Study based on interview with undertrials
By Ashok Shrimali*
An eye-opening study — based on interactions with family members and co-villagers of 102 undertrials in Jharkhand, as also each of them while they were on bail — has found that in 98 per cent of cases the charge against them of being involved in Naxalite activities is not true. In fact, none, except two, were found to have some connection with a Naxal group.
The study was carried out by Stan Swamy, a Jesuit human rights activist associated with the NGO Bagaicha, says that this suggests how falsely vulnerable sections of society are “accused and arrested for daring to speak assertively against violation of their constitutional and human rights, such as the right to possess and protect their land and livelihood resources.”
Pointing out that adult life these undertrials has been “ruined”, with families “reduced to destitution”, the study says, 68% of the undertrials are “young and in the middle-age group”, and “78% are married.” Income to the family, whether through agriculture (63%) or casul labour (17%), came by their labour.
The study has been carried out after a researcher, hired by Swamy, formed three teams of interviewers, and each team went to 18 of the 24 districts of Jharkhand over a period of three months to carry out the field work.
Titled “The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison”, the study says, with the bread-earning member in the jail, the only way for the family to meet two ends meet “is to sell the little assets such as cattle and land, or borrow from the local moneylenders at a very high interest.”
Pointing out that 69 per cent of the undertrials are Dalits or tribals, the study says, “With low literacy and high poverty rate, their life ran on a day-to-day basis. All government development plans, including the special plans, have not brought any betterment to them. Even the funds allotted specifically for these plans have been diverted to general infrastructural projects.”
The study finds that 97% undertrial-families have an income less than Rs 5,000 per month. thus falling within the below poverty line (BPL) category, adding, “Most of them are not yet the beneficiaries of The Right to Food Act . the implementation of which the state government has been dilly-dallying for over a year.”
“Their old ration cards have been declared invalid but new cards have not yet been given to most. A visit to interior tribal villages in Jharkhand reveals the heart-rending situation of people living without their basic needs met and complete apathy of the local administration”, the study says.
“But when it comes to getting at so-called Naxals, the police and para-military forces are at their most efficient performance in surrounding villages, breaking into houses, destroying vessels, molesting women, throwing out food grains etc.”, the study notes.
Addressing reports which have for long claims that Naxal-suspects were “caught” after a hot pursuit by police, the study states, “The fact is a total of 87% were arrested in normal circumstances, 57% were arrested from their homes when they were resting or having their meal or spending time with their family, and 30% from nearby towns or on travel.”
Insisting that they were certainly “not running away from the police”, the study wants the government “come clear and admit that its real intention is not ending Naxalism but open up the mineral-rich adivasi land to mining companies”.
*General secretary, Mines, Minerals and People