The Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) in India consists of, to paraphrase CRPP’s general secretary, people from all walks of life and different ideological standpoints. The CRPP does not have a well defined ‘line’ and believes simply, that everybody has the right to his or her own opinion and also the right to express it. The CRPP does not follow or oppose the ideology of the prisoners.
At three pm on 25th September, 2009 the CRPP made its first press release in regard to its involvement with Kobad Ghandy’s case. The CRPP was being represented by SAR Geelani, and Amit Bhattacharya. They were accompanied by Rajesh Tyagi, who is to represent Kobad Ghandy in court. The press release will be put on our website as soon as a soft-copy is obtained. Just to put down the facts made public in brief:
After meeting Mr. Kobad Ghandy in Tihar, the CRPP discovered that contrary to the reports in the media, the latter was arrested not on the 21st of September, but was abducted from the bus terminal at Bhikaji Cama Place at about 4 pm on 17th September. For four days he was kept in illegal detention, during which he was interrogated and tortured. His arrest was finally made official on the 21st when Mr. Ghandy refused both food and medicine in protest, as he could not take recourse to a lawyer unless this was done.
Mr. Ghandy had been in Delhi to take medical advice for a kidney ailment. “On 17/09/09 he had received the PSA report which showed high possibility of prostrate cancer. He was advised to take a tablet for 14 days and return for further PSA tests and a possible biopsy.” (CRPP press release) When he was abducted he had still been taking these tablets. In addition Mr. Ghandy had also been suffering from severe diarrhoea and dysentery because of an Irritable Bowel Syndrome, for which he has had to take long term treatment. He has been advised special food and boiled water, both of which are unavailable at Tihar. The CRPP press release deals in detail with the manner in which the ailing man was mistreated and his ailment ignored by the authorities.
In the press conference, Mr. Rajesh Tyagi, who is to fight Kobad Ghandy’s case, brought to the media’s attention what he called ‘the peculiar’ circumstances of this case. According to him neither Mr. Ghandy, nor Mr. Tyagi has been handed over the FIR, and when Mr. Tyagi tried to speak to senior officials he was told that the FIR has been ‘sealed’. This is strange Mr. Tyagi pointed out because unless the FIR is made public, the grounds on which Mr. Ghandy has been arrested will not be known. Since no cases have ever been filed against Mr. Ghandy’s, refusal to make the FIR public, suggests that the authorities have no ‘case’ against him. It is strange indeed, Mr. Tyagi said, that a person is abducted first, and then a case is filed against him. A petition is going to be put into the Delhi High Court, asking the court to direct the police to make the FIR available to Mr. Ghandy and his lawyer. Mr. Tyagi spoke of the manner in which almost everything about this case is an infringement of constitutional provisions. For instance intelligence agencies do not have the authority to abduct, let alone torture a citizen. Furthermore the manner, in which Mr. Ghandy has been projected as a ‘Maoist leader’ by the authorities, makes it seem as if it is illegal to be ideologically inclined in that direction. Since the FIR has not been shown, it is impossible to tell if Mr. Ghandy has been charged for involvement with the CPI (Maoist).
Following are the demands that the CRPP has put forth:
1. Provide immediate medical care to Kobad Ghandy for all his health problems including cardiac and prostrate cancer.
2. Allow him provision for prescribed diet as provided in the hospitals and safe/boiled water.
3. Stop all attempts to transfer him to other states under false charges as this could endanger his life.
4. Allow a team of specialist doctors to take immediate stock of his medical condition and to continuously monitor his health.
5. Stop all attempts to put him under illegal narco-analysis as this could endanger his life.
6. Shift him to a cell which is not overcrowded.
7. Provide him with material to read and write.
8. Allow him the status of being a political prisoner.
The state’s attempt to manufacture consent against the Maoists, works side by a side with an attempt to destroy any possible support base in the country at large, especially among the intelligentsia. A sort of hysteria about the ‘Maoist threat’ has been created through the media and through other means. Following this the state makes the claim that these are ‘special circumstances’ which need ‘special means’ to safeguard democracy. A series of laws, culminating in Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), allow the state to infringe democratic rights of citizens, apparently to protect democracy. People might sympathise with the Maoists because of ideological reasons or on humanitarian grounds, this way or that, they form a support base that is needed for the survival of the movement. The government uses various ‘strong-arm methods’ to destroy this base. This can be seen in the series victimization of left-wing intellectuals (the cases of Binayak Sen and SAR Geelani are only the tip of an iceberg).
The parallels between the situation in India now and US in the McCarthy era are significant. The ease with which the mainstream media can get away with completely nonsensical theories and conclusions is a sign of this. There have been theories for instance of all organizations raising voices against these ‘special laws’ being ‘fronts’ for the Maoists. Ostensibly these laws target people only from certain organizations, but in effect they have very significant implications for anti-hegemonic voices at large. One can be put behind bars, and tortured for having written a pamphlet, or for making a statement, or going to a protest, even if one is not a member of a banned organization. Let alone ideologically motivated dissent, even that on ‘humanitarian’ grounds can lead to trouble. In fact, if we learn from the McCarthy experience, these laws and this atmosphere has implications even for the non-conformist – so those who think that they’re safe, if they take a lukewarm, ‘we are against all violence’ stand, should not be so sure. Eventually they too will be sucked into the mire. A polarization of stands is being aimed at – a situation in which the voices of dissent are so small in number that they can easily be suppressed.
It seems that at the moment at least the battle is being waged mainly on legal grounds. The potential of such a battle (if it remains only this) is limited. This is not to criticize the CRPP in any way of course. This battle is after all very essential, but its importance comes partly from the fact that it gives us a chance to raise this issue as a political question as well. To make it a political question, we will need to look beyond being sympathizers or critics of the Maoists. The anti-democratic nature of the ‘democratic’ state is not a bad thread to pick, since it is an important ‘repressed’ which keeps returning. The totalitarian tendencies of liberal democracy are important to uncover; Carl Schmitt’s sovereign is ever-present in such a state, for it is able to create an eternal state of emergency. The question of our right to dissent can be addressed truly, if and only if we also in the same breath take into account the political nature of problems and the direction of our protest. It is not about condemning or adulating the Maoists, and who are we to do that in any case? We cannot continue to behave as if the Maoists, the state and the state’s hunt for Maoists belong to a different world, and that we can pass judgement on it as if we stand outside it. We breathe the same air, and we need to understand that.