Meeting in Delhi on Incarceration as a Tool of Political control


Incarceration of common people is becoming a routine affair. Activists and political opponents are being increasingly suppressed by the government with the goal of exercising political monopoly over the people. Concerns are being voiced by none other than the President of India and the chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Janhastakshep organized a well-attended, qualitative meeting at Delhi’s Gandhi peace Foundation on 18th February 2023 evening. It was a an  event  most welcome in the confrontation of proto-fascism prevailing today. The topic of discussion was introduced by the co-convener of Janhastakshep Anil Dubey. Senior journalist Satyendra Ranjan conducted the meeting.

The panelists who addressed the meeting included senior advocate Supreme Court and Human Rights Lawyer Sanjay Parikh, advocate Supreme Court and Human Rights Lawyer Shaadan Farasat, artist, author and founder Raqs Media Foundation, Shuddhabrata Sen Gupta and Leader of the Kirti Kisan Union, Punjab, Raminder Patiala.

Shuddhabrata began his address highlighting  the urgency  of the situation of under-trial prisoners’ and those of their families by citing the case of Maruti workers’ strike in which 135 prisoners were arrested who got bail after a long period of incarceration. However, 8 or 9 prisoners, who are still under trial with any crime being proved against them, continued to be kept in jail. Of these two workers died subsequently.

He narrated the cases of student activists Umar Khalid and Gulfisha, who have been kept in jail on absolutely framed charges. To highlight the utter arbitrariness of the judicial process in matters of bail, Suddhabrata summarized how the prosecution had given a totally mischievous twist to Umar Khalid’s statement given by him on 17 February 202 in which he had said that – ‘We shall counter tyranny with peace and hate with love.’ Opposing his bail the prosecution had asserted that ‘peace’ and ‘love’ actually were code words implying a ‘conspiracy’, and the court had accepted this plea.

In its bid to claim that the entire CAA-NRC protest were cooked up by some anti-national intellectuals and artists, throwing contempt upon the CAA-NRC protesters the prosecution had gone to the extent of claiming that they could not be housewives or common people because ‘housewives do housewifely things and common people return from their work, they rest at home and watch television; they do not go for agitation.’

The double farce as Shuddhabrata said was – one, the denial of bail itself was a punishment; secondly, even if bail were granted, such conditions are attached to bail that it becomes like virtual imprisonment outside the prison.

Approaching the question of bail from the point of law, Shadaan Farasat stated that more than 90 percent of the prisoners are booked under crimes in which prolonged denial of bail is not possible, or which makes it difficult to keep the political opponents and dissenters in jail for prolonged periods impossible. Under the situation the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) have become two foremost tools of terrorizing the common people as also the mainstream politicians. The conditions of bail under both these acts violate every code of legal jurisprudence as practiced anywhere in the world. It is an imperative task to   challenge the legal validity of these laws.

Raminder dwelled on how the agenda is being built by the fascist forces in the country to criminalize any voice, even if voiced as per the provisions of law, which seeks to oppose the government. Highlighting the recent revelations regarding industry tycoon Gautam Adani and his close links with the Prime Minister himself, a BJP spokesperson reportedly said that – ‘to malign the government amounts to hurting the pride of the country.’ In this connection a recent editorial in the RSS mouthpiece ‘Panchjanya’ even remarked that the Judiciary is being used by some anti-India forces.’

On the subject of Democratic Rights in the country, Raminder also brought up the issue of ‘Bandi Singhs’ (incarcerated Sikh prisoners) who have been convicted in different cases related to Punjab militancy.Still  some of them continue to languish in jail long after having completed their jail terms, with at least one prisoner being kept in jail despite the fact that he has become very old and is suffering from mental health issues. On the other hand the government is releasing and offering patronage to dreaded criminals who raped Bilkis Bano and killed her unborn baby in the womb besides killing other members of the family.

Com Raminder was critical of the courts for putting up antagonistic arguments to grant bail to dreaded criminals. For example, granting bail to Ashish Mishra, the son of union minister Ajay Mishra in the case of murder of farmers returning from a rally in Lakhimpur Kheri, the Supreme Court said that if they did not grant bail to him, it would also become difficult to grant bail to 4 innocent farmers who have also been imprisoned in the case.

Senior advocate of the Supreme Court Sanjay Parikh probed into the entire issue of ‘incarceration’ and ‘bail’ by questioning whether the judiciary was undertaking its moral wok. In the constitutional structure of the country it is the judiciary which has been charged with the task of interpreting law and defining its legality as per the constitution. Instead of determinedly protecting the rights of the citizens, the judges are being pulled by the pressures imposed by those sitting in power. Even though as per its own assertion the Supreme Court is meant primarily to protect the interests of the weakest and the most marginalized sections of the society, its own conduct, especially of late, does not fulfill this prequisite. There are number of progressive pronouncements in various judgments of the Supreme which talk of imprisonment to be exercised with great care, but the practice of law criminal jurisprudence violates this. The imperative need he said is to construct people’s struggles which alone can force the courts to act in the interests of the people.

The meeting ended with a note of thanks to the speakers and the audience from convener Janhastakshep, Vikas Bajpai.

In future such meetings need to mobilize the basic masses, integrating them into the forefront of the human rights movement. It also needs to encompass more diverse sections from the revolutionary democratic camp.

Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has covered mass movements around India


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