On the continuing incarceration of Sheela Marandi

December 25, 2015

by Prashant Rahi

Observers of the tribulations being faced by Sheela Marandi, a popular leader of the revolutionary democratic women’s movement in Jharkhand, now in her late fifties, may be shocked to know that her bail petition was rejected by a Rourkela Sessions Court on the 23rd of December. At the time of her arrest in Rourkela on October 7, 2006, Sheela, one of the young leading activists of the Jharkhand statehood movement in the 70s to have opted for the revolutionary path, was in her late forties.

Her bail plea at the Rourkela Sessions had been necessitated by her re-arrest by the Rourkela Police on 4th November at the gate of Tenu Ghat jail in Bokaro district of Jharkhand, during the course of her release on bail in the last case to have been foisted upon her by the Jharkhand Police since her release on bail from Rourkela in 2007.

She had been granted bail by the Odisha High Court in her October 2006 arrest case and released from Rourkela Jail way back in July 2007. However, while being released on July 11, 2007, she was re-arrested at the Rourkela Jail gate by the Jharkhand Police, after which she had to spend 8 and a half long years in various Jharkhand prisons, battling as many as 8 cases one after another in her home state.

The last of these 8 cases, foisted in early 2013, was related to an incident in the Tenu Ghat area of Jharkhand, which she could by no chance have been involved in because the alleged incident had occurred when she was very much incarcerated at Rourkela.

The Jharkhand Government found itself at a loss to foist more fake cases against her since mid-2013 when a writ petition was filed on her behalf in the High Court at Ranchi against the series of staggered fake cases, denying her fundamental right to speedy trial, among other things.

The tragic part was that following her re-arrest by the Jharkhand Police in 2007, she could not appear for her trial at Rourkela, towards which the court there took a stringent stance. The obvious reason why she could not appear for her Rourkela trial was her detention in various jails in Jharkhand. Yet in spite of the fact that it was well recorded that she had been re-arrested by the Jharkhand Police at the jail gate following her release on bail from Rourkela jail, the trial court at Rourkela had unwarrantedly cancelled her bail over these years (in 2009), mechanically also issuing a warrant for her arrest though she had not stepped out of jail ever since.

While she was still in custody at Tenu Ghat jail, a petition had been filed on her behalf earlier this year at the Rourkela Sessions Court seeking recall of her arrest warrant and of the erroneous order cancelling her bail. Even though it was quite clear that she was in no way responsible for her non-appearance for the trial at Rourkela, the Sessions court had refused to withdraw the unwarranted punishment meted out to her, treating the order recall petition not for what it was worth, but as a bail petition which it wasn’t, rejecting it summarily and cursorily suggesting that she could apply for bail once she would appear before it. Accordingly, a new bail plea was filed on Tuesday.

Since her re-arrest by the Rourkela Police from the Tenu Ghat jail gate, Sheela has remained in incarceration at the Rourkela Special Jail in the Sundergarh district bordering Jharkhand.

Along with the bail plea as well as with the earlier order recall petition, all the necessary documents from various Jharkhand courts were attached as evidence of the fact that she had been in the custody of those respective courts throughout, either being acquitted or released on bail by them, and that she was herself in no way responsible for her non-appearance in the Rourkela court since being released on bail from Rourkela in 2007. Yet the court of the Additional District Judge (II) again passed an order on Wednesday October 23, rejecting her bail plea.

Sheela, therefore, is now left with no option but to appeal to the High Court of Odisha against the injustices meted out to her by the Rourkela Sessions Court first in the form of cancellation of her earlier bail for no fault of her own, and secondly in the form of denial of her natural right to avail of the bail which she had already been granted in 2007.

Over the past decade, along with her advancing age, prolonged incarceration in fake cases has taken a great toll on her physical condition, as this writer himself could see during his visits to various jails since 2013.

In the first two of her Jharkhand cases, for which she was tried at Chaibasa Sessions Courts, she had been acquitted way back in 2010, while four more cases being tried at Giridih Sessions Courts and one at a Dhanbad Sessions Court had made little headway since then. In all these pending cases, she had been released on bail by 2013, only to be taken into custody in one case after the other. It was in her last case at Tenu Ghat (pertaining to the alleged incident which had taken place while she was incarcerated at Rourkela) that her release on bail could take place only after it had become amply apparent to the Jharkhand High Court that the prosecution had failed to produce any evidence in spite of 17 witnesses having deposed.

It now remains to be seen how many more weeks or months the High Court of Odisha will take to find her worthy or being set free, after a second bail application that would be filed before it in January.