Attack on political prisoners in Medinipur central jail, West Bengal

March 24, 2011

By Partho Sarathi Ray

Medinipur central jail was the site of a brutal attack on undertrial political prisoners by prison guards and convicted criminals on 22nd and 23rd March, which has left around 28 political prisoners injured, some critically, and has raised fears of further attacks on political prisoners inside the jail. Around 300 undertrial political prisoners are currently incarcerated in Medinipur jail, most of them poor adivasis from Lalgarh, who have been arrested for being participants in the Lalgarh uprising and charged under various sections of the CrPC and UAPA. The prisoners include Chatradhar Mahato, the spokesperson of the PCAPA, and other leaders of the PCAPA, and Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chattopadhyay, who are Kolkata based activists who have been charged with being Maoist sympathizers. The presence of so many political prisoners in one jail had reportedly acted as a check on the behaviour of prison wardens and authorities and had reduced human rights violations of all sections of prisoners.

The origin of the incident on 21st March was the death in custody of a person named Kailash Das, who had been picked up from Kharagpur police station because he was caught on the platforms without a ticket. Because he could not pay the fine, he was sentenced to four days of imprisonment. He was supposed to be released on 22nd March, but the authorities reported that he had died of a heart failure. However, the presence of multiple injuries on his body, suggested that he had been beaten to death inside the prison, and the political prisoners started protesting against this from Monday evening onwards.

The first attack on the political prisoners was executed on Monday evening itself by a section of convicted criminals who are incarcerated in the jail. As happens in all prisons, these convicted prisoners have a nexus with the jail authorities based on which they dominate the jail and bag various benefits from the authorities. They act as agents of the jail authorities to regularly beat up and intimidate other prisoners. The presence of the political prisoners in Medinipur jail had undoubtedly become a challenge to the dominance of these criminals. On Monday evening, the jail alarm was rung without any reason, and in the ensuing confusion these convicted criminals attacked the political prisoners and injured many of them.

On 22nd March morning, all the political prisoners decided to start a protest fast, demanding action against the the perpetrators of the previous night’s violence. However, as an altercation started between the political prisoners and the prison guards during the morning’s counting, a combined force of the prison guards and the convicted prisoners attacked the political prisoners, giving rise to major violence inside the prison. At least 28 of the political prisoners are reportedly injured, among them the injuries of four, Buddhadeb Mahato, Buddheshwar Mahato, Baidyanath Kisku and Ainul Khan, are serious. In the melee, some of the prison guards were also reportedly injured.

It is quite worrisome that the media has reported the incident completely based on the version of the police and jail administration. News of the incident has appeared in the press under titles such as “Maoist mayhem inside prison”, and have accused the political prisoners of attacking the prison authorities, and stated that some convicted criminals were injured while trying to save the prison guards. It is alarming that news about happenings in the prison, from where it is quite difficult to get information in the first place, can be presented in this manner. This incident in Medinipur central jail has raised the fear of further attacks on political prisoners, at a time when demands for the release of political prisoners is gaining strength, and evoked memories of past massacres of political prisoners in jail.

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