#India- In Custody: Five Years in Jail and Innocent #sedition #dissent #Prison #Justice


  • January 15, 2013, 

    By Michael Edison Hayden, Wall street journal, India 

Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A man peeked through an opening of a door to a prison ward at the Tihar jail, New Delhi, April 26, 2012.

This week, India Real Time presents an in-depth look at the country’s prison and custody system.

It is a system that still carries many attributes of its origins in British-run colonial India, and gives a high degree of discretion to how state governments apply the penal code — and who ends up behind bars, whether serving prison sentences, or in temporary army or police custody.

Experts note that the national government, over decades, hasn’t funded the expansion of the prison system to meet the increasing ranks of prisoners. In part, those ranks have increased because India’s court system is backlogged with 65% of India’s 240,000 people in jail yet to face a verdict in court, according to government data. They also point to allegations of abuse in army custody, which the army denies. 

In four chapters this week, India Real Time will examine different aspects of life under custody, as well as attempts to improve it. They include the experience of those facing trial as well as efforts being made to promote rehabilitation over punishment.

Arun Ferreira
Pictured, Arun Ferreira.

MUMBAI, India – When Arun Ferreira went to prison in 2007, his son was only two. Today, they are reunited, and a tide of private anguish has at last begun to roll back and wash away.

“My family didn’t tell him that I was in jail, they told him I was away on business for five years,” Mr. Ferreira says.

“Today, my son still doesn’t believe it. Recently, he saw a picture of Nelson Mandela somewhere. I explained who he was, and then I mentioned [what happened to me], and he thought I was fibbing.”

On an unusually sunny afternoon during monsoon season in the residential neighborhood of Bandra, Mr. Ferreira is gracious and funny as we sit in a local coffee shop to discuss his experience in jail. Mr. Ferreira was arrested under the auspices that he was a Maoist rebel, planning to blow up the Deekshabhoomi Complex, a monument in the town of Nagpur, where the Dalit icon Ambedkar is believed to have embraced Buddhism for the first time. Mr. Ferreira spent most of the following roughly four years and a half years in Nagpur’s Central Jail.

The Communist Party of India (Maoist), are also known as Naxalites, a reference to the West Bengal town of Naxalbari, where their movement began. Started as a left wing political group in the 1940s, in the 1960s they launched an armed struggle against the Indian government, which they have been violently opposing ever since.

Their largest support base comes from local tribes who seek to retain their land resisting industrial interests. In 2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously described Naxalism as “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” Members of the group could not be reached.

Mr. Ferreira was charged with attacking a police station, firing on police, and booked under the Unlawful Activities Act of 2004, a law created to bolster security against possible terrorist attacks.

Mr. Ferreira claims he was held for organizing slum-dwellers to unite in protest against the demolition of their homes. Such demolitions are a frequent source of strife here in Mumbai, often pitting poorer locals against police and property developers. Mr. Ferreira is currently out on bail and contesting two additional charges – allegations that he illicitly possessed arms and fired on police – that were leveled against him by plain-clothes officers during his time of awaiting trial in Nagpur. Mr. Ferreira denies any wrongdoing.

The Wall Street Journal
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

In Sept. 2011, a court ruled that Mr. Ferreira was innocent of all eight of the charges that were placed against him, over four years and eight months after his initial arrest.

Justice Hosbet Suresh, 83, is a former judge of the Mumbai High Court whose experience working inside the system has driven him, during his retirement years, to become an advocate for prisoners’ rights. He says that India’s slow trials are being made even slower by a lack of judicial manpower.

“There are simply not enough judges to handle all of the cases,” says Mr. Suresh. “We just have too few of them relative to the population here.”

According to the Indian Bar Association, as of 2010, there were over 30 million cases pending in courts across India due in large part to a ratio of 11 judges per million people. This leaves India with a persistent backlog of cases waiting to be heard.

As a result, “more than half of the prison population here is under trial,” Mr. Suresh estimates.

The Wall Street Journal
A graphic showing total inmates segregated by convicts, detainees and undertrial.

It’s a lot more than half: The most recent survey conducted by the National Crimes Record Bureau, a government agency, found that as many as 64.7% of Indian prisoners have not yet been convicted. And while prisoners who are ultimately convicted will see their time spent in jail while waiting for trial reduced from their sentence, such provisions provide very little consolation to the innocent, like Mr. Ferreira.

For some it’s even worse: According to the study, 1,486 under trial prisoners, or 0.6% % of the total, had been jailed for five years without having had a single day in court.

Another reason prisoners sometimes wait years for their trial is that, according to government data, the majority of those arrested are too poor to afford bail and legal counsel.

India lacks a federal department of prisons, like that of the United States. Instead, prisons are a responsibility of individual states, although the ministry of law lays out broad guidelines on how to administer them.

Mr. Ferreira believes his politics may have played a role in his prolonged detention. He says he was shuffled between several different facilities during his time at Nagpur Central. He spent his first year in the high security Anda barrack, and his final two years were spent in what’s known as the Gunah Khana, or punishment cells.

In between that time, Mr. Ferreira says he was placed with convicts in the Phasi yard. The Phasi yard is the gallows; it’s where death row inmates are kept. Mr. Ferreira says that guards told him that he was placed there for being a security threat.

When I reached out to Nagpur Central Jail, a senior official said the prison does not comment on the cases of specific inmates. The official added that it is the policy of the prison to keep convicts and prisoners who are under trials separated in adherence with the law. According to Mr. Ferreira’s account, he found himself rubbing shoulders with those convicted of the 1993 bomb blasts that rocked Mumbai, and with the perpetrators of the Kherlanji massacre of 2006, where Dalit men and women were slaughtered by upper caste Hindus.  He had little choice but to remain calm and do his best not to draw attention to himself for that entire year. A spokesman for Nagpur Central Jail declined to comment on Mr. Ferreira’s allegations.

 

– Vibhuti Agarwal contributed to this post.

Michael Edison Hayden is an American writer currently living in Mumbai. 

 

#India- Open letter to #BenRattray, #CEO, #Change.org – “Et tu Brutus” #kracktivism


Dear Ben Rattray

You  started  change.org ,to change  the world, you did made an impact on social change in last five years,in US. In the developing world especially in India , there was mutli-fold increase in petitions, in last one year. So what was different about change, which made it so popular?  The fact it was a business model, which was entering social change with a very transparent and accountable agenda . You are not a non profit organisation claiming anything, true, but you were  representing a progressive community fighting for social justice and change, fighting for human rights of people across the globe. You were using the power of business for social good. Also the fact that each petition was checked and there was a coordination between offline protest , campaigns and the online petition.

I invested  my time at change.org  by  creating many  human rights and petitions on change.org in past one year. There have been  small victories  Paypal apologises. There have been some big victories ,Family Matters taken away from Justice Bhaktavatsala, Amnesty International intervenes to Free Waqar, The Kashmiri YouthFreedom for Arun Ferreira behind bars for 4 years under draconian laws  , and some still continue to create impact like the petition for a  To Save Soni Sori and Punish Chhattisgarh Police & has had impact for international mobilization .

I have closely worked with change.org team on  many petitions, and also guided them  time and again on some other petitions as well, as I strongly believed ,in the fact, that they had taken a stand for social justice and human rights.  Change.org, meant business, yes business to take stand for  human rights . I  used to laugh at some of the inane petitions, which were totally ridiculous e.g. homophobic, anti abortion petition, as I  was sure change.org will not give any support, neither a push and the petition will die its own death. But your decision to change your advertising policy in the name of  openness, democracy and empowerment is nothing more than a facade. There was a certain element of  trust which has been broken  by the new changes in your advertising policy. Change.org  built its reputation on arming Davids to take on the Goliaths, now it seems that you think David and Goliath should be on the same team.

After reading the leaked documents, I was very disturbed and angry and asked the change.org team in India about it and I got the following email, by country head of change.org in India on Oct 25th 2012

 Hi Kamayani,

 as you are one of our most active users I wanted to reach out to you to clarify things in light of the Huffington Post and other pieces regarding our advertising guidelines.

Change.org’s mission is to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see. Our vision is a world in which no one is powerless and making change is a part of daily life.

We believe the best way to achieve this is to have a platform that is truly open (like a true democracy) to all points of view as long as they don’t violate our terms of service – eg: hateful, violent, fraudulent etc. (full details here http://www.change.org/en-IN/about/terms-of-service).

We’re also extending this to our advertisers as long as they do not violate advertising guidelines http://www.change.org/en-IN/about/advertising-guidelines

This is the same yardstick that every tech platform uses – from FB and Google to Huffington Post itself.

 Finally, I would encourage you to read the leaked document as it serves as it clearly explains our position on a number of questions that people might have. It is not as dramatic as the HuffPo article :)

I hope that clarifies. Please let me know if you have further questions.

Cheers,

Avijit

I have read all internal documents word by word, the fact remains you did not plan  to  reach  to me and many other progressive users about the change you were going to embark upon. What these leaked documents revealed goes much beyond that, inclusive of embracing those who want to work against those very causes.  This part of internal document which  I produce below  proves  how your are turning from left to right . How will  you  justify while accepting paid promotions from conservative organizations. After all, conservatives don’t want change. That’s a progressive value. Conservatives want things to remain  the same. Corporations don’t have to run successful campaigns on Change.org in order to defeat the good that’s been done. All they have to do is pay to run so many petitions that current users dislike to get those users to go away or simply stop opening e-mails about petitions.

The full internal Faqs are available here-rebrand-internalfaqs-change.pdf

Your Article in HuffiiPost on Oct 25 also has nothing new  to add to the understanding at all  . In the name of openness now you say YES to-Republican campaigns, soon  I will find a campaign to endorse a legitimate rape ,  Astroturfing campaigns, Corporations.  About Hate groups – you say If a large organization like the The Southern Poverty Law Center( SPLC )says they’re a hate group its a NO , but otherwise yes. For change.org -Anti-abortion, Pro-gun, Union-busting, Animal cruelty is Yes. and you say “We are open to organizations that represent all points of view, including those with which we personally (and strongly) disagree.

Your advertising policy shift demonstrates the potential perils of for-profit companies founded on progressive values, and shows the power of money . You have literally betrayed all the active users of change.org, including me and taken advantage of our issues and petitions for increasing your own database. As a business and a company   you have every right to pivot and change  your brand  positioning. However, under the garb of ‘   you are actually helping further the work of those who we are working to organize against. For eg – with  this new Change.org openness, now anyone is eligible to advertise with you for profit. So after I sign a petition for gay rights, women’s rights and all of the other human rights issues, I might find a link to a sponsored petition that  I wasn’t expecting. Stop  Gay Marriages ! Give Legal recognition to Khap Panchayats !   Legalise ‘ Legitimate Rape ” !  Women should stop wearing skirts !

Its a big thanks to the Whistle -blower who leaked the documents for opening our eyes, and  you fire him from work, Wow, that’s very  Ethical, and you do not mention this at all in your article . Is  it change.org’s  policy not to discuss internal matters even if they are public  . I must say, and the fact we are having a debate, is because of him or her , and my eternal gratitude to the concerned person .

You used to call the non-profits who have spent millions to  support  you succeed “partners”, and now you call them “advertisers”. Nice attempt to make it sound like these were simply commercial transactions.   You make it sound like selling names to the radical right is a grand vision for ‘empowerment’”. Since when is suppressing the rights of women, ‘empowerment’? That’s not a grand vision for good. That’s a grand vision for greed. It’s genius, but let’s be clear. It’s not change. It’s just doubling-down on conflict—clickable, lucrative, conflict-mongering—and calling it a business model. Isn’t selling opt- ins (a user opts in with an email addresses when they sign a petition) to anti-women or anti-gay organizations a corrupt act no matter how you sugar coat it?  With a very liberal base of users on your sight. Your claim that you’ve simply grown too big to devote the necessary time to check out each petition is a betrayal of your origin, which was based on making this a voice for the voiceless,  for those who couldn’t make themselves heard elsewhere over the money. What’s changed  ? You seem to have eliminated change in favor of more of the usual. You may not think that you’re selling out, but at  you’ve made a Faustian deal.

Its  time to bid good bye, and I do so  with by my last petition addressed to you only, to reinstate the Whistle- Blower and come out . I will not be participating in change.org petitions  from now, but  I will definitely will be watching you , as you say in your article

“If it’s still not clear to you which version is accurate, I’d ask you consider suspending final judgment until you see the impact of our actions once the heat of the rhetoric subsides. Because while the impact that Change.org users have had around the world has been growing rapidly, we’re just getting started. And we’d love to work together to change the world.”

It’s very  clear to me where you are heading, and there is no confusion , now you are not a business for a social cause but  like any for profit , you are making money on our database .

Was a change.org petitioner organizer in India

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai

28TH October, 2012

The Trials Of A Political Prisoner: Arun Ferriera recounts custodial torture, life and irony in prison


Arun Ferreira, a civil rights activist, spent four and a half years inside Maharashtra’s prisons because the police believed that he was a Maoist. He speaks of life inside prisons, of hierarchies behind bars and the ubiquity of torture in police custody.

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JAVED IQBAL

Thirty-year-old Arun Ferreira hails from a middle-class Catholic family in Bandra, Mumbai. He became a political activist in his college days, active in Naxalite-affected eastern Maharashtra and during the Khairlanji killings. On May 8, 2007, he was arrested as he got off the train at Nagpur railway station from Mumbai.The police charged him under Sections 10, 13, 18 and 20 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

In a few months, eight more cases were slapped against him, including two of murder, an attack on a police station, and an explosion in Gondia. He was acquitted of all charges by the High Court in September 2011, but re-arrested outside Nagpur Central Jail just days later in front of his family, on September 27. He was charged for two more cases in Gadchiroli, again acquitted of one, and now out on bail for the other.

Ferreira has filed a case against the state on his re-arrest. There’s a touch of irony about it, as this was a subject on which he did his post-graduate master’s thesis while in jail, speaking to other prisoners who had suffered the same practice, which he describes as standard operating procedure for keeping political activists in jail.

Ferreira graduated from St Xavier’s College, married his college sweetheart, and worked in the Navjawan Bharat Sabha, an organisation active during the 1980s textile strike. That was his initial foray into political activity. He was
active in the bastis throughout the 1990s against demolition drives and for the regularisation of slums, supported by his family and his wife. He worked predominantly with youth, educating them on their rights, and eventually began to network with different people’s movements across Maharashtra, including anti-displacement struggles, Dalit and adivasi movements.

Now, a free man, he recounts his life in prison, from an activist for justice after the Khairlanji Dalit massacre, to time spent in the same jail barracks as those on death row for Khairlanji. He fought for the abolition of capital punishment; he went on a hunger strike for 27 days for basic rights in prison, and petitioned the High Court about his torture in police custody. The petition was thrown out.

He talks about his treatment and his debates with police officials, and his day-to-day routine as a prisoner in one of the most political prisons in Maharashtra state: Nagpur Central Jail.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

Sri Lanka on trial, but case against India


, TNN | Mar 25, 2012,

By giving me electric shocks, by stripping me naked, or by brutally assaulting me and inserting stones in my rectum, will the problem of Naxalism end? When I was being stripped, I felt someone should come and save me and it did not happen. In Mahabharata , Draupadi’s honour was saved when she called upon Krishna. Whom should I have called? I was given to them (police) by the court,” writes Soni Sori, a Dantewada school teacher who is in the custody of the Chhattisgarh police for her alleged support to Maoist rebels in the state.

“Not only did she write to the Supreme Court begging that she not be kept in the custody of those who tortured her, but a medical report from a Kolkata hospital showed the presence of stones in her rectum and vagina. And yet, she was sent back to the men who tortured her,” says Sori’s mentor, Himanshu Kumar, a Chhatisgarh social activist.

Sori’s story is not an aberration; a blip on an otherwise clean state. It’s just another case of custodial torture – a routine in the police station of India, which this week voted in favour of a USbacked resolution against the Sri Lankan government for its war crimes at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

For a country that does not believe it is at war, India’s track record on human rights is rather pathetic . The government might find itself in a very uncomfortable situation if the UNHRC turned the spotlight on India — on the mini Camp X-rays that exist in police lock-ups and the secret safe houses, where people are kept in illegal detention.

Custodial killings, police abuse and torture, and failure to implement policies protecting vulnerable communities marred India’s record in 2011, says a global report by Human Rights Watch released earlier this year. “And yet, as a country, we behave like ostriches with our head in the mud, choosing to ignore what is going on around us,” says sociologist Nandini Sardesai.

Custodial violence is a norm in police stations, especially for those who are arrested for alleged anti-state activities. Arun Ferreira, a social activist and alumnus of Mumbai‘s St Xavier’s College, was recently released from Nagpur Central Jail after more than four years in prison for his alleged support to Naxalites. Out of prison, Ferriera has now written a paper on how he was tortured. According to him, the interrogations lasted 16-20 hours a day and included threats to torture and rape his family. He describes instruments of torture such as ‘Bajirao’ , a whipping strip made from conveyor belt material attached with a wooden handle on one side that causes permanent pain without any external injury marks.

Often the police don’t stop at torture. In Mumbai, the police staged the disappearance of Khwaja Yunus , a young man being interrogated for a bombblast in 2004. It later emerged that he had died in police custody. The same year, Mumbai witnessed a series of slum demolitions in which the state acknowledged 24 deaths.

The real tragedy is that no effort is being made by the government to check the increasing cases of human rights violation across the country. Despite a Supreme Court order in 2006 that directed every state to set up a police complaints authority (PCA), only 18 of the 29 states have so far set it up, and it is functional in only 10 states, says a report by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). “Even where they are functional, they are designed to fail,” says Navaz Kotwal of CHRI.

While India has a poor human rights record, Sardesai points out that no country in the world is free of human rights violations. After all, the US, which moved the UNHRC motion against Sri Lanka , is a well-known perpetrator of war crimes in other countries.

Even small countries like Nepal and Bhutan don’t have clean records. Some 100,000 ethnic Nepalese were forced out of Bhutan in the 1980s and 1990s. Five years after Nepal’s civil war ended , a report by Human Rights Watch and Advocacy International says victims are still waiting for justice while the alleged perpetrators have “been appointed to senior government positions and sent abroad on UN peacekeeping missions…”

Nepal, Bhutan and India may have a deceptively clean image, thanks to the troubled neighbourhood they’re in. But the Sri Lankan case has opened a can of worms that may finally bring attention to its neighbours’ equally bad rights record.

Bajirao in Maharashtra and Eliminators in Chhattisgarh torture in Police Lock ups- Arun Ferreira


Arun ferreira , who was inside prison for more than four years talks about his experience of torture in the police custody and police lock ups in . He speaks our that there is difference of torture in police custody which is much harsher than when one is in prison, but levels might be different , degree might be different but torture is omnipresent , its high time India ratifies Convention against Torture .  In another video he talks about torture in the prison  and human rights violations inside the jails and prisons available  Torture inside prisons. He was speaking at Human rights education seminar, at Mumbai

Hunger strike only option to get basic human rights in Prison– Arun Ferreira


Arun Ferriera who spent four years in prison shares his experinces of torture and struggle for human rights inside prison. He was speaking at the  Human Rights Education Seminar, at St Pius College, organised by the South Asian Human righst education centre. He also talks how he was not allowed to get in Constitution of India, to read

 

A democracy that sleeps


Suprateek Chatterjee, Hindustan Times, March 03, 2012

Exactly two months after alleged Maoist Arun Ferreira was granted bail, post a widely criticised four-year-long incarceration, comes playwright Ramu Ramanthan’s politically-charged play Comrade Kumbhakarna.

The Hindi play, inspired by the 2007 arrests of Ferreira along with Sridhar Srinivasan and  Vernon  Gonzalves, will be staged in Mumbai for the first time this Sunday.

Comrade Kumbhakarna was written in English towards the end of 2010. He wrote the play for Pune-based director Mohit Takalkar’s theatre group, Aasakta, with whom he had worked on Kashmir, Kashmir in 2009. “It [Kashmir, Kashmir] was an incomplete script,” says Ramanathan. “I decided, therefore, to write Comrade Kumbhakarna to compensate for it.”

Oppression is what the play deals with, as it introduces a central character named Kumbhakarna, a member of a theatre troupe that enacts stories from the Ramayana. Born into poverty but high on self-respect, Kumbhakarna proceeds to subvert the mythological figures his plays portray, which leads to him being branded a rebel by the government, and his subsequent arrest.

Commenting on the parallels with Ferreira, who recently spoke out against inhuman police torture methods, Ramanathan says, “Democracy in India is only skin-deep. There are innumerable Arun Ferreiras out there, still languishing in jail. This is what Comrade Kumbhakarna attempts to show.”

The play has been extensively staged all over North India as well as cities such as Bengaluru. It has received rave reviews as well as several standing ovations.

However, according to Ramanathan, this may just be the only show Mumbaikars get to see, given that the play, which has been travelling since last June, may be reaching the end of its run.

Branded a Maoist by the Maharashtra police


At his first press conference after his release, he spoke about his ordeal and how the State has been muffling the voice of dissent. Prasanna D Zore reports.

The sarcasm in 40-year-old Arun Ferreira’s voice is not completely misplaced.

It comes naturally to somebody who has been branded a Maoist/Naxalite and tortured in jail — slapped, kicked and made to stretch.

It comes naturally to somebody who has been fighting the system and pleading his innocence.

It comes naturally to somebody who breathes fresh air after having spent more than 50 months in jail and was then acquitted by various courts in ten out of 11 cases.

It comes naturally to somebody who is pouring his heart out about his ordeal in prison, his release from prison after the court’s order in September 2011 and immediate ‘abduction by the police’ in Nagpur, and somebody who has seen the system work against the innocents.

Arun Ferreira, a native of Bandra, the upmarket northwest Mumbai suburb, was first arrested from Nagpur on May 8, 2007 under the Unlawful Activities and Prevention Act for his alleged links with the Maoists.

At his first press conference after his release on bail on January 5, he answered questions that were asked to him by friends and family ever since his release.

Over to Arun…

Arun’s story on Rediff.com

 

Jail gate farce with alleged Naxals


Soumittra S Bose, TNN Jan 16,

Every time a so-called Naxalite is granted bail and is expected to walk out of central jail, Shakespeare famous line ‘All the world’s a stage‘ from his As You Like It‘ comes to mind. With each interpreting the bail order the way they like it, all players gear up for the inevitable drama staged outside the gate of jail. It usually ends with the alleged Naxalite being arrested almost as soon as he is released. A lawyer representing the rebel said that around 31 people have been part of this arrest-bail-re-arrest drama during the last six months.

The media too remain alert to catch the action live retaining all the juices of a tight-script drama. With the lawyers and police locked in a tug-of-war over the released Naxalite, the media also remain on toes to catch every slightest bit of the commotion until the cops zoom out in some rickety government vehicle with their ‘prize catch’.ir ‘prize catch’.

It was expected to be same with the alleged Naxal activist Arun Ferreira’s when he was released earlier this month after the bail formalities. The speculation of his getting arrested again at the jail gate like in September 2011 was rising among his lawyers and media. The over-zealous media on the day of Ferreira’s release nearly made two inconsequential prison inmates heroes as they came out mistaking them for the Mumbai man. The error was realized only when the cops started giggling aloud.

The undertrials, who were escorted away by the cops for different reason, had a surprised look on their face as more than a dozen cameramen ran towards them clicking their pictures and chasing the cops’ jeep. A couple of media men left the place in a jiffy to become first to break the news of release.

When Ferreira himself walked out, he looked around cautiously and was unable to believe there was none to whisk him away again. Many attribute to this anti-climactic end to a petition filed before the high court by his lawyers just a day before the release. A week later, however, cops were up to their old trick as they picked up three so-called Naxalites outside Nagpur central jail as soon as they walked out. In this case there was no media present to highlight the drama nor a petition had been filed for the trio to ensure their safe passage home. These so-called rebels were not a ‘celebrity’ like Ferreira. After being released from jail on bail, it is learnt they landed in the office superintendent of police, Gondia.

In 2007 too, dramas outside central jail revolving around the release of Mallesh Kusumma, alias Vikram, would repeat every six months as the period for preventive arrests would get over and security agencies, desperate to keep him in custody, would pick him up again. Now it is learnt that Mallesh is a family man settled in Hyderabad. His petition before the high court protesting his arrest and re-arrest from jail gate has also reached a final stage. “After Monicagate and watergate, we now have jailgate scandals which is a mockery of bail provisions,” said an angry Naxal sympathizer.

‘Free political prisoners’


Arun Fererreira talk about Sudhir Dhawale

In his first public appearance after getting bail, Arun Ferreira, alleged Naxalite, spoke about the plight of political prisoners in India, at an event held by the Committee For Release of Political Prisoners in Mumbai yesterday.

Amidst a jam-packed hall swarming with journalists and activists, Mumbai-based Arun Ferreira, alleged Naxalite, made his first public appearance after he was released on bail from Nagpur jail recently. Ferreira, after returning to Mumbai, had refused to speak to the media. This much-awaited press conference came almost a week after his release. The event was organised by the Committee For Release of Political Prisoners at the Press Club in South Mumbai, yesterday. While shutterbugs clicked away, Ferreira took his position on the dais along with other members of the committee. Dressed in a blue jeans and a blue shirt, a small card dangling from his shirt pocket read ”FREE SUDHIR DHAWALE. The purpose of the event was to inform the media about the plight of political prisoners and eventually call for their release. “I have come here to highlight the plight of political prisoners in our country. Who are these political prisoners? Sudhir Dhawale is one of them. He was arrested in Gondia because the police claimed that he supports Naxalism. The evidence against him was a book, which he had written some six years ago. This book was used as evidence against him. Is this democracy?” asked Ferreira.

He further added. “Since 2011, none of us have been produced before the Sessions court in Gadchiroli. This is unacceptable.” Talking of another incident, Ferreira said, “In Nagpur, you have privatised bus service. The employees from the public transport department demanded that they wanted permanent jobs. They started protesting for the same. Without giving any explanation, the government jailed them for 15 days. Jailed for what? Jailed for demanding their rights. Can you call these people criminals?” Ferreira, who completed his master’s thesis on ‘political prisoners in India’, pledged to fight for their cause till the end. He said, “I also wanted to address the issue, where people are being re-arrested, time and again. After acquittal, the police slap some more charges against them. Then you are again arrested, and this is an endless cycle. It goes on and on. In 2007 when I was arrested there was no chargesheet or FIR against me. I was in jail and suddenly my name started cropping up in a few cases, where the police stated that I was absconding. Finally when I was acquitted, the police slapped two more cases against me and I was re-arrested. Data obtained from the police department might state that the number of so-called Naxals arrested has increased over a period of time, but most of the arrests being made are not new. A large number of people have been re-arrested again and again. In fact the former Principle district judge of Gadchiroli SS Ahmed had commented on this modus operandi of the police and the way they deal with political prisoners.”

 Torture
P A Sebastian, President of the Committee For Release of Political Prisoners, said, “Many like Arun, who are languishing in jails, are not criminals, but political prisoners. Their views and the states’ views are not similar and this is the reason they are confined in jails and tortured for years together.” Out on bail after four years and eight months, Ferreira has filed a criminal writ petition against the state and others before the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court, demanding compensation of Rs 25 lakh. Ferreira had been acquitted in 11 different cases and one case is still pending before the court. When asked if he sympathised with the Naxals , Ferreira refused to elaborate. Instead, Maharukh Adenwalla, spokeswoman , Committee For Release of Political Prisoners, answered, “If somebody’s opinion or views happens to be different from the state’s he/she is made out to be a Naxal. This is in order to fit into their scheme if things.” Ferreira later explained, “Whenever the state sees red, it retaliates. Any ideology that is different than the state’s ideology is perceived as a threat. Nowadays you see any sort of movement that questions the policy of the state has been suppressed.” When a member of the audience asked, if he was in favour of violence, Ferreira replied, “There are movements, which were meant to be non violent. Due to circumstances, violence creeps in. In such a scenario, it is not right for one to back out from the movement. At least, I wouldn’t do that.” Ferreira admits that life in prison has taken a toll on his health. “The police has mastered a technique where a person will be tortured, but there will be no visible marks on his body. I too faced that. A doctor is supposed to check our heath after every 14 hours. The doctor will ask us if there is pain in any part of our body, but he/she will not take note of what we say. One of my co-accused was tortured. Police put petrol in his rectum, but when the doctor gave his report, he said that the person had piles.” He added that the prison manual too needs to be changed. “The prison manual is archaic and there are no rules or regulations in a jail. Everything is decided by the jailor. From how much food you eat to how many letters you can write or receive. If you have enough money you will have a better place to sleep, if you don’t then you are miserable. Even in jails, money is everything. Caste, creed and everything else is very much prevalent in jails too. It is not an equaliser.”

Statement
When asked about his alleged statement about Maoists and Shiv Sena, Ferreira clarified, “There were reports that during narco analysis, I had said that many political parties, including Shiv Sena and its chief Bal Thackeray, have been funding Maoist activities in Mumbai. But this is false. One Dr Malini, who was in charge of the narco analysis, which was conducted in Bangalore, asked me a lot of questions. She asked me for which organizations I had worked, to which I told her about various activist groups I have been associated with. I also told her that various political parties like the Congress and the Shiv Sena have youth wings. The doctor did not know anything about the Shiv Sena. Hence, I had to explain to her that the Shiv Sena is a party and Bal Thackarey is its chief. This was then edited and put together and reports claimed that I had made that statement.”

While Ferreira spoke on various issues, he refused to answer any question related to his family. At the end of the event, when somebody asked him how he survived all these years, Ferreira tersely replied, “I too am surprised, how I survived all these years.”

Who is Sudhir Dhawale?
A resident of Byculla, Sudhir Dhawale, an activist was arrested from Wardha railway station by a team of Gondia police and a team from the Nagpur division of ATS, while trying to board a train to Mumbai. He was taken to Gondia and produced before a local court which awarded police his custody until January 12, 2011. He was also booked for waging war against the state and charged with sedition

Midday- Sudheshna Chowdhury