Thursday, March 30, 2023
HomeOpinionFirst they came after JNU, now it’s human rights activists: Umar Khalid

First they came after JNU, now it’s human rights activists: Umar Khalid

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As election nears, fictitious enemies are being propped up to divert attention from Modi government’s failures.

For Arun Ferreira, one of the alleged ‘Urban Naxal’ arrested Tuesday in connection with the violence at Bhima Koregaon, it might have been a déjà vu moment.

Back in May 2007, Arun’s face was splashed across newspapers in Maharashtra after the anti-Naxal cell of the Nagpur police had claimed that they arrested ‘a dreaded Naxal operative’. He was charged in a total of 10 cases that included violence and several Maoist conspiracies, and these multiple cases allowed the police to hold him for long periods in police custody.

In custody, he was tortured by the police and thereafter incarcerated for almost five years, mostly in solitary confinement. But for all the sensationalism that accompanied his arrest in 2007, similar to the sensationalism today, the cases started collapsing one after the other.

Also read: Bhima-Koregaon fight isn’t against the upper-castes, it is against Brahmins and Brahminism

Having been already acquitted in several cases, he was released on bail in September 2011, but was rearrested from the prison gates and charged with fresh cases. Even these failed to stand, and he was finally released on bail in 2012. Two years later in 2014, he was acquitted by the courts of all the charges, in all the cases. To put it in simpler words, the court accepted that he was innocent, and had been framed by the police. The police could not prove a single charge against him.

In 2014, he published a vivid account of his ordeals in his prison memoir Colours of the Cage. I recommend you put down what you are reading, and instead read this prison memoir to get a sense of the suffering that he has already undergone in the past. Arun is also a cartoonist, and the book contains several of his cartoons and sketches that depict the everyday prison life.

I met him when he came for his book release function at the National Law University, Delhi in 2014, and I can still recall his infectious smile. This guy had been wronged, he had been branded what he was not, he had suffered custodial torture, he had been kept in the suffocating solitary confinement of Nagpur Central Jail – the notorious anda cell – for several years. “More than the brutal, claustrophobic aesthetic of the anda”, Arun wrote in his memoir, “it’s the absence of human contact that chokes you. If you’re in the anda, you spend 15 hours or more alone in your cell. The only people you see are the guards and occasionally the other inmates in your section. A few weeks in the anda can cause a breakdown.” You would expect a person who had endured such sufferings to be full of bitterness. But far from it, Arun was full of life, happiness and optimism.

Also read: Arrested Hindutva activists conspired to target Western music concert in Pune, says ATS

Elsewhere, he had also stated that he harbours no anger towards the cops who tortured him and his co-accused. But to get a scale of the custodial torture, you need to read his accounts.

His co-accused had 20-ml petrol injected into their rectums by a police officer during interrogation, which led to “agonising days of anal bleeding, blood cots and continuous belching”. He wondered whether the police have been specifically trained at torture. “I wonder how (the police officer)… knew that exactly 20 ml of petrol would cause such enormous pain yet not kill. Such knowledge could only have been acquired by some sort of training.”

Arun himself was subjected to other forms of torture. A belt attached to a wooden handle – that the police in their own codes called Bajirao – was used to repeatedly whip the nerve ends at the soles of the feet, which left him in enormous pain.

But on that night at the law school, in his Bambaiya accent, he dispassionately described such excruciating experiences. He said he was highlighting the torture so that he can prevent what happened to him and his co-accused from happening to others. As he left the event, I remember his parting words to the young law students, “Don’t get cynical, as lawyers there are lots of battles you have to fight and win”. Subsequently, Arun himself studied law and became a practicing lawyer fighting his own share of such battles at the courts.

Four years after the courts accepted his innocence, he has been framed and arrested as a Maoist once again. Nothing could be more ludicrous than that. But then there is a method to this madness. Modi government has failed on all the promises it made before 2014. As we move into the election year, we will see more fictitious enemies being propped up to divert our attention away from Modi government’s failures. Yesterday, it was JNU students, today it is human rights defenders and lawyers across the country.

Also read: Bhima-Koregaon has made the RSS’s social engineering boomerang

Arun was wronged by the government and agencies. Arun fought a successful legal battle for seven years to prove his innocence. He not only reposed his faith in the law and Constitution, but studied them to become a lawyer. As a lawyer, he represented those like him who were wronged by the powers that be. If you have been convinced by the shrill official propaganda about these arrests, just pause and think again as to who is on the wrong side of law. Think about Arun, and think about the injustice of it all.

Umar Khalid is a former JNU student, and is associated with Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students’ Organisation and United Against Hate

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