Anahita Mukherji, TNN | Oct 17, 2013,
Pic- courtesy Shikha Rahi
Rahi has been arrested on grounds of being a Naxal courier, he rubbished the claim.
NAGPUR: Two years ago, at a sparsely-furnished flat in suburban Mumbai, Prashant Rahi, a soft-spoken social activist with a quiet demeanour, told TOI that he had been subjected to third-degree torture in Uttarakhand, where he had been jailed for allegedly being a Naxalite. Rahi had said that he was stripped, beaten mercilessly “in parts of the body where the pain is unbearable” and had petrol inserted into his anus.
TOI met him once again at the high-security Nagpur Central Jail, where he has spent over a month after his re-arrest on charges of Naxalism on September 1. “This time, I was not tortured badly like the last time,” said Rahi. He said he was “only badly beaten twice,” including one occasion where he refused to allow police to check his emails.
“The fact that Prashant Rahi should make a comparison between levels of torture, and talk of the difference between being tortured badly and not-so-badly speaks volumes of the extent of human rights violation that takes place in custody. Beating is equivalent to torture,” said Shashikumar Velath, programmes director, Amnesty International India, which has run a campaign to prevent Rahi from being tortured.
“Nobody in detention should be tortured, regardless of what they are suspected of. This isn’t the first time Rahi has said he was tortured in custody and, unless those responsible are held accountable, it is unlikely to be the last. Unfortunately many police officials in India still believe torture is acceptable and that they are above the law,” Velath said.
While Rahi has been arrested on grounds of being a Naxal courier, he rubbished the claim. Since his release from Uttarakhand (he was first arrested in 2007 and released on bail in 2011), he has worked on cases of other political prisoners in India, like himself. “Many of the cases I fought were successful. I have fought for some very old people who were in jail, including some who were incapacitated and on their death-bed,” Rahi said.
Rahi’s lawyers, Surendra Gadling and Jagdish Meshram, believe his human rights activism on behalf of political prisoners marked him as an obvious target for arrest.
While the police have said they caught Rahi in Gondia district of Maharashtra, Rahi said he was in Raipur ( Chhattisgarh) when he was picked off the streets, pushed into a car and taken on a 12-hour journey to Gondia.
“There were only two hearings left in the Uttarakhand case against Prashant. We were expecting the case to finish soon. His re-arrest looks like a ploy to prevent him from being free. It is obvious he is being targeted for his work on political prisoners,” Rahi’s wife Chandrakala said over phone from Uttarakhand. She said his train ticket to Raipur was confiscated by the police at the time of arrest.
Incidentally, Rahi had told TOI two years ago that he had been picked up by Uttarakhand police in a similar manner. He said he was picked off the streets of Dehradun and stuffed into a car, whereas the official story is that he was picked up from the forests of Udham Singh Nagar.
“The police say JNU student Hem Mishra, also arrested on charges of Naxalism, had mentioned Rahi’s name in connection with Naxal activities. This is not true. Hem was tortured in police custody. He has never mentioned Rahi,” said Meshram, lawyer for both Mishra and Rahi.
Rahi is one among a whole host of social activists arrested on charges of Naxalism. Cases against some others, such as Binayak Senand Arun Ferreira, have collapsed in court.