Adivasis, human rights activists are persecuted, torture works in many ways, says Stan Swamy

The poorer you are, the more liable you become a victim of physical torture in prison. Even very educated, knowledgeable, professionals are not exempt from physical as well as mental torture

Representative Image (PTI)
Representative Image (PTI)

Stan Swamy

India “is the land of Gandhi and Buddha: we believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity”, India’s Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had stated in the United Nations in 2017. “As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation.”

Fine words, indeed. However, the 2015-2016 National Human Rights Commission annual report states: “Custodial violence and torture continue to be rampant in the country. It represents the worst form of excesses by public servants entrusted with the duty of law enforcement.”

Between September 2017 and June 2018, news reports noted 122 incidents of custodial torture, resulting in 30 deaths. There has been no consistent documentation of torture-related complaints. The National Crime Records Bureau does not document cases of custodial torture, Baljeet Kaur noted in the Economic and Political Weekly.

Torture, says the Association for the Prevention of Torture, is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him information or a confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed”.

Let us enumerate some of the tortures taking place in the context of Indian government’s efforts to do away with so-called extremism in the country.

  • Several intellectuals, artists, writers, journalists, legal professionals, poets, Dalit and Adivasi rights activists, human rights activists have now become suspects in the eyes of the ruling class. They are now invariably called “Maoists”, “Naxals” and “urban Naxals”. Serious cases have been foisted on them, some under the such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, others for sedition. Several of them have already been jailed, others are being harassed with raids on their workplaces and homes. These are human beings who have given the most and best of themselves for the cause of truth and justice and have clearly taken the side of the deprived, marginalised sections of society. They have expended their individual charisms, professional expertise, unconditional solidarity with the deprived masses and many of them have achieved phenomenal success in bringing relief to the abandoned lot of human beings about whom the rest of society does not bother. They have deprived themselves of social and economic security which they otherwise would have enjoyed. When the ruling class instead of commending their commitment is bent upon punishing them in meanest ways, it is deplorable. Is this not torture?
  • Two-thirds – 67% – of prisoners in India are undertrials. Besides, one in every three undertrial prisoners in India belongs either to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes: though they constitute only 24% of the population, 34% of them are undertrials. In 2016, a random sampling study of 102 undertrial prisoners in Jharkhand held for being Maoists showed that the family-income of 59% of under trials is below ₹3,000 per month and 38% of them earn between ₹3,000 and ₹5,000 per month. This means that 97% of them earned less than ₹5,000 per month.

  • A vexing question is how did they come to be arrested for being Maoists. The study found out that about 57% were arrested while they were in their homes. Thirty percent were arrested while travelling, at railway station or at a town while shopping. Eight per cent said they surrendered themselves on being informed that there was a case registered against them, and 5% said that they were summoned by the police to the station ostensibly for some other purpose but on arrival they were arrested. However, most of the charge-sheets filed by the police state that these arrests were made from forests. This mismatch is a clear indication that the police habitually fabricate cases against Adivasi villagers. It is important to remember that greater part of them are young people. 22% were in the age group of 18-28, which is the most creative part of one’s life and 46% are aged 29-40, which is the most productive part of one’s life. The repercussions of their imprisonment on themselves and their families are tragic. Many families had mortgaged or sold off the little assets such as their land, cattle. The sole breadwinner of the family is either in jail or implicated in cases. It is heart-rending to see many many families have been reduced to destitution and their children are growing up without paternal love and care. It’s clear that if and when they are tried, most of them will be acquitted. Hence their trial is deliberately prolonged no end. Is this not torture?
  •   It is common knowledge that prisoners are systematically tortured in our country. The poorer you are, the more liable you become a victim of physical torture in prison. Even very educated, knowledgeable, professionals are not exempt from physical as well as mental torture. It became evident when one of the accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case who is himself a lawyer was repeatedly slapped during police custody in Pune jail to the extent he had to be taken to the hospital. If this can happen to an eminent legal professional, the fate of poor helpless under-trial prisoners is best left to one’s imagination. Is this not torture? And yet we are told that torture is just not part of our culture.

We can only take solace from the endearing song of our revered patriot, philosopher, poet Rabindranath Tagore. . .

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

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Published: 18 Jun 2019, 6:25 PM