Vivek BendreArun Ferreira after his release from Nagpur Central Jail on February 4.

ARUN FERREIRA was neither a firebrand activist nor a rabble-rouser. Rather, he was known for his work among the poor and the marginalised. So his arrest in 2007 on the charge of being a Maoist shook Mumbai. It seemed improbable that Ferreira, the convent-educated and middle-class man next door who lived in a well-heeled suburb of the city, could be a naxalite.

There were protests and petitions following Ferreira’s arrest, but to no avail. From all accounts, it seemed to be another case of gross injustice and violation of human rights where the victim was falsely implicated and branded anti-national to suit some hidden agenda. Investigations and interrogations yielded little, and in spite of the absence of proof to incriminate him, Ferreira continued to languish in Nagpur Central Jail.

After almost five years allegedly suffering relentless torture and fighting what seemed a losing battle, on February 4, Ferreira became a free man. For lack of substantial evidence, he was acquitted in all 11 cases against him.

“My case is really nothing special,” Ferreira told Frontline. “The real issue is the way political prisoners are treated and the blatant violation of human rights of prisoners.” According to Ferreira, he was in Nagpur in 2007 when many people were being arrested for naxalite activities. Even Dalits who were distributing literature and mobilising people after the Khairlanji massacre were taken into custody and branded naxalites. “I think the police had to show the numbers and we were easy targets,” he said.

Ferreira was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004, which is applied to people the state believes are terrorists. Seven charges were slapped on him, the main accusation being that he was a naxalite involved in a conspiracy to mobilise the naxalite movement.

The police said they had been tipped off that Ferreira along with Dhanendra Bhurule, a journalist recognised for his writings on social injustice, and Naresh Bansode, an activist, were meeting senior naxalite leader Ashok Satya Reddy alias Murali in Nagpur to organise a secret meeting of members at Deekshaboomi on May 8, 2007. The police had been tracking Murali’s movements and believed that the three were part of the conspiracy.

A police official said on condition of anonymity: “Ferreira was definitely a naxalite sympathiser. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been arrested, but they had evidence that he was working with people in the naxalite belt.”

Ferreira said he was beaten, tortured, humiliated and kept in the dreaded “anda” cell, meant for hardened criminals. “More than the brutal, claustrophobic aesthetic of the anda, it’s the absence of human contact that chokes you. If you’re in the anda, you spend 15 hours or more alone in your cell. The only people you see are the guards and occasionally the other inmates in your section. The horrors of the anda are well known to prisoners in Nagpur jail, and they would rather face the severest of beatings than be banished to the anda,” he wrote in his diary.

“They wanted me to disclose the location of a cache of arms and explosives or information on my supposed links with Maoists. To make me more amenable to their demands, they stretched my body out completely, using an updated version of the medieval torture technique of [the rack]. My arms were tied to a window grill high above, while two policemen stood on my stretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor. This was calculated to cause maximum pain without leaving any external injuries.”

Ferreira also writes about the police concocting evidence, the endemic delays in the justice system, and the living conditions in the barracks, including the nexus between prisoners and jailors.

After months of interrogations and two rounds of narcoanalysis, the authorities still had nothing substantial on Ferreira. He, along with 12 other inmates, went on an indefinite hunger strike demanding an end to their isolation, to stop arresting social activists branding them naxalites, and not to force undertrials to wear uniforms. In September 2011, he was eventually acquitted of all charges and released. The court said it found the evidence supplied by the police contradictory.

However, as Ferreira exited the jail premises and was walking towards his waiting parents and wife, a posse of plainclothes policemen ambushed and bundled him off in an unmarked vehicle. He was once again arrested and charged with naxalite activities. This time it was over his alleged involvement in a police-naxalite encounter near Jafargarh under Korchi tehsil in Gadchiroli district in April 2007.

Once again he faced the cycle of torture, bail applications and trial days. However, unlike the first arrest, this time the public outcry against the injustice was massive. The court finally granted him bail in January 2012.

Ferreira’s case should highlight the need for the implementation of police reforms, said Father Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist. “The brutal and violent methods used against prisoners need to be addressed.”

Ferreira has filed a Rs.25 lakh suit against the Maharashtra government for the injustice meted out to him. He says he will continue his social work among the tribal people and the poor. While in prison, he began studying for a degree in law, which he hopes to complete in the next three years.

Anupama Katakam

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