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Prison rights of Maoists

The decision of a Kolkata court that jailed Maoists are political prisoners is to be welcomed, though this decision is likely to be contested by the government. This order follows one of the Calcutta high court which had declared eight suspected Naxalites to be political prisoners. This status is an upgrade from the one accorded to the Naxals according to which they were classed as petty criminals or as terrorists. It will mean better treatment of imprisoned Naxals. They will now be entitled to privileges such as a separate cell, home-cooked food, access to newspapers, books and other reading material as well as greater freedom inside the jail.  Thus this verdict is at one level about the rights of prisoners, who must be treated with dignity as human beings. It is entirely in keeping with the progress made over the years in jail reforms and in providing for better conditions for prisoners, whatever their offence. It will also help in preventing brutal treatment of the Maoist prisoners that could possibly happen in prison. According to the West Bengal law, political prisoners are those who are arrested or convicted on a charge of having committed or attempting to commit or aiding or abetting the commissions of any political offence.

They are anyone who commit or allegedly commit an offence during a political or democratic movement with an exclusive political objective, free from personal greed or motive.  Thus the verdict is also recognition of the fact that the Maoist movement in India is a political one and is not terrorism as is sought to be made out. While one may not agree with the goals of the Maoists or with their methods, no one can dispute that theirs is a movement that is far removed from petty crime and has a wider objective. It is unfortunate that the Maoists have resorted to the gun to agitate the issues close to their heart as a result of which for far to long have the Maoists been treated as a terrorist problem or a law and order problem.  Yet some of the issues that they are fighting for are relavent and relate to land issues and the rights of the local people including access to forest produce. Their agitation is a response to governmental apathy and a neglect of the common people’s problems in important swathes of India. It is, therefore, now for the government to take the cue from the Kolkata court. It must, far from contesting the matter in higher courts, recognise the political nature of the struggle of the Maoists and deal with them accordingly.
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