New Delhi: To protest the repeated jail transfers which he claims are being used to harass him, Kobad Ghandy — in prison since 2009 on suspicion of being a member of the banned Maoists — has launched a “satyagraha” through an indefinite hunger strike in his high security ward.
In a representation to the Director General (Prisons), and Superintendents of Jail 3 (where he was lodged earlier) and of Jail 8/9 (where he was transferred on May 30), Ghandy – who suffers from multiple health problems — has alleged that “horrifying methods are adopted in regular jail transfers” and that these have a “crippling impact” on a senior citizen with serious health problems.
In his letter, 68-year-old Ghandy, arrested by the Delhi Police nearly six years ago for being a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), had said that the jail authorities had transferred him three times between different wards of the jail over the past nine months in what he alleged was a bid to target his failing health. He said that he suffers from a heart problem, blood pressure, a slipped disc, arthritis and a kidney condition, among other illnesses.
Denying Ghandy was being victimized, a Tihar official told The Wire, “He is being provided all necessary medical treatment, being given a special diet and has also been provided with a bed.” The transfers Ghandy referred to were a “security drill”, he claimed.
Ghandy has, however, criticized the Tihar authorities for not being serious about the well being of the senior citizen inmates. “Since the 2012 High Court order to Tihar to take better care of senior citizens, I had been applying to be put in the senior citizens ward or in the high risk ward – but to no avail. On the contrary, while at first they never transferred me, they resorted to this since August 2014, obviously as a method of harassment and to destroy my health.”
He said that “as all the appeals, both on humanitarian and legal grounds, have been ignored”, he has been compelled as a last resort to proceed on an indefinite hunger strike since his last transfer on May 30.
The Tihar authorities claim that Ghandy is a “dangerous prisoner” and had been shifted to the high risk ward (5) in Jail 8/9 for his own safety. “We have about 175 high risk prisoners in the jail. These include both who are a threat to others as also those whose lives are at risk. Ghandy falls in the second category. He has now been put in a high risk ward where he is constantly under closed circuit television surveillance.”
A jail source said Ghandy was one of a few alleged Maoist inmates at Tihar. “We do not have many Maoist inmates. But that increases our responsibility towards them. We have to protect them from harm from the other inmates. As such, the antecedents of the other inmates are established before these Maoist leaders share their cells. We also have to guard against attacks from outside by the Maoists to secure the release of their leaders,” he insisted.
While Ghandy has in his letters claimed that the practice to regularly transfer high risk prisoners from one jail to another was started in August 2014, Tihar sources said this has been the practice for the last nearly 15 years. “It is done to prevent too much interaction between inmates.”
Ghandy has been booked by the Delhi Police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sections pertaining to cheating, forgery and impersonation of the Indian Penal Code.
In 2011, Ghandy had written to the National Human Rights Commission that while he has been charged under UAPA, there was no charge of violence in the chargesheet filed against him. As such he had demanded that he be treated like a political prisoner.
The letter from Ghandy, written in immaculate English, speaks much about the man, born into a rich Parsi family, who studied at premier institutions like Doon School, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and Cambridge University before he got involved in left-wing politics and began working with tribals and peasants in some of the poorest parts of India.
The 68-year-old Maoist supporter, who has now spent five and a half years in Tihar, has noted how though routine (3 to 5 monthly) transfers of high risk ward prisoners have been going on for four years, he was subjected to this only from August 2014. “This is the third time in nine months. Earlier jail transfers were only done as a form of punishment,” he wrote.
Giving a vivid account of the harassment involved in the jail transfer process, Ghandy’s letter says: “While transferring, we have to carry bags ourselves, some 10-15 kgs; go through sets of detailed searches of all items; made to hang around at the jail gates for four to five hours, waiting for the transport; packed like sardines with baggage into a single van and taken to the new jail gate.”
“In the new jail too there are more detailed searches. Again we have to carry all items ourselves to the ward, etc. One has to go through Mulaiza (medical check) done for a new entrant. Then there is a scramble for cells, with the later arrivals getting the worst. Then at least two-three days go in cleaning the filthy cell and arranging the baggage (no help given). In the new jail, all medical treatment gets interrupted, medical diet and other permissions have to be applied anew, as also for the bed and western toilet. This can take from few days to months.”
Tihar authorities confirmed that inmates have to carry their goods on their own. As for the requirement for cleaning the cells, they said, “it is akin to moving to a new home; you have to clean it too.”
Ghandy also pointed out that the “Vodaphone facility has to be started anew”. This, the Tihar authorities said is basically a facility provided to all inmates. “The regular inmates are allowed to speak to their family once every day, but for the high risk prisoners it is restricted to two calls a week.”
The letter also laments the fact inmates are hardly getting any time to settle down in the jail now. “Barely has one settled in and adjusted with the new lot of criminals (some of who can be pretty nasty) when the next transfer comes and the whole process is repeated.”