Editorial: An Apolitical Analysis of Indian Political Prisoners

“Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” — George Orwell

Political prisoner is a deviant, as per my observation. A political prisoner is jailed for “freely expressing” any disagreement, no matter how tranquilly. S/he is also jailed for disobeying the mainstream definition of acceptable “social behavior” as constituted by the government. S/he can also be “legally” arrested for belonging to an organization, race, or social group unapproved by the “democratic” government. I am not particularly talking about China, Zimbabwe, or North Korea (where the situation is intrinsically worse), but referring to those governments which feel that they are above humanity or aren’t made up of human clay and so have a right to “ethically govern” the social cosmos.

I cannot uphold “violent” political prisoners because they are naturally violating the axioms of self-ownership that are the basis for freedom and peace. The non-aggression principle (NAP) is such a maxim, and it is the idea that each person has the right to make his or her own choices in life so long as they do not involve aggression (defined as the initiation of force or fraud against others). The principle asserts that aggression includes any encroachment on another person’s life, liberty, or justly acquired property, or an attempt to obtain from another via deceit what could not be consensually obtained, and so is always illegitimate.

In the current scenario, we assess “direct violence” and “indirect violence” daily. Direct violence is an offensive crime committed by the political prisoners and is unjustified. However, the State cunningly tags it as a defensive measure when committing direct violence in conflict like the “war on terror” or “war on drugs” or “war on naxals.”

Anyone who constructs a logical refutation of the government’s stupidity or attempts to identify the said distinction is charged under a sedition act, patriot act, defamation act, etc. Figure it out, if you disbelieve me. In the eyes of the State, exposing so-called “defensive measures” as direct violence is the most offensive act a person can commit to deserve becoming a “political prisoner.”

Indirect violence can be understood as a defensive crime committed by the slacktivists on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and there are many cases where users were arrested simply over their “posts.” Viewed another way, indirect violence is an offensive crime committed by the government on people through expropriatory means like taxation (legal robbery), land acquisition, etc. Anyone opposing it is likely to suffer direct violence and soon see the doors of incarceration.

Partho Sarathi Ray writes that, in 2005, the Supreme Court of India sentenced a man to death, not based on evidence by the admission of the learned justices themselves, but solely to “satisfy the collective conscience of society.” This man, Mohammad Afzal Guru, was accused in the 2001 Parliament attack case of “waging war against the state,” vilified and sentenced to death by media trial even before his actual court sentence, was finally hanged to death on February 8, 2013. The media was silent when, five months after Guru’s hanging, senior IPS officer Satish Verma (who famously investigated the 2004 Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case in which four Muslims were gunned down by Gujarati police under then-Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s regime), alleged the 2001 attack, along with several other incidents blamed on Islamic extremists, was actually a false-flag staged by the State “with the objective of strengthening the counter-terror legislation.”

In the decade since Guru was sentenced to death, hundreds of other men and women have been arrested and thrown into prisons all over India. There they have spent years behind bars, not because they committed crimes such as murder or robbery or rape, but because they responded to the call of their conscience to end oppression and exploitation in society. Amitava Bagchi, Angela Sontake, Asutosh Soren, Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa, Chatradhar Mahato, Gour Chakrabarty, Irom Chanu Sharmila, Kobad Ghandy, Prasant Rahi, Shila Didi, Soni Sori, Vernon Gonsalves, Venkateswara Rao – these mostly unfamiliar names are all part of that long procession of people who are imprisoned, or have been imprisoned, in various jails in India over the past decade or more after being accused of waging war (usually in one nonviolent form or another) against the Indian State.

Coming from various regions of India, from different professions and backgrounds, and speaking different languages, all these men and women share the same identity now – they are all “political prisoners.” The central government and various state governments of India are so worried about their activities that it is unthinkable that they can remain free and making them rot in jail for year after year has become a mainstay of state policy. The general public mostly remains ignorant about these people, and the government’s efforts are constantly directed towards maintaining that ignorance. Sometimes, some news appears about them, hidden in the inside pages of newspapers and soon fading out of public memory. The only people concerned about these prisoners are a few human rights organizations and activists, some political organizations, and their hapless relatives who hope that, one day, their near and dear ones will again breathe in free air.

I am fearless to articulate all this here because right is right and wrong is wrong and just because people tyrannically defend the “majority’ does not mean that right is wrong or wrong is right.

It is unprecedented, in recent history, for such a large number of people accused of political offences to be imprisoned for such prolonged periods of time by a State which claims to be democratic and which is (officially) not at war. The only possible comparisons are the juntas and dictatorships of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, but they did not have the democratic pretensions of the Indian State. It is not the life of Afzal Guru, someone needs to tell the learned justices of the Supreme Court, but the continued imprisonment of these people who are the successors of Bhagat Singh and Surya Sen and Khudiram, that is the blot on the conscience of Indian society.

However, the central government and various state governments of India constantly try to obscure the difference between political offences and criminal offences, so that the usual public sympathy towards political prisoners can be suppressed and it becomes easier to harshen the conditions and sentences of the political prisoners. For this reason the Indian State promulgates a series of laws which, although nominally supposed to control or prevent organized crime or terrorism, practically become the main weapons in the hands of governments to suppress the slightest political dissent.

By all these standards, I am liable to be charged under 124 (a) of Sedition Act in India for boldly expressing my views in defense of liberty and nonviolent political prisoners.

So, tell me, how free is your freedom?