Millennium Post

Dispatches from a jail bard

It is a story of despair, of injustice, of subjugation of basic human rights and of hopelessness that invokes in its readers a strong feeling of helplessness. We might have heard and read about how the prison system, which reeks of a strong colonial hangover in India, is ridden with flaws and frailties but the gory details of what goes on within the jail confines serves as a wakeup call for a society that is oblivious to the gross injustice taking place behind the high walls of the prison whose basic principle was to serve as a reform centre.

Human rights activist Ferreira was picked up from the railway station and arrested by the Nagpur police on charges of being a Naxalite in the summer of 2007. Over the next few months, he was charged with more crimes of criminal conspiracy, murder, possession of arms and rioting among several others. He was incarcerated in one of the most notorious prisons of Maharashtra - the Nagpur Central jail. Ferreira’s account thus brings to the fore the inadequacies of the judicial system and how easy it is for police officers to subvert clearly laid procedures by using existing loopholes to gain promotions and rise up the ranks.

Through cartoons that spell the irony of prison life and bring out the brute realities of existence behind jail walls, Ferreira gives a detailed account his struggle for justice. He uses extracts from letters written to his family and also those he received to build the narrative of the book.

The corruption in jails that takes place with the patronage of jail officials makes crime not just a way but the only way for the inmates to live. Ones’ treatment inside jail is determined by his ability pay bribes. Everything is up for sale from the ration to time with your visitors. Ferreira’s account tells us that in Indian jails you learn that justice is only a mirage.

But the book is also a memoir of astonishing power – about a man’s stubborn fight for justice and the triumph of the human will. Ferreira’s courage doesn’t desert him even when just a breath away from freedom he was re-arrested by police in plain clothes in September 2011. His fight for freedom starts all over again. With help from activists and friends the human rights activist was able to live free again. But for myriad undertrials and people implicated on false charges the fight is still going on silently without being reported and without being spoken about.

The book draws the readers’ attention to lives being crippled in jails, to deaths due to extreme torture that are closed as cases of suicide. It tells us that inside the jails we are not reforming but creating disillusioned, disgruntled people who have become victims of a system whose accountability is not being questioned. This is book for those who stand for the state. It will make them question if the state stands for all.

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