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By Stan Swamy* 
“Torture means 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“ — Association for the Prevention of Torture


***Couple of years ago, India’s Attorney General had said at the UN that “Ours (India) is a land of Gandhi and Buddha. We believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation” (Baljeet Kaur in “Economic and Political Weekly” Vol 53, Issue No. 36, 08 Sep, 2018).
Fine words indeed. However, the 2015-2016 National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 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 (NCRB) does not document cases of custodial torture.


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’, ‘urban Naxals’ etc. Cases, including serious cases such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), sedition etc. have been foisted on them. Several of them have already been jailed, others are being harassed with raids on their work places and residences.

Now let us ask ‘who’ and ‘what’ are these individuals. They are perhaps the most precious 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, marginalized sections of society. 


They have expended their individual charisma, 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?


The condition of the economically and socially deprived sections is even more a cause of concern. The fact is two-thirds (67%) of prisoners in India are under trials. Besides, one in every three under-trial prisoners in India is either scheduled caste (SC) or scheduled tribe (ST). 


Although they constitute only 24% of the population, 34% of them are under-trials. A random sampling study of under trial prisoners in Jharkhand reveals that the family-income of 59% of under trials is below Rs 3,000 per month, and 38% of them earn between Rs 3,000 and 5,000 per month. 


That means a total of 97% of undertrial prisoners in Jharkhand earn less than Rs 5,000 per month. The inevitable conclusion is that practically all undertrial prisoners are very poor people (finding taken from ‘A Study of Undertrials in Jharkhand’ by Bagaicha Research Team, 2016, p.54).


A vexing question is how did they come to be arrested as ‘Naxals’/ ‘sympathisers of Naxals’? The above-mentioned study found out that about 57% were arrested while they were at their homes, 30% were arrested while travelling, at railway station or at a town while shopping. Eight percent said they surrendered themselves on being informed that there was a case registered against them, and five percent 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 chargesheets 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 (from above-mentioned study, p 56).
It is important to remember that greater part of them are young people. 22% are 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 (facts from above study, p 50). 


But the repercussions of their imprisonment on themselves and their families are tragic. Many families have 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 small children are growing up without paternal love and care. And knowing full well 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 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 ‘India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi and 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.


*Indigenous people’s rights defender, one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. Lives in Bagaicha, ATC Campus, Namkum, Ranchi, Jharkhand