Guest post. BACHCHA PRASAD SINGH who was recently released from Patiala Central Jail, interviewed by SHAILZA SHARMA
Bachcha Prasad Singh was released from Patiala Central Jail on May 31, 2016 after being kept in illegal judicial custody for an extra three days. In a time when all verification processes are possible online, he was dragged by police officials on a 32 hour road journey from Patiala to Kanpur, for verification of his identity and pending cases. When the Kanpur court and jail authorities refused to take him in custody since he had been granted bail in the FIR registered at Kanpur, the jail authorities could not do much and he was again taken back to Patiala. There were murmurs among the police officials ‘isko Punjab se nahin chhodna’ (He should not be released from Punjab). Only when a habeas corpus was filed in Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court by the Senior Advocate R.S. Bains, the Patiala jail authorities were compelled to release Bachcha Prasad. Harassment at the hands of the Patiala jail authorities was his fate on the day of his release as well, his barrack, his belongings and his bags, which were already in custody of the jail authorities were stripped and searched and he was thoroughly humiliated.
Knowing that it is the modus operandi of the State to re-arrest political prisoners, immediately upon their release on false pretexts, it was the apprehension of his lawyers that the State was creating circumstances which could lead to his re-arrest. However, it is a testament to the dedication and life of the 57 year old revolutionary who after more than 6 years of imprisonment, considered this episode in his life nothing but a brief pause.
Please tell us about the circumstances of your initial arrest and the reasons why you were arrested in the first place? Also, shed some light on the progress and status of your cases.
I was arrested from Kanpur in 2010 on allegations of ‘conspiracy to wage war against the State’, under Sections 120-B and 121-A, of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 for being a member of a banned organisation.
After a few days, the Indian State framed a second case against me from Chintapalli, Vishakhapatnam where I was accused of being involved in the 2008 attacks against the Greyhound forces, who were killed by alleged Maoists. Generally, the modus operandi of the State is to present an incident as some sort of conspiracy, in such cases. This method was also previously deployed by the State during the 1967 Naxalbari struggle and even during the colonial rule when Bhagat Singh was accused in the Lahore conspiracy case. In my case, after the arrest of Kobad Ghandy they used his confession, which was unsigned, unverified and in all probability fabricated by the police to allege that we had been involved in arranging meetings where decisions were made to wage war against the State.Subsequently, everyone who was arrested including Amitabh Bagchi, Vijay Kumar and Subramaniam was arrested on the basis of the alleged confession given by Kobad Ghandy, according to which we had allegedly held meetings to allocate responsibility for allegedly waging war against the State by dividing the country into various zones. This case was depicted as a conspiracy, where all the alleged central committee members (CPI (Maoist)) were involved and thereafter whoever was arrested was charged in this case. A production warrant was issued against me and I was then shifted to the Vishakhapatnam Central Jail and after four years of trial, I was acquitted alongwith a few others.
The next case was lodgedat Karimnagar, Telangana and I am not even aware of the incidents that became the basis of my arrest. In this case, Malliraji Reddy was arrested and similar to the case in Vishakhapatnam, an alleged confession of Malliraji Reddy was used to make subsequent arrests and a list was prepared of all those who were to be arrested. Even if the arrested were not on such prepared list, they were slotted in the ‘unknown’ column. In the present case, which was also depicted as a conspiracy, initially a chargesheet was filed against others, however, since no supplementary chargesheet was filed within the statutory period of 180 days, as prescribed under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967against me and a few others, almost everyone in this case was granted statutory bail.
The most recent FIR was filed at Patiala in 2014-15, in which I was subsequently discharged. Here, after Kobad Ghandy’s arrest from Delhi, once again his alleged confessional statement was used to frame me, in his confessional statement, Kobad has allegedly stated that we held a meeting with students in Punjabi University, Patiala and on this basis a case was filed against me and 2 other people. However, what was peculiar in this case was that the production warrant was sent to Vishakhapatnam jail, but, when I wrote to the court to initiate proceedings in my case so that I could apply for bail, no supplementary papers were provided on the basis of which I could preparemy defence. When I contacted my local lawyer in Patiala, he informed me that my name did not even appear in the chargesheet. He asked me to send over a photocopy of the production warrant, however, since the jail authorities refused to send a photocopy the matter was prolonged. Although, I had already been granted bail in the Kanpur case on December 1, 2013 and had been acquitted in Vishakhapatnam case, I had no choice but to furnish a bail bond and security, which meant that the State had to hand me over to the Punjab police. They spent 3 to 4 days searching for the papers to accompany the production warrant.
So presently, these are the 4 cases against me; trial is pending in the Kanpur case, I have been granted bail in the Karimnagar case, acquitted in the Vishakhapatnam case and have been discharged in the case from Patiala. I have seen that till date, only for political reasons the State has been instructing the local police to prolong my detention.
What were the conditions inside the prison and what do you have to say about the general attitude of the prison authorities towards political prisoners? Are there unreasonable restrictions inside the prison with respect to access to books, meeting family members and lawyers etc.?
As per my experience, the prison conditions depend on the sensibilities of the respective State government. With respect to political prisoners, I believe, wherever we have seen a strong tradition of radical or communist movements, the jail authorities, employees and the other prisonersare familiar with the concept of political prisoners and that is reflected in their attitude towards the political prisoners. The recognition of the status of political prisoners is a factor of civil liberty movements both inside and outside the prisons, in States like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, unofficially political prisoners are treated as such and there are even separate Maoist barracks.Conversely, in Punjab there is no recognition of concept of political prisoners at all, amidst authorities or the prisoners.
After a new and bigger jail was built in Vishakhapatnam jail, there were no longer separate barracks for Maoist political prisoners, therefore we protestedinside the jail and through agitations, court proceedings, media attention and petitions to officials; we were successful in obtaining special rights for political prisoners, including separate barracks.
What were the demands you made as political prisoners, during your protests?
As you may be aware, the struggle for rights of political prisoners has been alive since the days of Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries who went on a hunger strike against the colonial Empire. Unfortunately, our demands have not varied much since those days. Among other demands, we stressed the need for provision of uncensored newspapers, access to books, transparent interview/meeting procedures with family or lawyers and the right to address media personnel. With respect to newspapers, jail manuals provide that prisoners should be given censored versions, however we raised demands against this, since provision of censored newspapers is an attack on our democratic rights and our right to know. When it comes to access to books, there has always been a tussle between the authorities and the prisoners. There is a Supreme Court directive in this regard that be it Maoist literature, Marxist literature, it should be allowed to be accessed. There is also a Supreme Court judgment that undertrials should be allowed to address media personnel, we pursued this agenda as well. So overall, with combined efforts outside and inside prisons, there have been some changes.
Alongwith our demands for recognition of status of political prisoners, we raised certain demands with regard to general prison conditions, as well. Prison conditions are deplorable and the treatment of prisoners is despicable. If a criminal justice system is to be based on the jurisprudence of reformation and correctional justice, reformatory steps have to be taken to improve the current prison conditions and recognition of basic human rights of prisoners. Presently, the State and the prison authorities deploy punitive methods based on repression, they continue a colonial legacy and they have no intentions of changing their methods.
We know that as per the recent Supreme Court judgment, the judges have stated that there is a need to re-evaluate the methods of arresting people, arresting people on fabricated charges which leads to overcrowding, respect the human rights and dignity of the prisoners and efficiently operate the undertrial review committees; even then there is a serious lack of initiative from the side of the executive, judiciary and the prison authorities. For prisoners who have been languishing in jails for over 25-30 years, the advisory boards refuse to review their cases. The State governments have the power of acquittal and remission, which have been curtailed to some extent in the recent past, but they do have these powers. Especially in UP jails, the conditions are pathetic, no efforts are made to review the cases of those who have been on life sentences for years, I met a man in the Patiala jail who is 93 years old and has been in jail for over 23 years. The Supreme Court has clearly said that right to life means life for everyone, even for prisoners; we know that the courts have time and again reiterated that bail is a right, then why is everyone so careless about these reforms? In all the States review committees and advisory boards are formed and their objective is to review cases and work on the release of prisoners, to account for prisoners’ good behaviour, but this is nowhere implemented in reality. So, we had raised this demand as well during our agitation that those who have completed 14 years of imprisonment should be set free, if someone has completed half of their prison sentence as an undertrial, they should be freed. It is the responsibility of the District Court Judges to accompany the Superintendent in order to conduct surveys and identify the prisoners that should be released immediately on personal bond; even this is not implemented anywhere. It is a pity and sad commentary on our judicial and criminal justice system that on the one hand the Chief Justice of India is crying on national television and on the other the entire State machinery runs the prisons as centres of torture.
I should draw attention to the fact that in recent times, political prisoners are being branded as criminals through State propaganda, be it Naxalites or Muslims. Their cases are being viewed through the prism of State security and national threat, while their actionsare merely political in nature. Through the means of a vicious nexus with the mainstream media, psychological warfare and government’s policy of low intensity conflict, the public is being fed a narrative which frames our identity as criminals, who are a threat to the nation. A systematic brainwashing of the public is taking place to feed the narrative that revolutionaries are criminals, using politics as an excuse and simply doing business in the name of the revolutionary movement, this impacts our image as political prisoners to a large extent. Wherever there is no movement, State propaganda and popular media dominate the opinions of the masses. Aajkal unka prachaar hi hamari chhavvi ka nirmaan kar raha hai, khaaskarun ilaakon mein jahaan movement ka prabhaav kam hai (In today’s time, government’s propaganda is the means of formation of our public image, especially in the areas where the revolutionary movement is not strong).Ultimately, the political prisoners also have to suffer the consequences of government’s practices of black-painting them.
What are the consequences of a political life on the family members?
This issue has to be analysed from a class perspective. There are a few within the political movement who come from a middle class or upper middle class background and their economic and familial conditions are supportive of their struggles. These are the people who joined the movement because of an ideological bent, stayed with the revolutionary movement, have contributed a lot and some of them now find themselves imprisoned. Hardships arise because the network required to ensure support for all political prisoners is actually not steady in all areas. Therefore, many a times the political prisoners are left to fend for themselves. Furthermore, the Adivasis suffer the most. Most of the times they do not even understand the local language, or legal processes and their crime is only that they tried to defend their rights, self-respect, lifestyle, land and culture, against corporations. For instance, Adivasis from Gadchiroli are put in Nagpur Central Jail, they don’t have anyone to meet, they are not given proper treatment and they are not even categorised as political prisoners, so a large section of political prisoners act as a catalyst for the advancement of class struggle. Recently, an Adivasi political prisoner, Kamla had been released from Vishakhapatnam jail after 9 years of being charged with more than 48 false and fabricated cases; she had no one who could help or take care of her. I believe, there must be at least 6000-8000 such Adivasis languishing in jails in the entire country.
Nonetheless, there are a few democratic forces and progressive lawyers who assist the families and ensure that they get to meet the prisoners, but the authorities remain completely callous in this respect.
While demanding a separate status for political prisoners, we did raise the issue that there should not be a specific date for meeting family members, since many times they are travelling long distances for a meeting. The families in such cases should not have to return without a meeting. In many jails, the circumstances are so disdainful that the jail authorities do not let you meet your lawyer or family members without the presence of an intelligence official; our meetings depend on the availability of intelligence officials. It is preposterous that while a prisoner is trying to communicate with family members or lawyers through thick barriers, there are two officials standing on both sides, spying on behalf of the State to gain access to your defence strategies for the trial. In some prisons, the authorities did relent but in majority of the prisons intelligence officers are present, whether officially or unofficially.
Due to the change in power and advent of the new government, do you see an acceleration in the State’s repression and use of new technologies or military methods to repress people?
The rise of Hindu fascism in India has to be seen in the context of an international phenomena. This rise in Hindu fascism is nothing but a manifestation of the crisis of world imperialism, especially American imperialism. Whenever finance capital has been in deep crisis, democratic forces and spaces have been curtailed.The financial crisis of 2008 has not been contained and its impact has only grown and has even reached Europe. As a result of this growth, we see a rise in people’s resistance in many countries like Greece, France, Portugal and Spain, although they may not widely covered in the media. In 2010-11 even in the Middle East, where it is unprecedented we saw the Arab Spring uprising. In order to defend themselves against people’s resistance due to their own repressive and exploitative policies, finance capital and its comprador give impetus to religious fundamentalism and succeed in converting a class upsurge into religious fundamentalist rivalries, i.e. Arab Spring to Arab Winter. Since in India, Hinduism is the majority religion, religious fundamentalism takes the form of Hindutva fascism.
We also see that our democratic space in the country is shrinking. People like P. Uday Kumar and 2000 others with him, who are protesting against the Kundakulam Nuclear Power Plant are charged under sedition. Would you say that they are the ones who are anti-development or the ones building the Chernobyls? So the portrayal of real democratic forces as anti-development, is the policy of the State. It is part of the government propaganda to pass the mantle of GDP as the real measure of growth and development. In reality, it is the measure of growth for the corporations whereas the government sells it as the real measure of welfare of the people. As and when anybody raises a voice against or questions such farcical narratives, they are branded anti-development and anti-national. Any and all radical, democratic, progressive forces that oppose corporate loot are branded anti-development and circumstances of stifling their opposition are created. When this strategy is not sufficient, a combination of Hindu fundamentalism and national chauvinism is presented to the people, which is now evident in the anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim discourse being fed. This kind of fascism is based on national chauvinism and Hindu fundamentalism. Presently, they have the backing of many forces which are aiding the government’s propaganda. Since in a country like India, peoples’ movements are likely to rise against attacks of fascism, in order to deal with such peoples’ movement they are converting a soft State into a police establishment.
In my opinion the way to confront the present scenario is to form a strong resistance and a broader united front against Hindutva forces, it does not matter if this united front is a collection of the parliamentary left, radical left or socialist faction, a united front is required. A unanimous and public backlash against imperialism, Hindu fundamentalism and State repression from a cultural, economic or political front, is the need of the hour;on individual and local levels, without emphasising the need for any sort of organizational backing, we have to create strong counteractive forces.It is the time to stay united, to forget our dogmatic and ideological differences and remember what Lenin said “divided we fall, united we will”.
As a prisoner and especially as a political prisoner, did you face any torture while you were imprisoned and what were the forms of torture employed by the State?
Torture, harassment, verbal insults and use of vile language are common practices inside the prison. The State is adept in employing various methods of torture even without involving physical violence. They kept me under illegal detention for almost 4 days, during which I was not allowed to sleep. They call this process ‘marathon interrogation’ where various teams of 3-4 officials keep replacing each other and they repeat the same question with consistency. They won’t let you sleep, won’t let you eat, will keep harassing you and asking the same questions, again and again. Once I was taken into custody, they continued this process for over a period of 12 days and even more officials from Delhi and the Intelligence Bureau were invited for investigation. Many of my comrades were beaten up, but it was more of a mental torture in my case.
Now that a large section of theleadership from the revolutionary movement is in their 60s-70s and due to recent arrest and false encounters, do you think that there is a need for cultivation of a new base or leadership?
This largely depends on the phase of the revolutionary movement. There was a time when majority of theleadership wasamong the students and intellectuals from middle class and in fact the current leadership is a continuity of the intelligentsia who joined at that time. Even within the Naxalbari movement, there was a lot of student participation but presently,a large majority from the peasantry and Adivasis are forming a part of the on-ground leading forces. The revolutionary movement is trying to cultivate a leadership amongst the Adivasis, who have no dearth of experience in ground practices, but may be lacking in theoretical rigor.Earlier there was a tradition of intellectuals joining the revolutionary movement from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab and other States, however, this has seen a slowdown sincethe revolutionary movement is weak in urban and plain areas. It is vital for the revolutionary movement to put in efforts to build a leadership from the intellectuals as well, which is lacking and is nothing but a situational lacking. Also, the subjective forces required to achieve this objective, are insufficient.It is a positive aspect of the movement that the leading forces are Adivasis, however, if the movement has to be advanced, the leadership has to come from students and intellectuals.
We need to remember that everything is not under our control, sometimes it depends on the circumstances. If we analyse the recent political events surrounding the JNU incidents, it can be said that the revolutionary movement has not created personalities and leaders like Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya; they were shaped by the circumstances. However, due to the struggles of the movement in the last 4-5 years there has been an increase in awareness amongst students from Banaras Hindu University, Allahabad University, Hyderabad University, Jadavpur University and some universities in Telangana. One positive aspect is that, for instance, Kanhaiya Kumar is a member of AISF which is a student body of the CPI, however, his ideology transcends the politics and agenda of CPI and is not at all limited by it. Now, it is the responsibility of revolutionary movement to mobilise this wave of radical events in the country and if steered in the right direction, in the coming years it could sustain and advance the revolutionary movement.
As a result of the State’s acceleration of repression and fascist tendencies, do you witness a proliferation of radical movements in the country?
It is important to recognise that the subjective forces are agents of change and these recent radical events are a result of the circumstances created by the Modi government, their proceedings thrust people towards radical movements and opposition. There is no doubt that an incredible ground of opposition is being prepared in contemporary India, it depends on the movement as to how they wish to mobilise this wave of opposition and these circumstances will only continue to grow in future. Objective conditions, which are the basis of change, exist and the requirement is to intensify subjective preparations.
What are your views on revolutionary violence?
With respect to revolutionary violence, we need to ask the important question of ‘who perpetuates violence in the first place?’; it is always the ruler. Violence is the only means of sustenance for the ruler or exploiter, it is a part of their character and existence. The intensity of the violence depends on the requirements of the crisis of the ruler. If you look at the combined history of Communist movement, you will see that it always begins with a dialogue on rights and demands. However, in a situation of crisis, the State intensifies repressive methods and converts even peaceful movements into violent ones. The revolutionary movement has not directed the people to pick up arms but they are doing it since in this atmosphere of State repression or corporate loot, it is needed. Revolutionary violence is defensive in nature and is a form of resistance; and it becomes impossible for people to exist without defending themselves.
Now that you are free, what are your plans for the future?
In today’s political atmosphere it is very difficult to remain on the sidelines, the environment is such that it is impossible for even the non-politicized masses to stay away from the revolutionary movement. In this politically charged environment, it is difficult for anyone who has been a part of the revolutionary movement for a long time, to stay away from it. After having been a part of the movement for so long, I would say that in order to advance the revolutionary movement, it is time to reflect on the strategies and tactics of the revolution, keeping in mind recent global and political developments. There is no doubt that I was always a part of the radical movement, I am a part of the radical movement and will always be a part of the radical movement.
 The interviewee is talking about the judgment delivered by Justice Lokur and Justice Agarwal in February, 2016 which among other things, gave directives on prison reforms including the reduction of prisoners in overcrowded jails and basic human rights of the prisoners (Writ Petition (Civil) No.406/2013).
 Sunil Batra v.Delhi Administration [(1980) 3 SCC 488]
 Power tosuspend, remit and commute sentences under Sections 432, 433 and 433A of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
 Section 436A of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973