According to the book ‘Deprived Rights Over Natural Resources, Impoverished Adivasis Get Prison: A study of undertrials in Jharkhand’ scheduled for release at Xavier Institute of Social Services (XISS) on February 6 around 31% of undertrials in the state jails are scheduled tribes (ST)s, 30% from other backward classes (OBC)s, 23% from the general category and 16% schedules castes (SC)s. Of the convicts, 34% are STs, 28% OBCs, 27% belong to the general category and 11% are scheduled castes.
Ironically, the total number of tribals behind bars is even more than the total percentage population of tribals (27%) in Jharkhand where 26 jails have 18,220 prisoners.
The book has been authored by Stan Swamy, the state vice president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and seven others, some of whom were jailed for their alleged Maoist links in the past. It is based on data collated from the Prison Statistics India 2013, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), ministry of home affairs and other agencies apart from one-to-one interviews with victims.
Being published under the aegis of Ranchi-based NGO Bagaicha which works for tribal rights, the book says many tribals are falsely implicated and arrested for daring to protest against the violation of their constitutional and human rights like the right to possess and protect their land and livelihood resources.
Jiten Marandi (35), who was sentenced to death for the 2007 Giridih massacre (in which former chief minister Babulal Marandi’s son and 18 others were killed), has also contributed to the book. He was acquitted in 2013 by the Jharkhand High Court. “The false cases not only put tribals behind bars, it also ruins their lives and reduces their families to destitution putting their future in the dark,” Jiten Marandi, in jail between 2008-2013, told TOI.
Stan Swamy said the eight-member research team took up 102 case studies of people put behind bars for their alleged Maoist links. “We found that 98% of those arrested as Naxalites had nothing to do with the movement. Only two of them accepted (to the interviewing research team) they had any relation with any of the Left-wing extremist groups. The rest of those arrested said they had been framed and arrested,” he said.
Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) chief and former chief minister (CM) Babulal Marandi told TOI the content of the book validates his experience. Marandi said industrialists are known to pay levy to Maoists, but police do not take any action against them. “When a villager offers food to Maoists under fear, police brand them as their supporters and put them in jail,” he said.
Echoing similar sentiments, XISS director Alex Ekka said in the past several fact-finding committees too had stumbled upon the same findings. The police, however, rubbished the allegations terming them silly. “Arrests take place on reasonable suspicion. Many cases fail in courts due to lack of evidence,” police spokesperson S N Pradhan said.
Marandi feels lack of tribal officers at top government positions is also a reason behind tribals continuing to languish in jails. This apart, tribals do not have the resources (money) to seek legal aid, he said. Sanjay Kumar, principal secretary to CM Raghubar Das, said he is aware of the situation. “A decision about undertrials fit for release will be taken after a status report currently lying with the home department is sent to the CM,” he said, adding it was Das who constituted a committee to prepare a report on the condition of undertrials sometime ago.