Denial of dignity and rights

Published : Dec 23, 2015 12:30 IST

Kobad Ghandy.

Kobad Ghandy.

The health of 68-year-old political prisoner Kobad Ghandy, six years into his incarceration, is deteriorating rapidly, even as proceedings in the cases slapped against him, barring one, are yet to begin.

Ghandy is suffering from a host of health problems that include irritable bowel syndrome, dizziness, nausea, a severe kidney problem for which he has been receiving treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on and off, a serious heart condition, and an abnormal dropping of pulse rate for which he has been advised to have a pacemaker fitted. Lodged in the High Risk Ward of Tihar Jail, he is under severe stress and has appealed for a speedy trial or release on bail for treatment.

In September, on the basis of the Jail Superintendent’s report that Ghandy was a follow-up case of hypertension, decreased vision, an ingrowing toenail with keloid, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and cervical spondylitis, an Additional Sessions judge observed that his condition had visibly deteriorated during the trial of the case and granted him an interim bail for three months. But he continues to be in jail because there are several cases pending against him. Before Ghandy could produce the bail bond as required by the court, police teams from other States are waiting to rearrest him.

According to an affidavit filed with the Supreme Court, the Andhra Pradesh government revealed that there is a total of 14 cases against him—in that State, Telangana, Delhi, Surat, Patiala, West Bengal and Jharkhand. He is being charged under various, overlapping sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The Delhi case is in its final stages, and Ghandy is set to face serial trials across the country on its culmination.

He is being charged with being a central committee and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned organisation, and looking after the outfit’s international department, the subcommittee on mass organisation, central publishing bureau and the south-western regional bureau.

Ghandy was arrested in September 2009. He was seen as “a very important member and one of the founding pillars of the CPI (Maoist). As there is all likelihood that this underground cadre who has wide contacts and extensive network may be conducting [a] recce of targets in Delhi to commit offences. Hence, request to kindly make efforts to look out for this person and arrest him.”

According to the prosector’s statement, he was picked up from Bhikaji Cama Place in Delhi on September 17. It is shown that he was apprehended on September 20 at 1 p.m. by a team of police officers from the Intelligence Department, Hyderabad, after the Additional Director General of Police, Intelligence, Hyderabad, received a fax message at 11:30 a.m. the same day which said that he was moving in Delhi. He was shown as formally arrested by the Delhi Special Cell only at 1:30 a.m. on September 21.

Three charge sheets were filed, on February 18 and June 24, 2010, and the third on January 18, 2011, and it was pointed out that no review committee was formed, as mandated, before the Delhi Lieutenant Governor (L.G.) passed a Sanction Order (SO) on February 10, 2012, under Section 45 of the UAPA. A fourth charge sheet was filed on March 23, 2012, along with a fresh SO.

On March 28, the Additional Sessions Judge held that there was an inherent defect in the S.O. dated February 10, and therefore, it was not valid. He discharged Ghandy from the charges triable under the UAPA for want of valid sanction and held that the offences under Sections 419, 420, 468, 471 and 120-B of the IPC were triable exclusively by the court of magistrate. Thereafter, a fifth charge sheet was filed on March 29, 2012. On April 30, 2012, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate committed the case to the Sessions Court. Meanwhile, Ghandy was granted bail in two similar cases by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The Supreme Court of India upheld the same on January 23, 2012.

Barred from leaving the State The Delhi case is now in its final stages, but trial in the other cases is yet to commence as Ghandy has been barred from leaving the State by the L.G. under Section 268. This has effectively prolonged his imprisonment. Recently, in a letter published by Mainstream , Ghandy wrote: “Given that I have been denied my constitutional right to speedy trials, and, most importantly, given my age and failing health, I request that an appeal be sent out urgently to the government to release me on bail on health/humanitarian grounds.” Although there are several political prisoners languishing in jails across India under UAPA charges, Ghandy, an alumnus of Doon School and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, has attracted a lot of media attention, most of it hostile. The media trial is so intense that it makes a fair trial in the courtroom difficult, said Rona Wilson, secretary, Public Relations, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners.

The Patiala case is based on third party confessions; after seeing his photograph in a newspaper, two people said they had seen him giving an “inflammatory” speech on the lawns of Panjab University.

Ghandy said: “At that time, no FIR [First Information Report] was put against any “unknown” person. But an FIR was put against me in February 2010, five months after I had been in Tihar. Yet, without any evidence and mere hearsay, serious charges have been put.... It seems, after my arrest in 2009, [that] my name was added to this case which says a mob of about 500 unknown persons attacked a police camp in Bokaro in 2007. This is the first time I have heard about this attack, let alone be a part of it. That I have never been to Bokaro/Jharkhand in my life is another matter. No FIR was put against me when the incident occurred. And now the Jharkhand Police comes to arrest me nine years after the incident. In Andhra Pradesh, the police resorted to the method of making out a fake confession (in Telugu, a language I do not know), and on that basis adding my name to about 15 cases from the 1990s to 2005. No such ‘confession’ is even pretended to by the Jharkhand Police to add my name to this case. The legality of this is questionable.”

Rona Wilson said that Ghandy is not allowed to use the prison library or mingle with other prisoners. In June, he went on a hunger strike to protest against the repeated transfers within the jail that left him exhausted, weak and bedridden for several days. Besides, application after application has to be written for reinstatement of every small facility for two to three months after each transfer. The court had issued an order favourable to him on the basis of which he is not being transferred. In prison, rights are portrayed as privileges and there is an inhuman denial of basic facilities. “Political prisoners are especially treated with double standards,” she said. Divya Trivedi

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