Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from sacw.net | @sacw
Home > Human Rights > A Letter from Nagpur Central Jail

A Letter from Nagpur Central Jail

by Arun Ferreira, 21 March 2009

print version of this article print version

sacw.net, March 21, 2009

This letter from one of the prisoners in Nagpur Central Jail, an alleged Naxalite undertrial, was sent on December 3, 2008 explaining the reasons behind the ‘Naxalite’ undertrial prisoners going on a token hunger strike on Human Rights Day last year. It was belatedly received by us and could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons. In view of the abiding validity of its contents, the letter is being is published here for the benefit of our readers. The letter was sent to the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) for facilitating its publication.

This year on December 10—the Human Rights Day—the so-called Naxalite undertrial prisoners in the jails of Nagpur, Amravati, Chandrapur and Mumbai will be going on a token hunger strike. This hunger strike is intended to remind the State Legislative Council about its unfulfilled promises discussed at its previous session in April 2008. In a reply to a query by Shri Kapil Patil (MLC), the State Home Minister spoke of giving justice to the concerned undertrial prisoners after a thorough inquiry into their problems. Almost eight months have passed since, but rather than providing a solution to the problems, the Home Department has chosen to further aggravate them.

As one remembers, about thirteen such undertrial prisoners of the Nagpur Central Jail (including a woman), accused of Naxalite related crimes, had commenced an indefinite hunger strike on April 7, 2008. They were soon joined by other similar undertrials imprisoned at the Amravati Central Jail. The issues raised by them broadly reflected the challenges posed before social activists, democrats and ordinary prisoners and therefore struck a sympathetic chord both within and outside the prison. Among the list of six demands submitted to the Home Minister, some contained references to the arrest and rearrests of ‘suspected Naxalites’, while others were related to prison reforms. The strikers mainly demanded the immediate release of all alleged ‘Naxalites’ who have been acquitted by the judiciary in a number of cases but were immediately rearrested on their release from jail. The immediate release of social activists falsely booked as Naxal-sympathisers was also demanded alongwith an end to the labelling of social organisations as ‘Naxal-fronts’ by the State Police. Some other demands that were related to an improvement in prison facilities such as lawyer interviews, providing telephone services and allowing inmates to accept eatables from relatives, found the support of many jail inmates. The strike also sought to raise the issue of the misuse of Section 110 of the Criminal Procedure Code as a method of preventive detention by the State Police. Under the pretext of curbing crime, it has become a tool used by the police to harass hundreds of unemployed urban youth or the tribals in Gadchiroli and Gondia.

The initial response to the hunger strike was overall positive. Right from the State Legislative Council to the mainstream media and the common citizen, everyone criticised the police for its labelling of social activists such as Medha Patkar and Baba Aadhav as ‘Naxalite-sympathisers’. Surprisingly, the Home Minister himself took lead in such a criticism. But the nodal point came along when the Additional DGP (Anti-Naxal Operations) was given the responsibility to conduct an inquiry into the strike. This was extremely shocking. The very office of perpetration was chosen to conduct an ‘impartial’ enquiry!! Thereafter began the famous method of the rulers wherein the issues of injustice are conveniently swept aside and the character of the dissenting voices are brought into focus. In this case, it was not much of a problem for the Home Department to lead this campaign in accusing the strikers of ‘horrendous Naxalite crimes’. A mere printout of the various fabricated chargesheets would suffice. Once the victims were projected as ‘mass-murderes’, it was enough justification for the injustices committed on them. So although the undertrial prisoners continued their strike, no government official was willing to assure the delivery of justice. The only reply was another criminal case registered on the strikers on the charge of ‘attempted suicide’. Finally, considering the deteriorating health of the participants, the strike was withdrawn on May 3, 2008, after a whole 27 days of fasting.

One would assume that the Home Department would quietly rectify its unjust practice rather than publicly accept the genuiness of the demands raised. But nothing of the kind happened. In fact the spate of rearrests of released undertrials has continued unabated. Below are details of some alleged Naxalites who were rearrested after being released during the past year.

1. Mallesh Sailu Kusma: He has been in jail from May 2004. He has been rearrested thrice at the prison gates of Nagpur and Bhandara. Twice the district police of Gondia and Gadchiroli detained him for six months each under Section 110 of the Cr.P.C. He is currently in a Madhya Pradesh jail.

2. Yadanna Kawli: He has been in jail from 2005. He too has been rearrested thrice in the past one year whenever he was released from jail. The Gondia and Gadhchiroli Police similarly used Section 110 of the Cr.P.C. on him. He is currently in the Chandrapur District Jail.

3. Madho: After spending five years in the Amravati Jail the Gadchiroli Police rearrested him on his date of release in February 2008
under Section 110 of the Cr.P.C.

4. Kailash Punaem, Vinod Netam, Shomeji Shersingh Pundre and Triveni: These four undertrails have been in jail since 2003. Acquitted from their cases in Chhattisgarh, they were transferred to the Amravati Central Jail for the trial of their Gadchiroli cases. After the acquittal of these Gadchiroli cases, they were released on October 21, 2008 from the jail to be once again rearrested by the district police under Section 110 of the Cr.P.C. They are presently at the Chandrapur District Jail.

5. Jayakka and Vishwanath Kudmethe: This husband and wife duo has been in the Nagpur Central Jail for the last four and-a-half years as undertrials. Together they were tried in about 48 criminal cases and were acquitted in all of them. But once again on the day of their release in March and September 2008 respectively the Gadchiroli Police rearrested them in about seven old criminal cases. They are presently at the Nagpur Central Jail.

The above evidence makes it clear that these rearrests are not just actions of a couple of maverick police officers but rather a conscious government policy so as to incarcerate such undertrials indefinitely. By using this method such undertrials are kept in jail even though they are simultaneously being acquitted by the judicial system. As the number of acquitted cases grow the police subsequently impose a whole lot of old cases even years after the undertrial was initially arrested. If such a step is not possible, the police then resort to rearresting the person under Section 110 of the Cr.P.C. Legal experts say that this Section is used as a form of preventive detention for habitual criminals and the detained person should be immediately released after signing a bond of good conduct. But such procedures are not followed with regard to the alleged Naxalite undertrials. After the undertrial has been acquitted by the court, the Maharastra Police rediscover his/her habitual criminal nature during his/her three-four years stay in jail so as to detain him/her for another six months under Section 110 of the Cr.P.C. The recent Supreme Court judgement by a Bench comprising of Justices Altamas Kabir and Markandey Katju has warned against such indiscriminate preventive detention by the police. Such actions are violative of the Fundamental Right to Life and Liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution and should not be lightly transgressed, the Bench said.

We appeal to all the justice-loving citizens to support us in our endeavour to defend our human rights. We also appeal that such citizens should see through the false publicity of the Police Department in branding as ‘horrendous criminals’ so as to rationalise their incorrect practice. The protection of human rights of its citizens is one of the primary duties of any ruling government. We hope that the Maharashtra State Government will fulfil this duty to properly commemorate this year’s ‘Human Rights Day’.