We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, have come together to form a platform, “Defence Committee for the Release of Comrade Hem and All Other Political Prisoners”. The need for such a committee has been felt for a long time, and is more necessary than ever in today’s context when all forms of dissent and protests against the state are being increasingly criminalized.
For the JNU student community, this criminalization of dissent has come very close home. Comrade Hem, a former student of this campus has been languishing in Nagpur Central Jail for the past one and a half years now. Contrary to the claims of the police, it has become clear how he had been virtually abducted (three days prior to his official arrest), tortured brutally in custody and has been in solitary confinement for the more than 6 months after he participated in protests inside the jail – details which he has elaborately spoken about in his recent open letter from within the confines of the Nagpur Central Jail. All this while, he has been denied the minimum constitutionally guaranteed rights to which every political prisoner is entitled. The police took over 6 months to even produce a charge sheet against him – thanks to the provisions of the draconian UAPA – and the first time his bail petition was heard was only in September 2014, i.e., almost 13 months after his arrest, where it was rejected by the Aheri Session Court.
As we intensify our campaign for the release of one of our fellow comrades, who fought shoulder to shoulder with us in various struggles, we also realize that his case is not an isolated one. As the ruling classes of the country, especially under the present BJP led NDA government, increasingly align with big capital and feudal forces and intensify oppression manifold on the toiling masses, it is also simultaneously arming itself with a plethora of draconian laws to suppress the resistance of the people. The jails of this country today, from Maharashtra, Jharkand, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Odisha, are full of dalits, adivasis, muslims and several people’s activists, intellectuals, civil liberties activists, students and teachers who have stood in solidarity with people’s movements and spoken out against state oppression. What has happened with Hem, has in the recent past also happened with prominent civil liberties and political activists like Binayak Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Abhay Sahoo, Manorma Devi, Jitan Marandi, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonzalvez, members of Kabir Kala Manch and so on. The workers of Maruti languishing behind bars face similar fate. In the Dantewada and Bastar districts of Chattisgarh alone, more than 1300 activists of the CPI have been arrested after being branded as Maoists. We were all witness to how a DU professor Dr. G.N. Saibaba was abducted in broad day light by plain clothes policemen of the Maharasthra police and then framed on similar cooked up charges. The same story has repeated itself with a professor in Andhra University in Vizag and now against two well known activists of Kerala – Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sarathy.
We believe that all those who have been jailed, under such draconian laws, for their political ideology or for having participated in people’s movements should, at least, be granted the designation of political prisoners and be given the constitutionally guaranteed rights – including the right to speedy trial and the right to bail. On the contrary, in reality we see the state prolonging incarceration deliberately by not hearing cases, extending incarceration of political activists by not producing witnesses or evidence, etc. They are being kept for months in solitary confinement, so that they cannot associate with others. In the recent past, the state has also resorted to a method of video-conferencing for trials, by which political prisoners are not even produced in courts for hearing. In February this year, thousands of prisoners across jails in Maharasthra, Jharkhand and Odhisa, went on a 9 day long hunger strike (largely unreported by the media) protesting against these practices. We have seen repeatedly how most of those charged under these draconian laws are given bail or acquitted only after years and years of incarceration. All these made clear that these arrests and detentions are extremely political in nature – clearly aimed at keeping political activists away from organizing against the anti-people policies of the state.
Democratic and civil rights organizations and committees have been speaking for the rights of political prisoners. Some of them even providing legal aid to these prisoners. But at a time when there is also an attack on students’ movement, unions and students’ activism in people’s movements outside the campus, in this country and across the world; there is a need for a committee of students to fight these attacks. This is especially imperative since one of our fellow students, Hem continues to face the brunt of the state machineries, be it the police, courts or jail authorities. This committee is a step towards building broad solidarities against state repression against political activism.
The scope of this committee will be taking forward a political campaign inside & outside campus, about the growing clampdown on dissenting voices. In this context, we felt that there should be a committee from the student community in defense of all political prisonersthose arrested for being a part of mass movements that challenge the dominant power structures; individual activists who have been branded and targeted by state machinery under the black laws and also various legal provisions in general. This committee will largely launch political campaign for their rights as political prisoner – right to bail, time bound hearing, in person trials, right to reading material, not to be tortured in custody and other democratic and civil rights. The committee will be composed of left and progressive, political, cultural organizations and individuals. The future course of action will be charted out through transparent and democratic mechanisms.
All India Students Association(AISA), All India Students Federation (AISF), Birsa Ambedkar Students Association (BAPSA), Campus Front of India (CFI), Dastak, Democratic Students Union, IPTA, Jagriti Natya Manch, Janrang, Jan Sanskritik Manch, Krantikari Naujawan Sabha (KNS), Revolutionary Cultural Front (RCF), Students Federation of India (SFI), The New Materialists (TNM), United Dalits Students Forum (UDSF)