Months of single-minded work since the formation of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee last year, could yield some encouraging results, especially on February 20 and May 30 when veteran leader of the revolutionary women’s movement in the country and founder of Nari Mukti Sangh, Comrade Sheela Marandi walked out of jail in after a long spell of persecution, and was last week saved the torture of being put behind bars once again. Nearing sixty, with the dreams of Jharkhand being transformed into a people’s democratic dispensation, and the Indian masses being freed of the shackles of imperialism, feudalism and comprador bureaucratic capitalism very much alive in her heart, Com. Sheela now finds herself in her native rural parts with her own family of have-nots, battling with her ill health and court attendances from one town to another.
The so-called democratic regimes in Jharkhand and Odisha had pitched in their might to ensure that she would not come out of jail alive. Why? Because for the survival of the anti-people policies of the “welfare state,” which in the name of development are wreaking havoc upon nature and the society at large, the very fact that the likes of Com. Sheela di could cherish dreams of better times ahead was an “internal threat.”
On her release on bail from Rourkela Special Jail on February 20 after nine and a half long years, a PPSC team took her to Kolkata for medical examination, and then handed her over to her nearest relatives in the presence of local media personnel at Karando, an interior village in Giridih, Jharkhand, right in the middle of one of the major areas of the ongoing stiff resistance that is being offered by the bravest sons and daughters of Indian soil to the anti-people, anti-adivasi plans of corporatization and saffronization replete with armed might.
Soon she came into her own, attending court dates and meeting up with other relatives and neighbours. All of a sudden, however, it was found that her bails had been cancelled in 2 of the yet pending 7 cases arraigned against her, and a non-bailable warrant issued for her arrest by a Sessions court at Giridih. It was precisely such a warrant that was drawn out from oblivion last November to drag her away to jail at Rourkela again when she had just walked out of Tenu Ghat jail in Bokaro district soon after being released on bail. This time at Giridih, PPSC had to once again get down to the bottom of the new problem, and ultimately succeeded on the 30th last month. With the due preparations done from our side, the Sessions court at Giridih was left with no option but to accept her plea that she had not jumped bail, but had been in custody at the time of the cancellation of the bail. The uniformed and un-uniformed enforcers of the law waiting on had to leave disappointed that they could not get another chance to drag her back to the dungeons.
A cursory view of the 9 cases foisted against her in all would show how serious have been the allegations levelled against her these last 9 and a half years, each one of them as baseless as ever. The impunity enjoyed by the Jharkhand Police allowed it to foist, among these nine, two such cases wherein the incidents were reported to have occurred while she was lodged right inside jail. One, while in Rourkela, and the other, while in Chaibasa jail. And what was more appalling was the fact that even when all the documentary evidence was placed before a High Court Judge in Jharkhand which established that she was in jail at the time when she was alleged to have committed the Tenu Ghat act of violence, His Lordship had had no respect for the truth. He had simply denied bail, and no mind to reconsider it again. Not even a judge of the higher court cared for any evidence of innocence while allowing prolonged detention! He did agree to order expeditious disposal of the case within a period of 5 months, but then the lower court had no qualms while washing away the sting from the order, a full year having passed by with the worthless case still hanging fire.
It may be recalled that in the wake of her arrest on October 7, 2006, a court at Rourkela had released her on bail on July 11, 2007. Not giving her even a moment of freedom outside, the Jharkhand Police had pounced upon her at the jail gate, taking her to Chaibasa to foist two more cases one after another, both of which she was acquitted in three years later.
In 2010 her incarceration could not end. The Jharkhand Police succeeded in invoking another case, this time at Giridih, then another, and another and yet another. It took 2 years for her to get bails in all these four cases, and was awaiting release, when they whipped up another case for her at Dhanbad. All of them are still pending. For what reason? The real SOP (standard operating procedure) of the system is: that the witnesses of the prosecution, all being policemen, find it most convenient to put their names as witnesses in one case after the other, and then forget about it. The longer she would have to stay inside without being tried, the happier they would be.
Even after getting bail and furnishing sureties at Dhanbad, she could not be set free. That was when they spun a story that showed her participating in a Maoist raid on a paramilitary camp in the Tenu Ghat area. They claimed that Shanti was one of her aliases, and this Shanti was one of the women who took part in the raid. How could they not have included a leading organizer arisen from the grass-roots, when they had already made it a high-profile case by implicating intellectuals like Kobad Gandhy and Ravi Sharma? It may sound irrational, no doubt. But like it or not, this is sheer logic for the system. Her jail term from 07.10.06 to 11.07.07 notwithstanding, one police officer even had the nerve to deceive the court, claiming that he had seen this Shanti participating in the said Maoist raid in the early hours of 06.04.07. It was to the credit of Sheela’s able lawyer that during cross-examination the officer was forced to retract his claim, admitting that the Shanti he had claimed to have seen was not this Sheela now present in court. Had it not been for this small extraction of the truth, that single lie could have been deemed to make a life convict out of her. The case, you will remember, is yet to conclude.
Could anyone in the realm of law and beyond imagine that the 50-year old lady that Sheela was in 2007 could have walked out of Rourkela jail that early summer night, traversed hundreds of miles northwards, performed a daring act in the wee hours, and returned in one flash to the barracks at Rourkela before the morning count? Such weird charges have been held out against her since 2013, sapping away the good health that she might have enjoyed today had she been out 3 years before.
Shuffling between so many jails and so many courts at the will of the police, it was simply beyond her to attend the court at Rourkela while in jails in Jharkhand, or the courts at Giridih while in an Odisha jail. And it was she who had to pay the price for the folly of this rotten system by spending an extended term in jail, making legal pleas to grant bails again and furnishing new sureties. The PPSC did their bit with collective efforts and a little bit of co-ordination across states. It was our conscience that had pricked us all along, for no one from among the many activists and lawyers in the country had volunteered until recently to do these small errands all these years.
Yet we are unable to call it success, for success still remains elusive. It is not Sheela Marandi alone who suffers on account of the gross misuse of the CrPC, the IPC, 17 CLA, and then the, draconian UAPA, which not even the British, who had framed the colonial law for their Indian subjects, could have thought of. We shall refrain from calling our small achievements success, as we yearn for a larger band of volunteers joining up to ensure freedom for the innumerable Sheela Marandis still entrapped in the grip of the law. We look forward to a larger band of activists and lawyers armed with pens in their hands, determination in their hearts to raise their voices when called for, and a readiness to grapple with the nitty-gritty of law.
As we look at Sheela battling with her failing health and the penury of her environs, we are unable to rest on any laurel, and we guess our readers will also not do so, what with so many noble souls still locked away from their fellow humans…..
With these words, we appeal to you on behalf of:
the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (Peedit Bandi Sahayog Samiti),
You may obtain, making a small monetary contribution, a recent report, printed both in English and Hindi based on our observations and experiences on the conditions and the issues of adivasi-moolvasi undertrials facing naxal cases in Jharkhand from: