Deprived of rights over natural resources, impoverished Adivasis get prison

February 2, 2016

A study of Undertrials in Jharkhand

By Bagaicha Research Team


This is a research study undertaken to document and highlight the problems of impoverished Adivasis and Moolvasis of Jharkhand, who are being accused as Maoists. Maoists are simplistically referred to as Naxalites in the commercial media. This is on account of Maoists’ historical roots in the armed struggles of the mid-sixties against feudal landlordism that sprang forth in the wake of the peasants struggle at Naxalbari in northern West Bengal. Armed struggle of Maoists differs from the supposedly peaceful legislative and administrative process preferred by the parliamentary left. Maoists might believe that the state and the system may have to be demolished and transformed through forcible means in order to bring about equity and justice for the underprivileged majority. The ruling elites, however, prefer to denigrate this radical category of Indian communists by referring to them as “left wing extremists,” and hence often considering them punishable by law even as terrorists and/or conspirators against “the state”.

This study discloses several undisclosed, striking realities about alleged “Naxalite” undertrials in Jharkhand. Disproportionately large numbers of Adivasis, Dalit and other backward castes (generically referred to as Adivasi-Moolvasis) have been trapped in several false cases especially when they try to assert their constitutional and human rights that are often violated by those who consider themselves “upper” castes/ classes and the state system that serves the interests of those who follow the highly manipulated and prejudiced logic of “uppers” versus “lowers” in Indian society. This argument is corroborated by discussing the very poor responses from Jharkhand’s jails to petitions served under the Right to Information Act 2005, presenting relevant data gathered from 102 alleged Naxalite under-trials from eighteen districts of Jharkhand and by sharing personal experiences of several alleged Naxalite under-trial detainees in Jharkhand’s jails. Fieldwork for this study was undertaken from early March to the end of June 2015 by paying personal visits to families and villages of arrested persons presently out on bail and those incarcerated for long. These persons have been alleged as Naxalites and foisted cases mostly under section 17 of the Criminal Law and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 2004. A summary of the significant findings of the study in quantitative terms is as follows.

About 46 per cent of under-trials under study belongs to the age-group 29-40 years and 22 per cent belongs to 18-28 years. Adivasis or Scheduled Tribes constitute 69 per cent of the respondents. About 42 per cent of respondents belongs to Sarna Adivasis; 31 per cent Hindu, 25 per cent Christian and two per cent are Muslims. 78 per cent of the respondents is married and 17 per cent unmarried. Agriculture is the main occupation of about 63 per cent and about 17 per cent are casual labours. 22 per cent of the total respondents owns 3-5 acres of cultivable land; 14 per cent two acres and 23 per cent one acre. However, respondents’ monthly income shows that 59 per cent earns up to or less than Rs. 3000only and 38 per cent earns up to Rs. 5000 or less, showing a very low productivity of their landholdings.

Arrest of about 93 per cent of all respondents has taken place during the last 15 years i.e., between 2001 and 2015. The highest number of arrests occurred between the year 2010 and 2013.Regarding the location of arrests, the data shows that about 57 per cent was arrested from their homes; 30 per cent was arrested from nearby towns or on journey; 8 per cent had surrendered at the court after being informed by the police about their being charge sheeted. Five per cent of the respondents was summoned to the police station to be arrested. At the time of interview, 84 per cent of all respondents was under trial. They continue to attend courts on a regular basis. About five per cent of them has stopped attending the court after being bailed out due to fear of being harassed by the police again although their cases have not yet been disposed of. About six per cent of them is still in prison.

One of the most significant findings of the this study is that 97 per cent of all 102 respondents, who were accused as being Maoists or ‘helpers of Maoists’ reiterate that the allegations by the police is wrong and their arrests and imprisonment were based on misinformation.Other significant findings of the study is that a large number of fake cases under the draconian 17 CLA Act, UAPA and the anti-state sections of the IPC have been foisted upon the Adivasis, Dalits and the other backward classes in various parts of Jharkhand, particularly within the last decade. All this is part of the gross misuse of the criminal justice system by the state which favours only the rich and powerful to the detriment of the poor and downtrodden, and is now more and more unscrupulously in favour of the take-over of the economically poorest people’s land and the nation’s resources by both multinational and domestic corporates (corporatization). At the local level there are certain vested interests that act hand-in-glove with the police to foist such fake cases against innocent people with whom they might have some scores to settle. It is also evident that in the current system, justice remains very much beyond the means of most of those who have been falsely accused. Moreover, once implicated in such cases, the threat of further persecution in the form of various forms of harassment, intimidation, re-arrests, etc. persist even after the accused are released on bail. Even after being released on bail, their cases, mostly false and often fabricated, have been prolonged unnecessarily causing major financial difficulties.

Another dimension of this study exposes the deliberate misuse of criminal justice procedures to repress alleged Naxalite undertrial detainees inside Jharkhand’s jails. This section of the report presents a range of very significant findings: (1) instance of blatant torture while in custody, in gross violation of the rights of prisoners, (2) administrative procedures that amount to blocking and inhibiting pre-trial and trial proceedings while under detention, (3) serial foisting of cases/re-arrests, (4) exceedingly faked-up cases that do not deserve cognizance of even arrest, not to speak of case committal, (5) prejudiced denial of bails, (6) under-trial detention amounting to unwarranted conviction, (7) large proportion of acquittals indicates gross misuse of the criminal justice system, and (8) convictions by the lower courts (whether dismissed by the higher courts or not) that reflect upon the sordid state of adjudication.

The prolonged detention and the exceedingly slow pace of progress of cases, especially retarded due to the serial foisting of multiple case, jail transfers on administrative grounds, non-production from jails to all the courts on the respective dates of hearing, production through video-conferencing also hindered for months and years on end due to technical failures of the machinery, communication failures and administrative lacunae – all these together result in accused persons being punished for offences which they may not have committed.

This state of affairs might also suggest that a large number of people have also been so punished on political grounds of their oppositions to the policies of the reigning state. Some of the policies of the state might have been perceived as anti-people, exploitative, and leading to the rapacious plunder of the natural resources that belong not to the state and the corporate houses, but to the peasants and other sincere and toiling masses who have been their care-takers and possessors for centuries together and who are the real owners of our national wealth.

These findings in the context of Maoist or “extremist” activities and the history of Adivasis’ sustained struggles to maintain their constitutional and human rights have prompted the authors of this report to delve into certain analytical depth. Accordingly, the authors draw a genealogy of the ideological and schismatic differences that exist between Adivasis and the so-called “mainstreams” which underlies at the root of on-going conflict between the two. This analytical discussion provides a better understanding of who Adivasis are and why and how a vast majority of Adivasis continue to remain impoverished and marginalized.

This report also argues and explicates that left wing extremism is an important symptom, like many others, aggravated by some of the perennial issues engendered by cultural and structural violence which produce endemic poverty, massive illiteracy, hunger and mal-nourishment, rampant corruption, continued oppression and exploitation of the less privileged by the powerful. All of these point to deeper and often neglected structural and systemic problems that call for a more realistic and in-depth analysis and reform of Indian society with its specific socio cultural ideologies and practices that embody several unexamined unequal, oppressive, and exploitative relationships. The analytical chapter of this report suggests that a realistic and closer look at who the deprived and marginalised Adivasis are, and why they remain the way they do, as opposed to mainstream, might generate several innovative insights. Such innovative insights might prove useful for a more sustainable, democratic and egalitarian structure as opposed to the prevalent, extremely violent system that produces and reproduces endemic poverty, undernourishment, humiliation, and silent slow hunger deaths of millions.

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