Casteism and corruption rampant in police and prison, found Kanojia as he recalls torture and torment 

Journalist Prashant Kanojia, who spent 80 days in jail for a retweet that he deleted within half an hour, was given electric shock at the Hazratganj police station in Lucknow, he tells interviewers

Journalist Prashant Kanojia
Journalist Prashant Kanojia

Prashant Kanojia

Journalist Prashant Kanojia was arrested by UP Police for two retweets, once last year when he spent seven days in jail, and again this year when he was released on bail after 80 days. The outspoken journalist has candidly shared his experience. This first-person account is based on his interviews to The Shudra and the Polis Project.

When I was picked up by the police from my home in Delhi NCR, I was not told why I was being arrested. In fact, I learnt of the charge against me after my release. Nor did I have any idea why bail petitions moved on my behalf were rejected by the court. And when the High Court finally granted bail, police took six days to complete the process of verification.

My ordeal started at the Hazratganj police station in Lucknow, where I was taken first. The SHO, one Anjali Pandey, greeted me with the choicest abuses and casteist slurs. Other policemen present joined in. I was told that Ambedkar and ‘reservation’ had gone to the head of Dalits. I was also told about last year’s retweet and told that Yogi Adityanath was a Baba and I should not have retweeted something critical of him. At 2.30 am I was taken out of the lockup and given electric shock. They could have killed me if they wanted.

Police stations in UP will be unable to account for the arms, drugs and vehicles stored or parked there. They are all used to plant and frame innocent people, as I was told by many inside the jail. Most people I met in jail seemed to be innocent. I met someone who was in prison for the past three months because he had stolen a bar of Margo soap costing Rupees ten. He confided that he didn’t have money to buy soap but had heard that hands must be washed with soap as a preventive measure against the virus and hence had stolen the cake of soap.

The day after I was sent to jail—there was of course no hearing by the magistrate and I was given no opportunity to tell the court my version—I was summoned to furnish details to be entered in a register. After asking my name, address, wife’s name, phone number etc., they asked me to name my caste. The register also had a column for caste. When I identified my caste as ‘Bahujan’, they did not understand it. I then replied I was a Dalit. But that too was not sufficient. They wanted to know whether I was a Chamar, a Dhobi or a Pasi. I noticed that Identity Cards issued by the prison also identified people by their sub-caste.

The experience in prison was obviously not pleasant. The Jail manual is flouted at every turn. The system is designed to induce well-off prisoners to offer money for basic facilities, without having to ask for a bribe. 80% of the inmates are poor, marginalized and many of them innocent. There was no way they could pay. If you fell ill, there were a few standard medicines. If you died, it’s too bad.

I also met people who had been granted bail but there was nobody in their family to complete the formalities. I myself was released on bail after submitting a surety of Rupees two lakhs. Last year the amount was Rs 40,000. It is a dehumanizing and oppressive system.

Conditions in jail are not reported in the media. And the judiciary is as corrupt, as casteist and as callous as the police and the prison system.

I am unable to go out alone. I have been advised against visiting Uttar Pradesh. I keep receiving death threats and threats targeted at my wife. I could be at the receiving end of a bullet one day but I worry about my small family. But man lives by hope. I am also optimistic that we shall overcome some day.

(Compiled, transcribed and paraphrased by AJ Prabal)

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