Sunday, March 11, 2018

India - How many political prisoners are there in West Bengal jails at the moment?

 How many political prisoners are there in West Bengal jails at the moment?

March 6, 2018
A note by Ranjit Sur
Many of our friends from other states ask, How many political prisoners are there in West Bengal jails at the moment?
The answer depends on your political position – whom you call political prisoner.
There are 85 ‘Maoist’ prisoners in West Bengal jails. Two alleged Kamtapuri activists and a few SUCI activists are still languishing in Bengal jails for years. Good number of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha activists are also in jail because of recent Gorkhaland movement.
Beside these, more than 60 people are there in West Bengal jails who were allegedlly involved in terror activities on behalf of this or that muslim fundamentalist organisation. Three of these muslim activists have been sentenced to be hanged till death.

Moreover, a huge number of political prisoners are out on bail after a prolonged custody life. This number can be anywhere between 2 thousand to 5 thousand. Only in 3 districts of Jungle Mahal there are almost 1500 political activists running from court to court to fight cases slapped on them for their role in the Lalgarh movement .
Out of 85 ‘ Maoist’ political prisoners 73 persons have been slapped with UAPA. Most of the 60+ ‘muslim’ activists are charged with UAPA. Even a good number of Gorkhaland activists are charged under terror law UAPA.
Of the 85 ‘Maoist’ prisoners 12 have been already convicted. The rest 73 are undertrials. Undertrial means trial for years and years. Most of the cases are not at all heard. Even dates are not given. Cases of 2000 & 2002 are still pending in courts. Out of the 85 prisoners, 81 prisoners have been in jail for more than 5 years. 4 are there who have been in jail for more than 14 years. Appeal petition of Chatradhar Mahato, Raja Sorkhel & Prosun Chatterjee against their life imprisonment are not at all heard for a single date at Calcutta High Court.
In West Bengal, jails are now termed as Correctional Homes! How are these political prisoners spending their prison life in correctional homes ?
Its well known that the Mamata Banerjee Government changed the very law of giving recognition as Political Prisoners. So most of these political prisoners are not at all recognized as political prisoners. Most of them are not getting the little extra benfit of access to newspapers, books of choice, pen-paper, cooking utencils etc.
The next serious blow from the Mamata Government to hit the political prisoners is its decision of not allowing visitation of friends in the jail, violating jail-code. The government is allowing only close relatives to visit prisoners at jails – that too, in most jails, once in a week. Rights activists used to meet the political prisoners noting as friends. So their visit is not allowed now.
It is the rights activists, other than family members, who were there to take care of their day to day problems – as far as possible. This single decision alienated political prisoners from the outer world to a great extent. Many of the political prisoners are housed far from their residence, for example, Chatradhar Mahato of Medinipur is in Presidency Jail, Kolkata and Raja Sorkhel of Kolkata is housed in Jalpaiguri Jail. So the visits of rights activists to jails are very important for them – which the government stopped totally.
Not only that, any books you give to a political prisoner will be sent to Special Branch for screening. If SB officials feel the book as readable by a political prisoner only then he will get it to read.
Recently West Bengal government has been trying hard to stop mixing of political prisoners with other general prisoners by earmarking a small area as their area of movement. Political prisoners are not allowed to move out of that area. Presidency Jail authority ordered maximum movement of one bigha area out of total 52 bigha of jail area. Now, they are trying to bring it to half a bigha area.
Most of the political prisoners are sufficiently old. Moreover long incarceration has made them sick and frustrated. So, all these government high handed activities are not facing organised protests like earlier days. Sporadic hunger strikes or other forms of protests at individual level or by a small group are not yeilding proper results, which leads to more fustration. Programs at jail gate by rights organisations or social movement for the release of political prisoners are quite  rare nowadays. So prisoners are getting no such message that outside world is at all interested in their life or death. This has led them to more frustration which eventually emboldens the jail authority to take more and more stringent measures demanding total subjugation.

September 14, 2017

Political prisoners in Jalpaiguri (North Bengal) and Dum Dum Jail remembered the martyrdom of revolutionary Jatin Das on September 13 by fasting. They demanded the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the transfer of prisoners to jails near their homes, and that authorities treat them with dignity.
In their view, the kind of torture meted out to political prisoners in the days of Jatin Das has remained unchanged to this day.
The prisoners currently lodged in Jalpaiguri jail are Raja Sarkhel, Sambhu Soren, and Sagun Murmu.
The prisoners lodged in Dum Dum jail include Sudip Chongdar, Venkatesh Reddy (Dipak), Santosh Debnath, Sachin Ghoshal, Narayan Mahato, Anando Mahato, Bhaktu Mahato, and others.

January 10, 2017

West Bengal:
Noted political prisoner Raja Sorkhel has been shunted to Jalpaiguri Jail from Dum Dum Central Jail, allegedly as a punishment measure for organising the hunger strike movement on 10 December against strip search of 2 women prisoners at Alipore Women’s Jail. Its alleged that even his family is not informed of this shifting.
Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu have been transferred to Jalpaiguri. Patit Paban Halder has been transferred to Midnapore. Sudip Chongder, Manik Mahato and Thakurmani Hembram had been shifted to Dum Dum. All the belongings of Patit Paban have been seized in the jail gate and he has been forced to spend the night with just three blankets. Mattress and mosquito net and other necessaries have not been provided to Raja Sarkhel either. Today rights activists went to Jalpaiguri jail, authorities denied all the allegations. Raja was supposed to fast unto death from today morning, but postponed on our request. We are going to Jalpaiguri on January 11.

October 3, 2016

Paru Arjun Patel is an adivasi woman from the Adilabad region of Telengana. She has been imprisoned since March 2012 under UAPA and NIA. Currently she is in West Bengal, in the Alipore Women’s Prison.
She had been ailing with thyroid problems from the time of her work in the jungles of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. Suffering from progressively degenerative eyesight and hearing, and starting to lose her physical balance, she planned to come to Mumbai for treatment when her ailments became severe. An appointment for operation was fixed at the Tata Hospital. The day before the operation, Paru and four others were arrested when the police swooped down on a shelter in the Dombivali area near Mumbai. Cases were brought against her under UAPA and NIA for manufacture of arms and other activities.
During her time in Nagpur Jail, Paru received no treatment for her ailments. The situation has continued in Kolkata as well. Her lawyer has brought this lack of treatment to the notice of her NIA court umpteen times. The court once ordered a medical board to be constituted. During the board meeting, no translators were present, and Paru Patel, who speaks only Telugu and Gondi, received practically no treatment. Faced with this inhuman treatment by the State, Paru, now almost completely deaf and blind, is slowly proceeding towards death. In the past, a human rights organization had brought her condition to the notice of the authorities, to no avail.
Paru is an adivasi political worker. She needs urgent medical care. If one of the main opposing figures of the current government, who was responsible for the skeleton case, can be given treatment at one of the premier hospitals of the state, then why won’t this adivasi prisoner, who is going blind, receive the minimum medical treatment?
The Political Prisoners Joint Committee has gien a call for a deputation program on October 3, at 2 pm near Alipore Women’s Jail. This is a call for providing minimum medical treatment for Paru and other women prisoners.


A few days back, political worker Madan Mahato was picked up from the border of West Midnapur and Jharkhand by the West Bengal police. Till date, he has not been produced in any court of West Bengal. This violates the orders of the Supreme Court and the procedures of criminal law. The West Bengal government should immediately bring Madan Mahato in front of the people

September 13, 2016
Parameshwar Mahato, peasant political prisoner of Purulia, West Bengal, serving a life sentence and imprisoned for the last 12 years, breathed his last in Dum Dum Jail on September 5, 2016.
A Calcutta High Court division bench comprising Justices Ashim Kumar Roy and Ishan Chandra Das on 15 May 2015 had confirmed the life sentences of 7 dalit-adivasi landless labourers, including Parameshwar Mahato.
They were accused of being MCC activists who raided the house of one Jagadish Tiwari at Bansgarh village, P.S. Jhalda, district Purulia, West Bengal, and killed him on 26 November 2002. Jagdish Tiwari was a local landlord notorious for his repressive actions against the poor peasants and landless labourers of the area. After his death, his wife and son had lodged an FIR accusing all the people in the neighbouring villages of Jharkhand, Kamlapur, Sindhatar, Arasaram, Purnapani and Jogidih for his killing. After this the West Bengal police arrested the eight people from these villages who already had land disputes with the slain landlord and were fighting legal cases against him. This was an act of vengeance by the West Bengal police and the family of the slain landlord to settle old scores with poor dalit and adivasi villagers.
In 2016, the Supreme Court gave bail to two of the accused, but the special leave petition of five of them, including Parameshwar Mahato and Rajaram Soren, were rejected.
Parameshwar had been paralyzed from 2013 onwards. It should be remembered that the Mamata Banerjee government had come to power on the promises of release of political prisoners. This issue had been discussed during her first cabnet meeting, and a committee had also been formed.

August 28, 2016
Arnab Dam (Bikram) is an undertrial Maoist political prisoner in Presidency Jail, Kolkata, since August 2012. He had 31 cases against him slapped by two successive governments, the Left Front and the TMC. He got bail in 28 cases. Three cases are still pending in court including one UAPA case.
In jail Arnab completed his graduation. Then he applied to learn computer in jail through government training organisations. Jail authority refused on ‘security’ ground, though they organise the same course for general prisoners. Arnab protested through one day hunger strike with no effect. Then Arnab applied to do a course in Law. Again Jail authority refused on the ground of arrangement problem. Arnab then took admission in IGNOU for MA in History. But jail authority are not doing any cooperation in his studies, rather making all kinds of obstructions.
Arnab’s parents recently gave Arnab some books on his subject of examination. But jail authority confiscated all the books. Despite repeated requests they refused to return the books. They said, they will send the books to IB department . And if IB gives clearance only then will they give the books.
Arnab protested in writing and started indefinite Hunger strike with appropriate notice from today (27/8) morning demanding immediate return of the study books and stopping of mental torture by Presidency jail authority.
July 24 2016

Maoist political prisoner Anup Roy filed a case in Calcutta High Court against imposition of illegal restrictions on visitors at jails in West Bengal. The case is expected to be heard any day. Advocate Debopriya Mukhopadhyay is the advocate-on-record in the case.
It may be recalled that Mamata Government issued an administrative order sometime back imposing various illegal restrictions on meeting political prisoners at jails. Accordingly, except nearest family members, no one is allowed to meet the prisoners. This is against the jail code where friends are allowed to meet. Since time immemorial human rights activists used to meet the prisoners as friends. Now Mamata Government stopped this.
So prisoners are suffering from tremendous seclusion. It is these rights activists of various organisations who year after year took care of the distant prisoners as their family lives far from the jails. Many had no family in real terms. For example Venkatshwar Reddy & Ramakrishnan _ two prominent Maoist political prisoners in this state are from Andhra Pradesh. Chatradhar Mahato of Lalgarh is in Alipur and Kolkata’s Prosun Chatterjee is in Jalpaiguri jail. So who can take care of their problems, their cases, except rights workers! Now this stoppage of visiting them landed the prisoners in serious problems.
So Anup Roy’s case is a very important case . It will have serious repercussions on prisoners life, their trial and release.
July 24 2016

Kobad Ghandy on Hunger Strike in Tihar Jail

Kobad Ghandy commenced a hunger strike on 15th July, 2014 in protest against the prison authorities sudden arbitrary decision to shift him from Jail no. 1 to Jail no. 2 of Tihar Prison. He was forcibly shifted on a stretcher, while he continued to be on hunger strike, on the evening of 16th July, 2014. Democratic Rights activists have registered their protest against the harassment of this senior citizen political prisoner, who is also suffering from a number of ailments, and have appealed to the Director General of Prisons, Delhi, Vimla Mehra, to ensure that he his not denied his legitimate rights.
July 19 2016

After 6/7/8 years of rotting in West Bengal jails all of them got acquittal from court of law. Gour Chakraborty, Himadri Sen Roy (Somen), Chandi Sarkar – and many more political activists. They all lost their valuable years of life in jail without doing any crime. Yet none of the courts ordered any compensation for their lost years. Serious effort should be taken to file suit for compensation. Should we not think over demanding punishment for the authorities who brought false charges against the acquitted persons. These are necessary to stop filing false cases too.
Three instances are there in recent cases. In the first Kerala High Court ordered rupees one lac compensation for a young man who were falsely implicated as a Maoist activist. A well-known political activist of Maharashtra, Arun Perera, writer of Colours of Cage, filed for compensation after getting acquittal from Court. The most discussed case in this regard is the Akshardham Temple case where 6 Muslim youths got acquittal from Supreme Court. Three of them were ordered to be hanged till death and three were lifers. After 10/11 years of pathetic living in jails they were acquitted by Supreme Court of India. All these six youths filed compensation suit. But their demand has been rejected first by Gujrat High Court and then by Supreme Court. Supreme court said, it would create a dangerous precedent. In course of arguments, it was observed that conviction rate in India is more or less 45%. That means 55% of the prisoners got acquittal and should be compensated for wrong confinement.
So a serious and long battle has to be fought to get compensation as well as punishment for the false accusers. Yet the battle has started and in West Bengal we should also file suits for compensation and punishment for implicating in false cases. Let all of us ponder over this and take some concrete steps in right direction. Time is ripe for the move.
West Bengal

July 13 2016
The political prisoner status of Gour Chakraborty was retained. Finding no merit, the SC today disposed of state’s appeal against SS Ahluwalia judgement.

May 4 2016
Political prisoner Angela Sontakke was granted bail by Supreme Court today 4th May 2016 after 5 years. Angela, who was arrested on 25th April 2011 and has been lodged in the Byculla (Mumbai) Women’s Prison for the last five Years was today granted bail by a Supreme Court Bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Prafulla C. Pant in the UAPA case applied on her by ATS, Maharashtra. Congratulations to the legal team of Kamini Jaiswal, Sr. Adv., Gautam Bhatia, Adv. and Shumaila Altaf, Adv.
Bail Applications of Political Prisoners Sagar Gorkhe, Sachin Mali and Ramesh Gaichor, which had been clubbed with Angela’s application, were not decided by the Bench today. They have been posted for July 2016.
Sagar, Sachin and Ramesh, who are accused in the same UAPA case with Angela, have been in jail for 3 years.
West Bengal

Gour Chakraborty

May 19 2016
Great injustice has been caused to Maoist political prisoner Gour Chakraborty (78) lodged in a West Bengal jail since 2009. He got bail on all cases against him except one at Bankshall Court, Kolkata.
Hearing of that case was also finished ages ago. The judge declared date to give her verdict. Everybody was ready and curious to hear the verdict as it was the first UAPA case in the state. It was much before the election date was declared. But much water flowed through the Ganga after that. The day of verdict never came.
The judge announced date after date through months to pronounce the verdict. But finally she left Bankshall Court without giving the verdict on Gour Chakraborty’s case, whose hearing was completed. She left as she has been transferred to some other court. Now, a new judge has taken charge of the case and said she has to hear the case afresh. Two dates have passed. She heard the case afresh. A third date has been fixed. No one can say how many dates she will take to give the judgement.
A deep sense of frustration now pervades all the political prisoners including Gour Chakraborty.
Arnab Dam (Bikram)

On May 14, starting from 6 am, Maoist political prisoner Arnab Dam (Bikram) has gone on a hunger strike in Presidency Jail. Arnab had petitioned the jail authority to learn computers while in prison. He was turned down, despite the fact that regular prisoners are trained in computers in jail. The jail authority is unwilling to follow the directives of the Medinipur Court in this case. Arnab is demanding that like other prisoners, he too has to be given the opportunity of learning computers.
Chhatradhar Mahato and others

May 9, 2016
Kolkata High Court has refused to give back Political Prisoner status to CHATRADHAR MAHATO & others. Earlier, Kolkata High Court had granted them Political Prisoner status when they were under-trial prisoners. Now they are refused on the ground that their status has been changed to “Convict” and respective law has been changed by Mamata Banerjee Government.
One year has passed since Chatradhar Mahato & five other popular activists Raja, Prasun, Sukhsanti & Sambhu were convicted with life imprisonment by a trial court of Medinipur. It was decided by all mass organisations & activists jointly to fight the case at High Court. Accordingly an appeal petition has been filed in Kolkata High Court within stipulated date. The court accepted the appeal & asked the government to file affidavit in opposition. Subsequently bail petitions were also filed for all the convicts.
That’s all.
Not a single hearing has happened yet. Reason? Not known.
In the meantime Chatradhar, Raja, Prasun, Sukhsanti & Sambhu Soren have completed one year of their life term as convicts and seven years of jail in total. Their political prisoner status has also been snatched. No ray of hope in sight. Kolkata High Court will soon be closed for summer vacation.
1 Comment »

One Response to “Updates on Political Prisoners – How many political prisoners are there in West Bengal jails at the moment?”

  1. K SHESHU BABU Says:
    September 14th, 2016 at 11:49 The condition of prisoners is pathetic in India. Not only they are being denied faster verdicts from courts, they are also being discriminated against from having access to relatives, friends, activists or even books and newspapers. Those prisoners arrested under the pretext of maoists or naxals are suffering the most. They are being denied the basic fundemental rights of Constitution under articles 19 and right to life under article 21 . PILs must be filed on the delays of proceedings on behalf of all political prisoners, specially Maoists, and the supreme Court should pass orders to prison authorities to monitor basic needs and health of prisoners.

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