July 8, 2005
From PC to JC
July 9, 2005
I am perhaps the only real prisoner in Raipur Gaol: all others, except those on death row (there aren’t any here), are allowed to roam the immense campus with only a nominal presence of unarmed ‘warders’ assigned to keep watch; they are free to mingle with each other, forge associations and bonds, which I’m told more often than not endure entire life-spans. I, on the other hand, am condemned to share my cell- a 7’ by 9’ (feet) structure that includes a toilet (the flush doesn’t work and I’m rationed two buckets of water daily)- with a variety of creatures, most notably flies, who I’ve long given-up shooing, but also an emerging colony of red ants and ofcourse the famous full-blooded Raipuriya mosquitoes. [There are others whose zoological nomenclature escapes me now.] Prisoners too bear the brunt of the change of government: for all of today- infact from the time of my internment- there has been no evidence of electricity, not that I mind terribly. Thankfully there is enough daylight for me to read the few periodicals and also finish the book (Keegan’s anthology: The Book of War) that my jailors have very kindly permitted me. After much persuasion, I have also been allowed the luxury of writing paper and a solitary ballpoint pen, with which I am now able to scribble this.
Any possibility of getting my trusty laptop, to which I’ve confined the over fifty-thousand words I’ve written on the history of Chhattisgarh, has been ruled out although my lawyer informs me that there is judicial precedence of prisoners being allowed the use of computers. [Charles Sobraj is a case in point.] It’s not as if the machination- the contemporary computer- is outlawed from jail premises: the hon’ble Jail Superintendent only this morning boasted of a computer-training program for convicts, but ‘security concerns’ prevent my enrolling in that commendable effort. Home-food is also quite out of the question for fear that I might be poisoned. Mummy’s request to personally deliver a lunch-tiffin was met with a curt ‘No’- and she had no option but to take it back. I am also free to walk about but the two feet path between my cell and its enclosure affords a somewhat dismal view of whitewashed walls topped with menacing iron spikes, which serves to make me even more acutely aware of my status as an undertrial prisoner, who in the prison’s somewhat skewed social-hierarchy are somewhat akin to second-rate citizens, the crème-de-la-crème comprised of ‘numberdars’ (Convict Overseers or COs) chosen from convicts sentenced for life. The latter incidentally are the fuel of the burgeoning prison-economy, where I’m told (most recently by K before he finally said goodbye) everything- animal, mineral and vegetable- is available but any many times the market cost. Since I’ve not brought anything with me that might be construed as ‘valuable’ in the remote, I am summarily excluded from the operation of this prodigious economy. The food given to me is adequate, I suppose, from a nutritional viewpoint although this morning’s loose-stool does seems symptomatic of impending diarrhea. I also fear an imminent onslaught of ulcer, given the prison-chef’s fascination with red-chilly powder, which is available in abundance since the prison has its own masala factory, of which my numberdar-designate Dilip Chhatri, a jovial enough character in for a murder he professes not having committed, is incharge.
With the exception of Mummy, Rahul and SNT, I’ve had no visitors today. Again: not that I mind since the presence of a visitor entails the rather loud- if not outrightly scornful- announcement of a prisoner’s- and his father’s- name on the public address system, which in the mornings and evenings is used to play devotional music, a highly effective therapy, to quote the Jail Superintendent, for prisoners of unsound mind, and also the unkindly prospect of walking a kilometer- my cell number eight, also called the Mahatma Gandhi Barrack, in the New Octagon is situated at an extreme corner of the prison complex- to the visitors’ room where prisoners are kept separated from their callers-on by a meshed screen. The absence- or paucity- of visitors should ordinarily contribute to my sense of solitude, but it doesn’t. Adequate security also means that I must remain visible, even while taking a bath: the prison warders, numberdars and even their assistants- always polite- are duty-bound to watch me, my every move. Infact this notion of shifting prisoners from the dark confines of a dungeon, which is where they have remained for much of history, to open cells where they may be watched from a central watchtower, as described in the elaborate architecture of the Panopticon by Bentham, governs much of the contemporary world’s fascination with prison reform. All modern ‘humane’ prisons therefore owe more than they care to realize to English Utilitarianism.
But the influence of Utilitarianism, indeed the entire corpus of western philosophy, on Indian mentalité specifically with respect to the concept of justice has not significantly progressed beyond linguistic and architectural manifestations; infact its ethos has been summarily overlooked. It has been, since times immemorial, been turned on its head. Lopsided. ‘A person is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty’- the a priori principle from which arise all laws governing civilized societies- does not seem to apply to our ancient ‘kultur’, which presumes a person’s guilt until he is able to establish his innocence, and even then he might never be accepted as absolutely absolved. In India, justice is not only delayed and denied but also distorted and deflected. In my case too, the media- the word does seem under the present circumstances something of an anachronism; Paparazzi seems more descriptive- has not only reported, as it ought to, but it has gone a step further, and undertaken to be both judge and executioner. They are not on unfamiliar ground: the ‘Manavdharmasastra’ (Manusmriti) arguably the single most influential religious-legal treatise to shape India’s approaches to jurisprudence, is full of instances where say if a man from the lower caste is accused of a particular crime such as defiling a Brahmin’s sanctity by letting his shadow fall on the latter’s personage, the prescribed penalty is for him to be tied to a stone and hurled into a water-body. If the body does surface eventually, he is presumed innocent; otherwise he is pronounced guilty as charged. In so many ways, I too feel a bit like that unfortunate soul, drowning with the weight of a hundred stones tied to me. When justice does come- and I’m sure it will be years, possibly decades, before that happens, if it happens- it won’t matter one way or the other, not to me anyway. To cite a recent example, the acquittal of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofor’s case just a couple of months ago will have absolutely no effect, retrogressive or otherwise, on him. Fifteen years ago, while campaigning in an effort to clear his name and return to power, his body was blown to bits by a depraved human bomb. I cannot help thinking that a similar fate awaits me.
The citation of the above illustration from Manusmriti (repeated also in later texts such as the Naradsmriti) is not intended to give the issue of my alleged complicity a caste-color. Frankly, the matter has been- and will be- politicized enough. Yet it would be equally farfetched to absolve people of their ‘caste-biases’ anymore than to attribute these as the sole determinants of their behavior: neutrality in emotive issues such as this is simply not an option, and Reason is often the first casualty. As a matter of socio-historical construction, the media and the so-called Intelligentsia, those people who by virtue of their peculiar societal roles and functions, are dominated by certain castes, and these, as it happens, are not my own. The dichotomy exists: there is no way around this conundrum but to admit to, and recognize this fact of existence. At a more immediate level, it was only after the summary removal- ouster, really- of the SP formerly entrusted with this case’s investigation that the Agency- the Kauls, Mishras, Sharmas and Pachauris- began its high-handed persecution leading to my arrest despite the fact that Papa belongs to the UPA, the incumbent Government at the Centre. Once again, I’m not alleging the direct interplay of caste-bias- I’m sure that, in the words of Marc Anthony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, ‘they are all hon’ble men’- but it would be hard for the astute observer to overlook entirely the aforementioned fact as happenstance or coincidence. Further proof, if needed, comes from the discussion I had with another prisoner jailed for the same case. This fortuitous meeting was an accident, whose repetition the authorities have taken extra-precautions to prevent. If what he has told me is true, then my investigators- from the highest level- have gone to great lengths to ensure that the actual perpetrators of this ghastly crime go scot-free, and that their false-testimonies, already recorded, become the principal instrument to condemn me. What saddens and shocks me is the growing realization that these one-time friends and well-wishers have done so for no particular reason but to save their own skins by feeding me to the lions, knowing full well that I’m innocent. My ‘guilt’, as they might see it in order to ease their own pitiless consciences, is not having done enough to thwart the course of this investigation, which might have been attempted had we been convinced even in the remote of our complicity. Knowing Papa, he would not have done so- at any cost. Now, I am made to pay the price of others’ misdeeds. At a more literary level- I am after all a creature of literature (more specifically: fiction)- I can’t help but see my peculiar predicament- the irony of it- in terms of Tolstoy’s classic tale ‘God Sees the Truth But Waits’.
[I offer this revelation only as part of my narrative, and not with the intention of arousing the anonymous Reader’s sympathy at any particular injustice resultant from a conspiracy. Admittedly, conspiracies- which in any case are organic to ‘realpolitik’- must be judged not on their morality but also less poignantly, on the basis of the ends they eventually seek to serve.]
[Tarun C. shows his influence by walking into my cell. If only he were sober-]
Saturday, June 24, 2006
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