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04 March, 2008

Conference to press for rights of political prisoners

A conference is proposed to be held in New Delhi on March 31 and April 1, 2008 to discuss the rights of political prisoners and initiate a process to work towards recognizing them.

Preparations for the conference are being made by a Convenors' Committee comprising Surendra Mohan, A Marx, SAR Geelani, GN Saibaba, Rona Wilson and Amit Bhattacharya (Coordinator).

The following is a communication from Bhattacharya explaining the circumstances leading to the convening of the conference:

Time and again, there is an unprecedented urgency when the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh talks about development or governance. Manmohan Singh has made it clear that the development model being pushed by the government—euphemistically called as the 'second generation reforms'—can only solve the problems of the vast sections of the people. For an India, which is ostensibly marching ahead in the 21st century towards prosperity, he has spelt out the main dangers that she faces in three ways.

Firstly, voices of dissent in the form of struggles—against loss of homes, hearths and the very cultural survival of the people due to the policies of development through globalization, privatization and liberalization of the economy—are anti-development and against the national interest, as per the learned prime minister. Any opposition to the present model of development is deemed anti-national. Secondly, the subcontinent in general and India in particular cannot be secure without being part of the so called 'war against terror' under the aegis of US imperialism. Thirdly, the prime minister who never shies away from an opportunity to wax eloquently on Voltaire has pointed out that the Maoists are the "single largest threat to internal security" in the region. He does not mince his words when he exhorts to 'cripple the Maoists' and totally weed them out from the political geography of the subcontinent.

Through these three postulates Manmohan Singh and his government have effectively become part of the doctrine of Bush—either you are with us or against us.

It won't be an exaggeration to say that every question or issue of social, political and economic significance has been reduced into a 'law and order' problem. Effectively the military, paramilitary and police the run the everyday administration in many regions with blanket powers bestowed on them by the political leadership.

The World Bank-sponsored development panacea which Manmohan Singh is aggressively implementing have created islands of prosperity while leaving the vast sea of humanity deprived of their right to lead a dignified existence free of all forms oppression and exploitation. This has naturally given birth to widespread discontent reflected in the numerous protests of the masses. The people have no other way to express their opinion. The prisons all over have become seats of torture, custodial death, of 'disciplining' political dissent of vast sections of the people. More and more prisons are being constructed while the present ones are flooded with inmates beyond their capacity. The prisons have the worst conditions. Jail manual is hardly followed. In addition to the already existing draconian laws like AFSPA, Disturbed Areas Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act, different states in India have enacted its own internal security laws that have given the military, paramilitary and police sweeping powers to apprehend anyone under the slightest of suspicions or even without it.

Thus the Muslims who protest against religious and social discrimination, lack of representation or dignity become the terrorist or the enemy within, who are destabilizing the country. Thousands of them are behind bars, branded as terrorists or as having links with terrorists. The prison conditions are highly communal. Muslims face some of the worst forms of humiliation and mistreatment apart from the inhuman torture. In many cases, they are arrested under some pretext and charged under yet some other flimsy grounds.

The Kashmiris, Nagas, Kamtapuris, people of Manipur, Assam, the Bodos and other communities who are demanding their right to self-determination have been dubbed as terrorists 'waging war' against the sovereignty and integrity of the Indian nation. These people are put behind bars. Many remain in the prison without even proper charge sheets for years. There are several cases of inmates belonging to a certain community, political group, nationality or region who have served their term in prison are not being released, instead, framed in other cases and lodged back in the prison.

Along with this are the arrests of thousands of Maoists from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and other places. It is in the same regions that the people—the tribals, dalits, landless agricultural labourer, slum dwellers, small peasant, middle peasant and even the rich peasant—are fighting against the violent displacement from their lives and livelihoods; against a conscious intervention of the state that would reduce them to sub humans. These people who are fighting against displacement from their land and forests, against the loot and plunder of their valuable resources are also being put behind bars. Many of them face even charges of sedition! Worse, those who come forward to defend the democratic rights of the detained and the imprisoned are also arrested and incarcerated in prisons.

It is high time that all who cherish the principles and values of a democratic society—where the right to express ones' political opinion without fear or favour, to lead a dignified existence without being mistreated, deprived oppressed or exploited is fundamental—should raise their voice in defence of the people who are incarcerated. All these people are put behind bars due to their conviction that a better society for the greater common good is still possible in this dog eat dog world. Not only were they convinced about the need for a better world but were deeply involved in making it a possibility. One might disagree with their ideology. Yet some might have reservations about the means they resort to for the betterment of a world of miseries and wretchedness. Those who are in power might strongly disagree with their socio-political aspirations. These people, who are defied the light of the day, condemned to live a life that is lifeless within the dark walls of the prison by the powers that be, belong to a wide spectrum of political beliefs through which they dream and aspire for a better tomorrow for one and all. Yet, the fact remains that they are all working for a social cause, fighting for supreme values that would ultimately restore the human being to his/her humane self. It is this vital aspect that the authoritarian state turns a blind eye to and for which we have to stand up.

Yes, political prisoners are prisoners. They are the measure of the possibilities of our society not to say its limitations. How they are treated is the measure of our humanity. The moment we categorize them as 'foreign', as' evil', as the most 'potent threat to the nation', is the moment when we lose our possibilities, our humanity. Our limitations then take precedence. It becomes the norm.

Political prisoners are those whom the state does not want to live in a society due to their political beliefs; not because of any 'deviance' attributed to them. They should be given their rights as political prisoners irrespective of the fact that their political conviction may or may not defy the legitimacy of the status quo that the state promotes.

We invite you to the Conference to be convened on the 31th March and 1st April 2008 at the LTG Auditorium, Copernicus Marg, Mandi House, New Delhi, to discuss and initiate a process to work towards recognizing the rights of political prisoners; to fight for their right to fair trial leading to their release in the context of complete breakdown of the legal apparatus of a society; increasingly incapable of dealing with organized people's mobilization against all forms of evils that have pitted the human being against itself; a malady that the state is fundamentally answerable to.
In Solidarity,

Amit Bhattacharya
Convenors' Committee of the Conference Preparatory Committee.

The Conference on Political Prisoners,
185/3, Fourth Floor,
Zakir Nagar, New Delhi-110025
Ph: 09836318354 09810081228 09871498354
E mail:

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