‘If they thought they would cow me down, they were mistaken’
Political activist Arun Ferreira, who was acquitted in the last of 11 cases against him last week, says spending time in jail has strengthened his resolve to change the system.
If the state thought that by jailing and torturing me, they would cow me down, they were mistaken,” says political activist Arun Ferreira, days after being acquitted in the last of the cases against him.
“Before I went to jail, I had heard about the way prisoners’ rights are violated, but I hadn’t seen the state machinery up close. Having seen how it works while in jail, my commitment to change this state of affairs has grown stronger.”
Mumbai-based Arun Ferreira, who was arrested in Nagpur in 2007 as a Naxalite, was acquitted in all nine cases against him in September 2011. But even as he walked out of Nagpur Central Jail, he was re-arrested in two more cases. In one of them, he was acquitted in three months. In January 2012, he was released on bail in the second, and last week, was finally acquitted.
“My acquittal validates what I’ve said in my petition (pending in the high court) against my re-arrest. It shows the hollowness of the two cases for which I was re-arrested.”
All alleged Naxalite prisoners in Nagpur Jail, says Arun, are re-arrested on fresh charges the moment they are acquitted, only to show that Naxalites are being arrested. Some prisoners have been arrested, acquitted, rearrested, acquitted and re-arrested within six months, he says. “It’s all a question of building up statistics of Naxalite arrests. The police did not even record my statement in the two fresh cases they foisted on me in 2011; they presented no evidence at all. Had there been any real case against me, they could have charged me while I was in jail. It’s not as if they suddenly found new evidence against me the moment I was released.”
In jail, Arun completed a postgraduate diploma in human rights. Now he studies law, occasionally giving lectures at his alma mater, St Xavier’s, and works to raise awareness about the violation of rights of political prisoners. Currently, 177 people charged under MCOCA and UAPA, including writer Sudhir Dhawale, are on a hunger strike in Nagpur Central Jail, he says. They have two demands: one, the refusal of bail despite a Supreme Court ruling that states “bail is the rule and jail the exception”; and two, the practice of not producing prisoners in the Gadchiroli Sessions Court for extended periods – something that has been going on for over three years. Trials are conducted via video-conferencing, and in a few cases, sentences have also been handed down this way, says Arun. The police claim they lack the manpower to escort prisoners to court. If the defence objects to this, the case is stalled indefinitely, so defence lawyers are forced to agree to such trials. “These can’t be called fair trials,” Arun says.
For Arun, the term ‘political prisoner’ has a wide definition: one who is imprisoned because of his/her political beliefs and acts, and also one who is imprisoned because of the state’s political beliefs. In the latter category he includes Muslim terror suspects, who are implicated only because they belong to SIMI or only because they are Muslim; and Dalits and tribals fighting for their rights. “The state looks on them as offenders though they may have done no wrong,” says Arun.
Arun’s son, now 8, was two-and-ahalf when his father was arrested. The fact that his father has been in jail for a large part of his life confuses him. So how does Arun explain it? “By telling him about Bhagat Singh and other political prisoners,” Arun replies.