In his first public appearance after getting bail, Arun Ferreira, alleged Naxalite, spoke about the plight of political prisoners in India, at an event held by the Committee For Release of Political Prisoners in Mumbai yesterday.
Amidst a jam-packed hall swarming with journalists and activists, Mumbai-based Arun Ferreira, alleged Naxalite, made his first public appearance after he was released on bail from Nagpur jail recently. Ferreira, after returning to Mumbai, had refused to speak to the media. This much-awaited press conference came almost a week after his release. The event was organised by the Committee For Release of Political Prisoners at the Press Club in South Mumbai, yesterday. While shutterbugs clicked away, Ferreira took his position on the dais along with other members of the committee. Dressed in a blue jeans and a blue shirt, a small card dangling from his shirt pocket read FREE SUDHIR DHAWALE. The purpose of the event was to inform the media about the plight of political prisoners and eventually call for their release. “I have come here to highlight the plight of political prisoners in our country. Who are these political prisoners? Sudhir Dhawale is one of them. He was arrested in Gondia because the police claimed that he supports Naxalism. The evidence against him was a book, which he had written some six years ago. This book was used as evidence against him. Is this democracy?” asked Ferreira.
He further added. “Since 2011, none of us have been produced before the Sessions court in Gadchiroli. This is unacceptable.” Talking of another incident, Ferreira said, “In Nagpur, you have privatised bus service. The employees from the public transport department demanded that they wanted permanent jobs. They started protesting for the same. Without giving any explanation, the government jailed them for 15 days. Jailed for what? Jailed for demanding their rights. Can you call these people criminals?” Ferreira, who completed his master’s thesis on ‘political prisoners in India’, pledged to fight for their cause till the end. He said, “I also wanted to address the issue, where people are being re-arrested, time and again. After acquittal, the police slap some more charges against them. Then you are again arrested, and this is an endless cycle. It goes on and on. In 2007 when I was arrested there was no chargesheet or FIR against me. I was in jail and suddenly my name started cropping up in a few cases, where the police stated that I was absconding. Finally when I was acquitted, the police slapped two more cases against me and I was re-arrested. Data obtained from the police department might state that the number of so-called Naxals arrested has increased over a period of time, but most of the arrests being made are not new. A large number of people have been re-arrested again and again. In fact the former Principle district judge of Gadchiroli SS Ahmed had commented on this modus operandi of the police and the way they deal with political prisoners.”
P A Sebastian, President of the Committee For Release of Political Prisoners, said, “Many like Arun, who are languishing in jails, are not criminals, but political prisoners. Their views and the states’ views are not similar and this is the reason they are confined in jails and tortured for years together.” Out on bail after four years and eight months, Ferreira has filed a criminal writ petition against the state and others before the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court, demanding compensation of Rs 25 lakh. Ferreira had been acquitted in 11 different cases and one case is still pending before the court. When asked if he sympathised with the Naxals , Ferreira refused to elaborate. Instead, Maharukh Adenwalla, spokeswoman , Committee For Release of Political Prisoners, answered, “If somebody’s opinion or views happens to be different from the state’s he/she is made out to be a Naxal. This is in order to fit into their scheme if things.” Ferreira later explained, “Whenever the state sees red, it retaliates. Any ideology that is different than the state’s ideology is perceived as a threat. Nowadays you see any sort of movement that questions the policy of the state has been suppressed.” When a member of the audience asked, if he was in favour of violence, Ferreira replied, “There are movements, which were meant to be non violent. Due to circumstances, violence creeps in. In such a scenario, it is not right for one to back out from the movement. At least, I wouldn’t do that.” Ferreira admits that life in prison has taken a toll on his health. “The police has mastered a technique where a person will be tortured, but there will be no visible marks on his body. I too faced that. A doctor is supposed to check our heath after every 14 hours. The doctor will ask us if there is pain in any part of our body, but he/she will not take note of what we say. One of my co-accused was tortured. Police put petrol in his rectum, but when the doctor gave his report, he said that the person had piles.” He added that the prison manual too needs to be changed. “The prison manual is archaic and there are no rules or regulations in a jail. Everything is decided by the jailor. From how much food you eat to how many letters you can write or receive. If you have enough money you will have a better place to sleep, if you don’t then you are miserable. Even in jails, money is everything. Caste, creed and everything else is very much prevalent in jails too. It is not an equaliser.”
When asked about his alleged statement about Maoists and Shiv Sena, Ferreira clarified, “There were reports that during narco analysis, I had said that many political parties, including Shiv Sena and its chief Bal Thackeray, have been funding Maoist activities in Mumbai. But this is false. One Dr Malini, who was in charge of the narco analysis, which was conducted in Bangalore, asked me a lot of questions. She asked me for which organizations I had worked, to which I told her about various activist groups I have been associated with. I also told her that various political parties like the Congress and the Shiv Sena have youth wings. The doctor did not know anything about the Shiv Sena. Hence, I had to explain to her that the Shiv Sena is a party and Bal Thackarey is its chief. This was then edited and put together and reports claimed that I had made that statement.”
While Ferreira spoke on various issues, he refused to answer any question related to his family. At the end of the event, when somebody asked him how he survived all these years, Ferreira tersely replied, “I too am surprised, how I survived all these years.”
Who is Sudhir Dhawale?
A resident of Byculla, Sudhir Dhawale, an activist was arrested from Wardha railway station by a team of Gondia police and a team from the Nagpur division of ATS, while trying to board a train to Mumbai. He was taken to Gondia and produced before a local court which awarded police his custody until January 12, 2011. He was also booked for waging war against the state and charged with sedition
Midday- Sudheshna Chowdhury