As part of Observing September 13 as Political Prisoner’s Day

We commemorate September 13 as the martyrdom of Jatin Das, the glorious revolutionary and freedom fighter during the tyrannical days of British colonialism. Jatin Das refused to be cowed down within the four walls of the prison in the Lahore Central Jail. Along with his comrades who were charged under the Lahore Conspiracy Case, Jatin Das fought for the right to be recognised as a political prisoner. He and his comrades dreamt of a subcontinent free from colonial rule. It is this political vision to free their motherland off the yoke of colonialism, from servility, to be in control of their own destiny as political beings fully conscious of their act made them demand their right to be recognised as a political prisoner. The historic hunger strike that Jatin Das initiated proved to be the stepping stone for all who dared to stand up against all odds within the four walls of the prison. Even Bhagat Singh, his beloved comrade, who also was part of the historic strike in the Lahore Central Jail, could not soften the steely resolve of Jatin Das who refused to take life saving medicines as he succumbed to his failing health. He vowed not to let anyone prevent him from lifting his fast till all the demands were met by the authorities. Apart from being recognized as Political Prisoners the other demands included right to better food, reading and writing materials etc. On the sixty third day of hunger strike Jatin Das dared one and all—the oppressed, exploited and humiliated—in his death to emulate his indomitable, undying spirit, defiant till the last breath. The body of Jatin Das was brought to Kolkata by train as thousands paid respect to their hero at every station. More than four hundred thousand people had thronged to see his body by the time it reached West Bengal.

Post-1947, the situation in the subcontinent hardly differs from what Jatin Das and his comrades fought for. More and more draconian laws of colonial vintage are being reinvented and selectively used with impunity against people who are raising their democratic aspirations, right to livelihood, for a dignified existence, for their right to self-determination. 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, not to speak of the 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 others were perfected over the years by the ruling classes to inflict ever more misery on the people. The Preventive Detention Act, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that were used by the British came handy for the new ruling class as it was used in the North East and Kashmir. Later the North East also saw the imposition of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) (1967) which was copied from the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance brought by the British in 1942. Today the same law has been revamped with more teeth and implemented. Since the 1950s till date every draconian law that received the gravest wrath of the masses of the people was then rehashed into another law with yet stringent clauses. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the present UAPA is in a way a clever rehashing of the old MISA, NSA, TADA, POTA etc. rolled into one made more stringent with the worst kind of clauses to stifle all forms of dissent. Equivalent to the UAPA, state-wise enactment of similar laws has also been done. Further there is a concerted effort to form the notorious National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) along with the already constituted National Investigating Agency (NIA) which once made fully operational can give unimaginable powers to the centre to intervene in the day to day affairs of any region thus completely exposing the hollowness of the federal union that is India.

The deepening economic crisis has further sharpened contradictions not only among the ruling classes in the Indian subcontinent but between the ruling classes and the masses of the people. Today the subcontinent is witness to a wave of people’s movements such as those for the right to life and livelihood, against displacement, anti-feudal anti-caste movements, movements based on land, nationality movements, anti-nuclear, anti-dam movements etc. These movements directly or indirectly oppose the pro-imperialist policies of ‘Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization’. In this scenario the so-called ‘war against terror’ has become a convenient tool to criminally profile the rising voices of dissent, especially the Muslim community the majority of whom live in abysmal poverty and discrimination. We saw in a series of sensational bomb blast cases Muslim youths being incarcerated under trumped up charges. The sensation-driven media cooked up the plot with incriminating media trials even before the law took cognisance of the cases. Thus even before the person gets a chance to defend himself/herself before the court of law they are tried several times by a considerable section of the jingoist-communal media. Many of the Muslim youth from UP, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan have become cannon fodder for the so-called ‘war against terror’ of the state as alleged members of proscribed organisations the existence of which are never proved. The Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) has been banned till date and the state is yet to prove a cogent case before the tribunal about the veracity of the ban as many of the charges on this organisation have fallen flat. The Hindu communal elements as well as the parliamentary parties in Kerala including the CPM have stoked the flames of communalism under the garb of ‘love jihad’ to criminally profile the Muslim youth. Kashmiri Muslims are easy targets for the grist mill of the ‘war against terror’ as it is common sense to accept the incarceration or fake encounter of a Kashmiri youth in the Indian subcontinent. There are numerous undeclared detention/torture centres in Jammu & Kashmir. The Srinagar Bar Association and the leaders of various people’s movements in Kashmir have time and again highlighted the plight of the Kashmiri Muslim prisoners kept in various jails in Jammu. These prisoners–mostly under-trials, are subjected to the worst kinds of treatment. The North East also is witnessing the increasing incarceration of people as the protests against mega-dams are on the rise in this region. A large number of people who have been raising the demand for the Right to Self-Determination are being imprisoned for years together with Manipuris, Nagas and Assamese being specific targets. Besides, scores of Sikhs, Kamtapuris, Bodos, Dimasas, Sri Lankan Tamils, and till recently, even Burmese freedom fighters find themselves behind bars for years together being treated like the worst of criminals. Even the elderly among them suffering from various ailments, are not considered for bail even on health grounds.

As we are going to the press, 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 might be branded as ‘seditious’. As an extension of the same approach the Chhattisgarh government have further criminalised the natural living of the Adivasis of Bastar region by declaring unlawful their carrying of 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. The plight of the Dalits and other oppressed sections is no different. As the state gets desperate to stifle the voices of dissent, more and more human rights defenders, journalists, cultural activists are coming under the cross-hairs of its repressive machine such as the Kabir Kala Manch, Jeetan Marandi, Utpal, Sudhir Dhawle, Lingaram Kodopi, Mohammed Kazmi, Seema Azad, Vishwavijay…The list goes on and appears to be endless. Last but not the least, thousands of Maoists and people sympathetic to their cause also has been put behind bars with several false cases tagged to them. The conditions of women political prisoners are worse with many of them not even lodged in special barracks, devoid of health care facilities, without charge sheets filed against them and not even being produced before the court. Several political prisoners immediately after being granted bail or while acquitted are rearrested with fresh charges right before the prison from where they are released.

It is evident from the way the state indulges in desperate acts to silence all forms of dissent that it itself is the worst violator of the law and constitution of the ‘land of the largest democracy of the world’. It is also obvious that all arrests in matters of political dissent are political in nature and the state machinery is doing all these illegal and anti-democratic acts with impunity to ensure that the political prisoner remain within the prison for life. Hence it is the right of the democratic voice of the land to raise the demand for the unconditional release of all political prisoners and pending that, to give them the status of the Political Prisoner till they are held behind bars in the spirit and legacy of Jatin Das and his comrades!

1. All arrested on political grounds should be recognized as Political Prisoners.

2. Release all Political Prisoners unconditionally.

3. Repeal all Draconian Laws including AFSPA and UAPA.