrants from other districts or states. The case of Arun Ferreira from Mumbai who got acquitted in all the 10 cases and was to be released from Nagpur is the best example as he was kidnapped and his lawyer was manhandled by the police to be produced later in Gadchhiroli. Another striking example is that of Padma a Maoist prisoner who after getting bail was never produced before the court and instead was shown later, after her lawyer filed a habeas corpus, as being taken to another prison for a new case slapped on her under the jurisdiction of a new court in the State of Chhattisgarh. Padma was denied treatment several times when she was suffering from severe malaria and many a time the prisoner had to resort to hunger strike to even get medical attention. The State of Chhattisgarh has gained notoriety for not producing many of the women Naxalite/Maoist prisoners in the court for several hearings together. The reasons often cited are lame security threats. Women have frequently been subjected to sexual abuse and molestation during raids and while in custody. As in the case of the experience of women in regions of national liberation struggles, there are cases reported in Jangalmahal regions of West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, etc., of women being forced to strip on the road by the raiding police party/paramilitary ostensibly to determine their sex. Many instances of allegations of large-scale abuse and rape were established in various investigations by government and nongovernment fact-finding missions and medical teams.
The Bhagalpur jail in Bihar and Nagpur jail in Maharashtra are equipped with special egg shaped cells (anda cell) to isolate the political prisoner, especially the Naxalite prisoner for days.
Even before the Naxalite prisoner reaches the prison while being detained, the set pattern is to not produce before the court within the stipulated 24 hours. They are kept illegally at police stations and detention centres (read torture centres) sometimes for days together. Most of them are brutalised in these centres through severe torture. The majority of the Maoist prisoners belonging to the district, regional, zonal, central committee rank are often kept in illegal confinement for days. If the leadership is from Andhra Pradesh then there is every chance that they may get killed in fake encounters. The recent killings of Kishenji, Azad, Sudhakhar Reddy, Appa Rao all point consistently to this tactic of the Indian State.
Several newspaper reports and testimonies given by those released on bail show clearly as to how they had been subjected to physical and mental torture for hours and days together. Continuous interrogation even for 18 hours a day for days together, keeping prisoners blindfolded even when he or she goes to the toilet, application of electric shocks on private parts of the body, beating up with batons, kicking them with heavy boots, beating them with fists, standing on all parts of the body of the arrested persons, spitting on the face, breaking down fingers by pressing them in the opposite direction, by pressing pins and nails beneath the toes.
There are also instances of entire villages in Chandrapur and Gadchhiroli being lifted and slapped with cases under UAPA. The concerted effort of the lawyers saw the entire village getting acquitted. But this did not prevent the authorities from further implicating the villagers in other cases, the vengeful attitude being attributed to the sole reason of the unrepentant villagers being ardent Maoist supporters.
In many of the cases on the villagers if the son/daughter/brother/sister/father are in the wanted list of the police or paramilitary then someone from the family is taken away in the place of the person who has been declared absconding. There are numerous cases of this nature almost in all areas of the subcontinent, primarily in the adivasi areas.
As part of the further criminalisation of the lives of Adivasis, the State of Chhattisgarh has declared unlawful for the Adivasis to carry their traditional weapons. Already criminalised under various laws, the direct fallout is that a large number of these adivasis are being implicated in serious cases. Thousands of ordinary villagers are routinely picked up during search operations, incarcerated with impunity by security personnel having scant regard for legal procedure. Most of them implicated under ”Naxal Offence” are not produced in the courts for long periods of time, on the pretext of non-availability of ”sufficient police guards”. Hence the trial does not proceed for years together. Out of economic difficulty and for fear of harassment, family members of the under-trials are unable to visit them in jail thus making them even more vulnerable. The adivasi ”Naxal undertrials” are only kept in Central Jails. In many cases in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Jungal Mahal they are put in far away jails with maximum security so much so that their regular production in court becomes impossible. In these regions, the prisoners have petitioned the higher courts, all of which proved to be futile. Most of the adivasi under-trials are dependent on government legal-aid-lawyers who more often than not never go to meet the client or seek instructions regarding the case. Often they are amenable to pressures from the police or prosecution. Seldom do the courts have official interpreters/ translators to enable the adivasi communicate in their own language.
Even in a scenario when they manage to get bail there are hundreds of thousands of dalits and Adivasis who are unable to pay the bail bond—which usually comes to Rs.500-2000—thus condemned to stay in the prison for another six months or a year. In the meantime there is every possibility that they get implicated in another case by the police who would want to fill up their ledgers with the maximum arrests under UAPA or similar such offences so as to beef up their career!
Death Penalty as an Instrument of Retribution
As this is being written the Indian State is hurriedly executing a series of cases of capital punishment that were pending before the President of India with the latter rejecting many of the appeals for clemency. The case that has shocked every democratic mind in the Indian subcontinent is the secret execution of Mohd. Afzal Guru. The Supreme Court of India had cleared Afzal of all charges of being a part of a ‘terrorist’ organisation in the Parliament Attack Case December 2001. The court had accepted the fact that there was only circumstantial evidence against him. But then the SC upheld the death penalty of Afzal Guru on the strange grounds of satisfying the ‘collective conscience’! Further the State violated every procedure once the clemency petition was rejected by the President of India as they secretly implemented the order of execution of Afzal without informing his family about the final developments. This was mandatory for any country that talked about the rule of law and the need to uphold procedures. On the contrary one could hear the Home Minister gloating before the media the decision to carry forward the execution secretly as in his wisdom the government didn’t want Afzal’s family to take recourse to other remedies provided by the law as well as the jail manual! Later the Supreme Court of India while staying the death sentence on seven others in the month of April had accepted the need to follow all procedures pertaining to the rights of the family members of the person on death row so that all possible legal as well as semi-legal provisions available can be exhausted. Soon after the ‘secret’ execution of Mohd. Afzal Guru the Supreme Court has dismissed the petition of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar for commuting the death sentence to life due to the inordinate delay in the execution which in any case should be considered as added cruelty to someone on death row. In all these instances the lame pretext of continuing with capital punishment as to be exercised only in the ‘rarest of rare’ instance have fallen flat with the records showing that the Indian Courts have been awarding death penalties at the rate of 133 per year over the last ten years. Thus the rarest of the rare cases are decided by the Indian courts once in every three days! Most of the people who have been given death penalty either belong to the Kashmiri Muslims or Muslims in general as well as the Dalits and other oppressed sections who are basically the landless agricultural labourers.
The role of the media
The devious yet mediating role played by the media in this regard becomes significant. In the Post 1947 Indian subcontinent, as is evident from the trajectory of state building with the end of the World War II, the retention of draconian laws of colonial vintage and its continuous evocation in all areas that was against the consensus of formation of the Indian state is reflective of the constant sense of insecurity of the Indian ruling classes. The state or sense of emergency and hence the refuge in the extra-ordinary laws (draconian laws) to address state building as a continuation of the imperialist logic in other words is also addressing the context at hand as extra-ordinary. This sense of the extra-ordinary situation as an imminent ‘threat’ from the neighbor State Pakistan as well as from the national liberation sentiments in the North East and Kashmir has further broadened with the deepening crisis in the subcontinent to encompass the teeming millions of toiling Adivasis and dalits in the form of the Maoist movement. The ideology of the ‘extra-ordinary’ in that sense has been couched in very many populist slogans which today being rehashed as the ideology of the politics of ‘development’. Thus in maintaining the credibility of logic of the sense/notion of emergency as is evident in the letter and spirit of the extra-ordinary laws (internal security) and the sanctity of criminalization of all forms of dissent has been worked out through the ideological offensive unleashed through the media.
It is also important to note how the state mediates consent towards the ‘perceived threat’ to national security through all these arrests. It is through the media that the State articulates the ways of perceiving these arrests of political dissidents. Here the profiling of this ‘perceived threatV’threat’ to national security in the media also critically manufacture a perception of the ‘threat’ among the public. The definition of ‘national security’ also accommodates the composition of the arrested individuals thus subtly enhancing the premise while simultaneously demarcating the periphery of the very definition of concept of national security among the public. Often common sense also equates the seriousness of an issue/concern/intervention of the state by the amount of money spend on it. As is evident the expenditure on surveillance, defence and procurement of arms by the state have seen astronomical rise in the Indian State’s exchequer. Without doubt the impact of such internal security legislations on the assumptions of justice among the opinionated middle class has also changed.
The explosion of media trials of the arrested individuals even before the trial begins in the court of law and the relative indifference of the media to the actual proceedings in the court often stereotypes a certain profile of the arrested individual that reinforces the narratives of ‘perceived threats’/ ‘threats’ which often surmounts the reportage in the media. It is this reinforcement of the perception which sediments as residual memories in the public mind which often obfuscates an informed opinion of the individual in deciding what constitutes a real threat to the people and their well being. The role of the media as part of the process of consent building is to further mystify the reality before the people. Here is the convergence of the draconian law in UAPA and the mystifying role played by the media. The sanctity as well as authenticity of both rests in the fact that perception is reality and not vice versa. The more mystified the reality the more it becomes the perception and hence reality itself. With imperialist and comprador capital investing heavily in the media, the normalization of the process of growing impunity of the State machinery and the culture of fear of the unknown due to the mystification of perception has resulted in the growth of cynicism, rampant religiosity and servility among the vast sections of the people paving the way for a lawless State.
The gradual build up of the Indian subcontinent towards a national security state teethed with the worst ever draconian laws and other instruments to trample the right to freedom of association, right to freedom of expression, right to protest/dissent has been mediated through the fourth estate as an ideological offensive, sophisticated in form, yet retrogressive in content by ways of mystification of the present rooted in the prism of a mystified past so as to make way for a mystified future where every value and sensibility is measured/understood/appreciated by the presence or absence of the amount of capital in it.
NCTC-NIA-UAPA-AFSPA—towards a national security state in the subcontinent
The desperate measures of the war-hawk representatives of the Indian State—unable to contain the groundswell of the anger of the masses of the people as well as the increasing disunity among its own ranks which they would euphemistically call as a ”policy paralysis”—pushing for one repressive central agency as the need of the hour to deal with anti-government ‘terrorist’ activities taking place in parts of the Indian subcontinent have the central cabinet committee dealing with security-related issues give nod to the formation of National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) as early as on 11 January 2012. The NCTC will have three separate departments—the first for collecting relevant data; the second the analysis wing; and the third for taking repressive steps against the people who they will brand as ‘terrorists’. This proposed NCTC will be under the control of the central intelligence agency though there is still a lot of noise created against that proposition. With the main office at the IB (Intelligence Bureau) headquarters in New Delhi the NCTC will be headed by the additional director of the IB department. It implies that the central intelligence branch will be in control. Since there is no consensus among the ruling class parties vis-a-vis the concentration of power in the NCTC making heavy weather of the already namesake federalism of the Indian union, the setting up of the NCTC has been halted though there are efforts, after the recent Hyderabad blasts, to reintroduce it through the back door as is claimed in a ‘diluted’ form.
Before the setting up of the NCTC the precursor to it was unveiled before the people of the subcontinent through yet another draconian instrument, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act in November 2008. The NIA has been created to deal with ‘terrorist attacks…in the militancy and insurgency affected areas and areas affected by Left Wing Extremism’ as also ‘terrorist attacks and bomb attacks’, a large part of which are ‘found to have complex inter-State and international linkages…’ claims the website of the same.
Legalization of Impunity—Criminalization of Law
This NIA has, as its targets, ‘terrorists’ (a loaded term which is so elastic for the ruling classes to bring any form of dissent under its rubric and more liberally used against the Muslim community), militants and insurgents (mainly people fighting for their Right to Self-Determination such as the Kashmiris, Manipuris, Nagas, Assamese and others) and the ”Left-Wing Extremists” (i.e., the Maoists). These are the forces which the central government treats as forces threatening the present set-up. The UAPA, NIA, NCTC are all integral parts of the same long chain that openly tramples people’s rights and their fight for justice.
What in essence the NIA does is to legalise all acts of impunity so far indulged in by the police and paramilitary under the garb of fighting terror. For instance the recent kidnapping of student leaders from Chandigarh in Punjab by the AP Special Intelligence Branch and after 6 days of illegal custody the arrest was shown in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Later it was revealed that even before the NIA has been declared as fully operational there is already its office functional with separate departments at NOIDA in the outskirts of Delhi. And as the debate on NCTC is yet inconclusive the formation of which will actually put in motion the functioning of the NIA, all former wings of the intelligence from various ‘disturbed’ areas have been made functional under its umbrella with the AP police (notorious for the acts of terror on the people’s movements and its leadership) leading such illegal acts. The growing evidence is that the NCTC and NIA will soon legalise all mafia-type operations of the states’ police and paramilitary as is the case with the vigilante gangs.
Further, P. Chidambaram when he was the Home Minister also took initiative to introduce the Border Security Forces (BSF) (Amended) Bill to extend the right of operation from the border areas to all parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Ever since the end of World War II and the transfer of power in the Indian subcontinent to the domestic parasitic ruling classes the legitimacy / authenticity of rule over the people was maintained, albeit with other slogans of populism, by taking refuge in enacting one draconian law after another in the process denying many of the basic rights of the people that the Indian constitution professes to uphold. It is no coincidence that of the 395 Articles of the Indian constitution adopted in 1949 almost 250 articles were taken more or less verbatim from the colonial Government of India Act of 1935. It is important to have a quick look into those acts for our understanding of the nature of Indian ‘democracy’. All the Press and Security Acts of the colonial days remain unchanged under the New Constitution. The old repressive machinery of the colonial state with its Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, the Police Act of 1861, Defence of India Rules, Preventive Detention Acts were retained. The notorious Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which empowers the central and state governments of supposedly independent India to acquire land by advancing the pretext of ‘eminent domain’, ‘public purpose’ etc., and many other such acts were perfected over the years by the ruling classes so as to continue the attacks on the liberty of the people as a necessity to maintain their legitimacy and authority.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance imposed by the British colonial government on 15 August, 1942, was injected with more teeth in 1958 when the Government of India enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). It extended ”to the whole of the States of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura and the Union Territories of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram” which is otherwise called today as the North East. Later, it was extended to Kashmir. The AFSPA empowered the armed forces to kill anyone with impunity on mere suspicion that the person was going to commit certain offence. Section 4 clause (c) of the act as amended in 1972 read as follows: ” arrest without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exist that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest”. It means that any person can be arrested not for the commission of any ‘offence’, but for an ‘offence’ which in the opinion of the law-enforcing authority the person may commit in future unless he is prevented from doing so. Thus under this ”lawless law” a person can be detained and put behind bars for an indefinite period of time without the commission of any ‘offence’ at all. These lawless laws, needless to state, were passed to curb the growing resistance of the people. The Preventive Detention Act of 1950 was copied verbatim in the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) 1971 under which tens of thousands of people were imprisoned between 1970 and 1973 in West Bengal alone, of which the overwhelming majority comprised the Naxalites. During and before Emergency (1975-77), thousands of people—mostly Naxalites—were shot dead or made to disappear. By the end of the Emergency MISA had become the most hated word. And hence the MISA was ipso facto copied into the National Security Act (NSA) 1980!
In fact, there is no end to such draconian acts which had both regional and sub-continental applications. The West Bengal Prevention of Violent Activities Act, Punjab Disturbed Areas Ordinance, the National Security Act (1980), TADA (1985), POTA, Public Security Act in Kashmir and many other acts and ordinances were passed.
UAPA—the Extraordinary has become Ordinary; Perception has become Reality
Every succeeding ”lawless law” is a greater attack on the liberties of the people than the previous one. Many of the acts are reflective of the growing unrest among the oppressed nationalities, Adivasis, dalits, minorities, peasantry, working class, students etc. The latest addition to this long list of draconian laws is the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amended) Act of 2008 which is tied up with the charges of sedition hardly giving any scope for the mirage of a fair trial in the court of lav/. The contradicting stands taken by the State vis-a-vis its response to the growing unrest of the people against draconian laws in particular was apparent as in September 2004 the President of India introduced two ordinances in Indian
Parliament—one to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the other to bring in the same old provisions in the repealed act under a new label, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The paradox was so telling as the new Act was more draconian than the previous one! As discussed in the case of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the UAPA too mere suspicion of assumption of a person capable of committing what is termed as a ‘terrorist’ act is sufficient to put him/her behind bars. For any law supposedly to fight terrorism the examining principle should have been that counterterrorism measures should not facilitate, or have the potential, either implicit or intentional, for state terrorism. ‘Terrorist activity’ is defined (Section 15) as ”any act with intent to threaten or likely to threaten” the ”unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country…”. Thus it has been left to the imagination of the authorities to define intention as the question of intention has attained centrality in making UAPA [Amended] (2008) one of the worst draconian laws.
According to the UAPA, anyone can be kept in police or jail custody for 180 days without trial, unlike normal laws which makes it 90 days, failing which the prisoner will be granted bail. During this period, the detained can be brought to the police station for questioning for as many times as the police officials think necessary. It is very difficult to get release on bail under this Act.
There are many more stringent clauses in the UAPA which makes it the worst draconian Act so far. This will be dealt with later.
The UAPA like all such laws which were enacted to counter political dissent, was brought in 1967 to curb the ongoing National Liberation Struggle of the Nagas. While the Act was applied uniformly in all other regions, it was extended to Jammu & Kashmir on 1 September 1969, through the Constitution (Application to Jammu & Kashmir) Amendment Order, 1969, by the Central Government. The 1967 Act, identified unlawful activity and organizations, in particular the procedure for banning organizations, as unlawful.
India’s ordinary law is tougher than UK and US anti-terror laws. Even under the draconian Acts of TADA and POTA there were at least provisions for review to ensure that the ‘extraordinary’ in the law does not metamorphose into the ordinary in its implementation. It is founded on the principle that everyone is suspicious or a suspect, with no fine distinction between the two. What is being created is a suspicious state to empower suspicious officials and citizenry to act suspiciously against any supposed suspect.
Significantly more than ever before perceived ‘threat’ has been getting prime concern in declaring criminality of the act of an individual/group/organization than the exactitude of the Act itself. Perceived reality has become sacrosanct under this law than the reality itself.
Thus on the one hand when there is a major opposition against the AFSPA brewing up from the opinionated section the fact remains that with the introduction of the NCTC, NIA and the full fledged unleashing of the UAPA on the masses of the people, the Indian subcontinent will be under an undeclared emergency throughout the day, month, year. The government claims that these extraordinary laws aire the products as well as response to ‘extraordinary’ situations. But under the UAPA (Amended) 2008 the ‘extraordinary’ has been rendered ‘ordinary’. The temporary has attained permanence without any provisions for review.
The NCTC, in reality, is the product of Indo-American collaboration. People are more and more becoming conscious of the fact that issues relating to India’s ‘internal security’ are being pursued under the dictates of US imperialists. The NTPC is fascist, anti-people and draconian in nature; it is meant to suppress people’s just struggles, nip them in the bud, to drown people’s movements in blood so as to perpetrate the central policy of plunder of people’s natural resources and wealth let alone causing devastation. For a long time since 1947, new East India Companies have been allowed their foothold in the subcontinent by the central and state governments—irrespective of their colour and they are doing havoc to the land, environment, adivasis, dalits, workers, poor people, petty bourgeois and broad sections of the people. It is the demand not just for the sake of civil and democratic rights or human rights; it has now become an issue of life and death for the people.
In 2005, the New Framework Agreement for US-India Defence Relationship was signed. It was followed by the signing of the 123 Nuclear Agreement. In fact, the NCTC has been set up under the dictates and guidance of the American imperialists so that America could get legitimacy to carry on its terroristic acts in the Indian subcontinent. The objective of the ”anti-terrorist policy” of America is to create a structure that would collect information, carry on covert operations, use of non-state actors, use drones to deal with anti-American forces that they use with impunity against the fighting people all over the world; and in all these operations, the Indian intelligence agencies and security forces would act hand in glove with US security agencies.
The present situation drives home the reality that the undeclared war waged by the Indian central government against the people of the subcontinent in many parts of India in the name of ‘Operation Green-hunt’ is fully backed, led by the American agencies from behind the scenes. The extent and depth of this involvement is evident if we go through the US Defence and intelligence services documents about counterinsurgency interventions/operations outside its own territories. One can see the blueprint of Operation Green Hunt in these documents. Joint military exercises with American troops in the jungles of Mizoram, procurement of sophisticated weapons and UAVs from Israel and their use in areas of people’s struggles—all these point to that direction.
To conclude, the rough estimate of the Adivasis that have been incarcerated for daring to stand against the dog-eat-dog policies of the Indian State has touched not less than 25000. A huge number of dalits (some estimates put it at closer to 200,000) are put under various sections right from petty theft to cases of frame ups due to political reasons as a vast section of the dalits are landless agricultural labourers as well as the lumpen proletariat. The labour of the Dalit provides the cheap source of surplus maximization for the feudal landowning sections and this exploitative relation is enforced through further criminalisation of the Dalit community. The vast sections of the Muslim community who have been incarcerated as part of the so-called war against terror under several bomb blast cases and other cases of being part of ‘terror networks’ or ‘terrorist organisations’ run into thousands. Most of the artisanal class of which a major chunk is from the Muslim community are facing starvation due to lack of opportunities and their growing resentment also gets criminalised under the ideology of the war against terror in a brahminical Indian state. The newly educated sections within the Muslim community are also easy targets of the politics of ‘war against terror’. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims are put behind bars in response to the persistent demand of the people of Jammu & Kashmir for their Right to S elf-Determination. It is ‘normal’ for anyone to suspect the Kashmiri Muslim as a threat to the ‘integrity’ of India. The spectre of the world economic crisis which is having its fault lines in South Asia with increasing disparities between the rural and the urban, between traditional agriculture and industry, between capital intensive big industry and small-medium industries, between regions of concentration of capital and regions with near or total absence of capital, between the rich and the poor, between the upper caste and oppressed castes, between oppressed nationalities and the comprador Indian big bourgeoisie, between the people and feudalism and imperialism, the profile of the political prisoner as the target of the exploitative State for his/her actions and convictions that are not for their personal gain but directly or indirectly for the greater common good has become more nuanced and complex very much intertwined with the struggle for civil and democratic rights as well as the struggle to do away with the basis for all such inequalities and exploitation. The need of the hour is to build a world-wide consolidation of all peoples struggles that will unitedly fight for the release of all political prisoners unconditionally, irrespective of their political and ideological convictions.