Arun Ferreira, arrested on charges of being a Naxal operative in 2007, tortured by police, made to run from court to court, has, nine years later, taken a final clear leap on his steeplechase race towards justice. Last month, Ferreira got his Sanad from the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa and joined the ranks of criminal lawyers practising in Mumbai.
Ferreira, 42, an alumni of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, found his seemingly commonplace suburban life abruptly upended when he was whisked away from his Bandra home on May 8, 2007, by the Maharashtra police.
The social work he did for an NGO, Navjawan Bharat Sabha was deemed as covert Naxalite activity. Over the next four years, 11 cases were filed against him variously under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Arms Act; he was also charged with sedition. Ferreira was repeatedly picked up by the police and tortured, an account of which he has written in detail in his book, Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir. He was acquitted of all charges in 2012 but his run-in with the law imbued in him a deep desire to work for justice, especially for political prisoners.
After his acquittal, Ferreira, who now lives with his family in Thane, completed his degree from Siddharth Law College and last month began working with advocate Suresh Rajeshwar. Along with Rajeshwar, he is now part of the ‘Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) and Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) — organisations that stood behind him when he was arrested and allegedly tortured in Nagpur jail.
“There was a time in my life when I thought it would be impossible to get out of jail, and yet, here I am, a degree in my hand and responsibility on my shoulder,” he said talking to this newspaper from his office at Fort. “Earlier when I would stand in courtrooms, it was to prove my innocence but now I stand in court once again to prove someone else’s innocence. My background helps me better understand about things like prison conditions and police torture. Of course, proving all that during trial is always a different challenge.”
To start with Ferreira, is closely working with his senior on the case involving Angela Sontakke and others from the Kabir Kala Mach, Pune. “In one of my cases Angela and I were co- accused, now I am working as a lawyer for her and the other members from KKM. We have a strong case and will ensure they get justice,” he said.
EXCERPT FROM COLOURS OF THE CAGE, PG 5
I was finally served a meal: dal, rotis and abuse. It wasn’t easy to eat from a plastic bag with jaws sore from the blows I had received earlier in the day. The only solution, I learnt, was to soften the rotis by soaking them in the bag of dal. But after the horrors I had undergone, these tribulations were relatively insignificant and allowed me a brief moment to pull myself together. I managed to ignore the putrid bedding, the humid air and the ache in my body and dozed off. Within a few hours, I was woken up for another round of questioning.
The officers appeared polite at first but quickly resorted to blows in an attempt to encourage me to provide the answers they were looking for. They wanted me to disclose the location of a cache of arms and explosives or information about my supposed links with Maoists. To make me more amenable to their demands, they stretched out my body completely, using an updated version of the medieval torture technique of drawing (though there was no quartering). My arms were tied to a window grill high above the ground while two policemen stood on my outstretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor. This was calculated to cause maximum pain without leaving visible injuries. Despite these precautions, my ears started to bleed and my jaws began to swell.