A Great Way of Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence is to Release All Political Prisoners. Campaign Should Start Now to be Effective by August 1

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In the course of India’s long and very courageous freedom movement, India became from time to time the country with perhaps the largest number of political prisoners in the world. These included many highly distinguished persons of world fame including Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Badshah Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru. Some very famous fasts and movements were started with the aim of release of political prisoners and improving the conditions which they had to endure in jail.

It was hoped that when India becomes free, there will be no more any political prisoners. Yet the unfortunate reality is that at various times there have been a significant number of political prisoners in India, and at present also there are many political prisoners in India.

In India as in many other countries, there is no official category of political prisoners and hence no official estimate of political prisoners. This does not of course mean that political prisoners do not exist or that they should be forgotten. Hardly any country admits to political prisoners and yet at world level this has always remained a very important issue of human rights and of democracy. Indeed, there are reasons to believe that the number of political prisoners has increased significantly in India during the last eight years or so as many cases of very arbitrary arrests have been reported. There have been several demands and campaigns for the release of political prisoners in India, related to a single political prisoner, a group or more generally for all political prisoners.

There is now occasion to take up a more time-specific campaign as the 75th anniversary of the independence of India is approaching on August 15 2022 , and it will be a very appropriate homage to the freedom movement of India if all political prisoners of India are released around the same time, or before this. To achieve this highly desirable objective, a lot of work is needed to identify all the political prisoners in the prisons of India (or on bail). Although some of these names are reasonably well-known, there are many others from poorer and weaker sections, dalits and adivasis, workers and peasants, who are not well-known at all.

Political prisoners may be defined broadly as prisoners who have been arrested not for any crimes but for their political views, for their opposition of government and allied powerful business interests, for protecting the democratic rights of people particularly weaker sections, for resisting injustice and exploitation. Of course it is not mentioned in their records that they were in reality arrested for these reasons, in the records various criminal activities are mentioned. So a careful effort has to be made to identify political prisoners and present a list of these political prisoners, along with some essential details of each case, to the government at the latest by June 15, 2022. For the effort to carry credibility with governments, a committee of eminent persons with requisite legal knowledge should be constituted in each state and union territory, to be headed as far as possible by a retired senior judge. For coordination and help, a central committee headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge can be constituted.

One hopes that this effort will result in the release of all or most or at least some of the political prisoners in India, but even if this does not, the documentation made as a result of this effort will be very useful for the campaign which should continue.

This campaign should also take up more enduring issues relating to minimizing the possibilities of political imprisonment in future, as well as for protecting the rights of political prisoners and for improving their conditions.

Such a campaign should get widespread support of people and various human rights and civil rights organizations.

As Pakistan is also completing 50 years of its independence, such a campaign for release of political prisoners as well as for improving their conditions will be equally relevant for Pakistan as well.

In addition, India and Pakistan should reach an agreement around the 75th anniversary of independence for release and repatriation of each other’s prisoners. Both countries should also reach an agreement that any cells in their jails which are associated strongly with the memory of very distinguished freedom fighters having been imprisoned here should be converted into memorials of these and other freedom fighters.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine (Gandhian ideas for our times).


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