Free the innocent undertrials and Jharkhand’s jails won’t be overcrowded: Stan Swamy
Guest post by STAN SWAMY
A Controller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled recently in Jharkhand Assembly says most of Jharkhand jails are housing prisoners beyond their capacity by the end of 2010. Significantly, the most crowded jails are in Garwa, Latehar and Simdega districts where anti-naxalite operations by police and para-military forces are on. The basic question to ask is: are Jharkhandi adivasis & moolvasis increasingly taking to crimes or is the society labeling them criminals.
There are three basis on which young rural adivasi men & women are arrested:
- “Helpers of Maoists” by which is meant they were actually helping Maoists in their activities. This could mean as simple a thing as providing a meal to a maoist or allowing him/her to stay the night in one’s house. It is crucial to know under what compulsive circumstances an innocent villager is forced to do that. Imagine a situation where in the dead of night a maoist forces himself/herself into your house, points a gun at you and demands food. He threatens you saying if you do not feed him he will shoot you and your family members. Who will have the guts to say “ok you can shoot me down but I will not feed you”. Will any of the police officers say that ? There is another important cultural factor to be considered: an adivasi will never say ‘no’ to anyone coming to his house and asking for food. This holds good even if that person happens to be your enemy. There are any number of adivasis who have been put in jail under this accusation.
- Mere possession of Maoist literature is not an offence
Observing that mere possession of materials eulogizing Maoist ideologies would not be considered an offence of sedition, the Supreme Court granted bail to a person accused of sedition on 31 May 2011. The court went on to say that “some persons have an ideology that revolution is the only way to reform the society. Can this be said to be an offence?” (The Hindu, 1 June 2011) On another occasion the Supreme Court observed that just as some one having a copy of Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography does not make him a Gandhian, so also some one having some maoist literature does not make him a maoist.
The sad fact in Jharkhand is that in very many cases the police have arrested young men and women precisely because they had some “naxalite literature” in their possession. What exactly constitutes ‘naxalite literature’ has not been defined. The question is: Is any written material that is critical of the Government and its functioning forbidden in our democratic society? Is putting out pamphlets calling on people to resist displacement an offence? Is announcing rallies and public meetings to protest indiscriminate arrests of young people improper? Is calling on people to assert their rights on their jal, jangal, jamin not allowed?
What the police usually do is arrest a person on the alleged reason of having naxal literature and then add on other clauses of the penal code on the hapless victim. Very sad to say, hundreds of young men and women are languishing in the different jails of Jharkhand under this accusation.
Mere membership of a banned organisation will not make a person a criminal unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or creates public disorder by violence or incitement to violence. (Supreme Court on 3 February 2011)
The court rejected the doctrine of ‘guilt by association’. Mere membership of a banned organisation will not incriminate a person unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or does an act intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence
It is common knowledge that very many young men & women are held in prison on the suspicion of being “helpers of naxalites”. After arresting them other penal clauses are added on. It is an easy label that can be put on any one whom the police want to catch. It does not require any proof or witness. Let us keep in mind that they are not even members of any naxalite outfit. Supreme Court says even membership in a banned organisation does not make a person a criminal. How far removed are the law and order forces from the rule of law!
More recently alarm bells have started to ring for human rights and anti-displacement activists. They are being picked up by police from railway stations, trains and buses and are held without any trace for days together. The more the administration & police realize they are not able to stand up to naxals, the more they let it out on innocent citizens harassing them no end. Sad situation indeed for human rights in Jharkhand.