June 28, 2014


By Amit Bhattacharyya

Attempts at curbing the rights of Political Prisoners have started after the coming of the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC-government to power in West Bengal. A few months ago, the WB government introduced a bill in the legislative assembly to curb the rights of political prisoners by making an amendment to Section 24 of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act of 1992 passed by the earlier left-front government. The essence of the amendment is that no member of any organization banned by the government would henceforth enjoy the rights of political prisoners.

The main targets of this legislative measure were the Maoists, KLO and ‘terrorists’ belonging to some Muslim organizations. It is interesting to point out that all these prisoners are accused of taking part in seditious activities and thus committing ‘offences’ of a political nature and should therefore be the first to be treated as political prisoners. The TMC government under Mamata Banerjee made this amendment at a time when it had already appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay order challenging the High Court verdict(Justice Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia, J in the case between Mr. Subhashis Roy for the petitioners and Ms. Anusua Sinha for the State vide CRR 463 of 2012 with CRR 1312 of 2012 with CRR 4000 of 2011 dated 08/08/2012) that gave political prisoner status to Gaur Narayan Chakraborty, V. Venkateswara Reddy, Sambhu Soren, Sagun Murmu, Chhatradhar Mahato, suksanti Baskey and Prasun Chatterjee—all ‘Maoist’ political prisoners. The appeal for stay by the WB government was rejected by the Supreme Court, but it was admitted for future discussion.

Such a measure for amendment initiated by the Mamata Banerjee-led government betrays a revengeful attitude against the Maoists and other political dissenters. It was this Mamata Banerjee who made a pledge during election meetings before the WB Legislative Assembly elections to release all political prisoners if she was voted into power; but she conveniently broke that promise after coming to power.

The amendment to Section 24 was put into effect from November 2013. What will be the fate of those who started enjoying such privileges before the amendment was passed? They would continue to enjoy those rights. But what do we see in practice? It is a well-planned conspiracy to curb the legitimate rights of political prisoners given by the Kolkata High court. We have heard about such attempts accompanied by misbehavior with political prisoners in jail in Dum Dum and Hoogli Jail. Very recently we have come to know about such attempts in the distant Purulia Jail where political prisoners have been forced to pass their days in a condition that beggars description. High Court verdict is being deliberately flouted by the prison officials.

Prasun Chatterjee, a political prisoner incarcerated under the UAPA has been languishing in Purulia jail for quite some time after being transferred from Medinipur Central Correctional Home where he had been staying since 2009. Although he has been given the status of political prisoner by the Kolkata High Court, his legal rights have been curbed by the jail authorities and he is forced to pass his days in prison in abysmal conditions.

Unlike some prisons in West Bengal, the cells in Purulia jail do not have any ceiling fan facility. As the High Court gave certain rights and facilities to political prisoners and the installation of ceiling fans in cells is part of those, the jail authorities has placed a table fan outside the cell gate. However, air cannot pass through the iron rods and leaves the prisoner sweating in the blazing summer inside the cell. It is a violation of High Court directives and a punishable offense. In response to the HC order for the installation of ceiling fans, fans were bought but these are dumped in the go-down without being installed. Prasun asked for a petition form to apply to the ADG (Prison) for redress, but he was not given any. That forced him to apply in a plain white paper; but there was no response. He does not know if that had reached the destination at all.

Prasun does not have the right to meet other prisoners accused of having ‘Maoist’ connection. He has also been denied access to books. When asked, the authorities retort by saying that what they act in accordance with the directives of Mamata Banerjee.

Many rooms in Purulia jail are lying vacant in which there are also light and fans. However, he is forced to stay in cells meant for prisoners with infectious diseases such as leprosy, TB, chicken pox etc. There is no water facility inside the cells. In case of need, he has to tell other prisoners to fetch drinking water for him from a distance. Even inside the cell compound, there is no water tank. So other people are asked to bring water for him in buckets.

The distance between Purulia Jail and Medinipur Court is nearly 210 kms. Thus for every production, the prisoner has to travel nearly 420 kms a day. Those among Prasun’s co-accused who go to Medinipur Court from Kolkata have to cover a lesser distance. Each of them is given Rs.100.00 for production. For Prasun, however, for two days no money was given. So he went without any food. When asked, the jail authorities ridiculed him by saying “Should we have to feed even the accused” (Ashamider-o Khaoate hobe naki)? Their cruelty knows no bounds. Later on, after much protest, he initially could get Rs.30.00 and then Rs.50.00. For the last two months or more, he has not been produced at all, thereby denying him the right to defend himself.

Prasun Chattopadhyay, a political prisoner, is thus being forced to pass his days in abysmal conditions. Inside the prison, heat and dust tell on the prisoners’ heath. For quite some time, Prasun has thus been suffering from asthma and allergic ailments.

Prasun dreamt of a society free from exploitation. For this ‘offence’, for this belief in a better world, he was taken into custody in 2009 and booked without any specific charges under the draconian UAPA—an act that makes a mockery of democracy in this ‘land of the largest democracy’ of the world. He was arrested by the earlier left-front government and his incarceration continued under the new West Bengal government. He has already spent five years in prison. His brother Pradip is also in prison for as many years. Meantime, their ailing father has breathed his last at home. And this cruel state and governments, irrespective of their hues—left or right—with its genetically modified repressive forces have been silently trying to cripple dissident voices with utmost brutality by trampling down verdicts of the High Court. Should we not raise our voice and demand their freedom?

– See more at: http://sanhati.com/excerpted/10510/#sthash.YjciMfHo.Cy66Dlgv.dpuf