Binayak Sen, the doctor and civil rights activist who provided much-needed medical treatment to the poorest residents of Chhattisgarh, was finally released from prison after two years. He answered some questions on his imprisonment in the recent issue of Tehelka, and his answers are a fascinating account of life in an Indian prison. Here’s what he has to say about innocence and state brutality against prisoners:
“There’s an infinite variety of human nature and circumstance on display in jail. This made me think very deeply about categories. You think section 302 is 302 (murder), but it could range from an entirely fabricated case to self-defence to a gang war to a supari (ransom). Yet this range of crime is subsumed under the same legal category. One of my closest friends in jail was a 25-year-old boy who had been arrested when he was 19 for stabbing his father. He had done it as a last resort to prevent his mother from being beaten to death by his drunk father. He’s been convicted to life imprisonment. What’s horrifying is that the authorities are consumed by active contempt for these inmates. Even the most basic human dignity is denied to them. Every evening I saw lambardars beating inmates with lathis and chappals — 10 to a man. There were much worse things as well. But if I complained the authorities looked at me as if I was soft in the head. There are so many people in jail who are innocent, or at least, who carry the idea of their innocence in their heads. And there is nothing ahead for them but this systemic brutalisation. So I had this feeling of helplessness.”
The whole interview is definitely worth reading.