Red Brigade Storms the Saffron Fortress

– Kavita Krishnan

ON 10th of May, thousands of people converged at Faizabad-Ayodhya, storming the so-called fortress of the Sangh Parivar with the determination to reclaim Ayodhya and reassert its glorious history of anti-imperialist unity. To commemorate the martyrs of 1857, and to mark the anniversary of India’s first freedom struggle, AISA, RYA, AIPWA and Jan Sanskriti Manch had organised a Shaheed Mela, a Sadbhavna March on the 10th, and an Ayodhya Convention on 11th May to discuss the challenge of communal fascism and the legacy of 1857. During the widespread campaign preceding this programme people had begun to ask, “Isn’t Ayodhya also the Janmabhoomi of India as a nation, and the karmabhoomi of Maulvi Ahmadullah, Mangal Panday and later Baba Ramchandra Das?” When once again, our lands, our rivers, our industries are being threatened by annexures and patents by MNC’s, the new avatar of East India company, is it wise to define nationalism in terms of mythologies of communal conflict? Isn’t Ayodhya’s own history, of the thousands of brave peasants who rose above their regional and religious affinities, and for the first time came together to fight and die as Indians, a more precious and relevant legacy of nationalism? Will Indians allow the voices of the martyrs of 1857 to be heard, or will they allow them to be drowned out by the cries of trishul-wielding goons burning thousands alive in the name of Ram’s birthplace?

The experiences of women

In both Sultanpur and Mau, women bore the brunt of the prolonged and uncertain detention. Of the 639 in Mau, 243 were women, along with 38 children between the ages of 6 months and 10 years. Most of them, unprepared for long absence from home, had left small children at home, with slightly older children and had made no other arrangements for their care. Many were agrarian labourers whose husbands were migrant labourers and so their homes and children were solely dependent on them. The long journey without food or milk for children had caused dehydration in many of the women and children –and the jails were completely ill equipped to cope with such illnesses.

Despite their anxiety about helpless children back home, despite battling illnesses and the jail’s insufficient hygiene arrangements, these women bravely refused to surrender their political will. When food fell short for male comrades, they spontaneously marched in protest demanding food. Daily meetings were held in the women’s barracks in which women would discuss the course of struggle. They would speak to the jail staff and policemen, telling them what atrocities women had suffered in Gujarat, and how it was important for women to unite against the Hindutva forces. They would raise each other’ morale by composing and singing songs about their lives, their struggles, the arrest, the struggle in the jail. There were some who were participating in a political programme for the first time, and who had wanted to bathe in the river Saryu after the Shaheed Mela and Sadbhavna March. The other more experienced comrades initiated debates and discussions. Some talked of how Ram had mistreated Sita when she was pregnant. Others explained how the Sangh Parivar claimed to have a monopoly on Hindu religion, on Ayodhya and Saryu: if you were willing to be a rioter or a Ramsevak, you were freely allowed in Ayodhya, but if you wanted to participate in a march to stop communal riots and if you protested against the rapes of women in Gujarat, the gates of Ayodhya are barred, and you are thrown in jail. Thus even women who were believers in Hindu religion, were addressed and involved to enhance their political orientation.

The students and other young women from Allahabad, Kanpur, Patna, Benaras and Delhi threw themselves whole-heartedly with the task of integrating with the rural women, organising medical aid and other supplies. They also found opportunities to sensitise male comrades on issues of gender. When some comrades performed a play showing the burden of imperialism being toppled by students, youths, workers and peasants, they demanded why the play forgot to mention women as a specific political force.

Finally, despite the immense pressure by the jail authorities to create a divide between women and men they displayed remarkable courage and unity. Not a single woman, not even those whose relatives had come to pressurise them to leave and offered to escort them home securely, accepted the offer to be released. They refused to leave till each comrade was out of the jail. On the final day, when comrade Lal Bahadur and 4 other were denied release, the women poured out of their barracks, shouted slogans demanding that the gates of the men’s barracks be opened and stayed with the men till all comrades were released.

Their truly amazing courage, creativity and cooperation was one of the most memorable and remarkable aspects of the movement to reclaim the “Alternative Ayodhya”.

- KK

The tremendous popular response to these questions had the BJP running scared, sensing a surging challenge to “Hindu Rashtravad”. In Ayodhya itself, VHP rabble-rousers like Paramhans Ramchandra had begun to issue threats to the Shaheed Mela. Finally on the 9th May, Mayawati’s government in U.P., acting on the string pulled by the BJP behind the scenes, banned the Shaheed Mela. Mayawati lost no time in showing that she would dance to the tunes of anti-national Sangh Parivar. While the VHP would go scot-free spewing threats and communal frenzy, the memory of the martyrs of 1857 would be insulted by banning the peaceful programmes organised in their memory.

The City Magistrate of Faizabad, in a circular issued on the 9th, stated “widespread public resentment against AISA” as the reason for banning the programme. Mayawati’s policy is clearly in continuation with Rajnath’s, whose govt. had threatened to ban AISA under POTO. The huge popular welcome to the Shaheed Mela by the citizens of Faizabad-Ayodhya, who had offered free food and water to the participants of the programme, and who clearly wanted the VHP out of their town, had created panic in the Sangh Parivar. In fact, the Faizabad Vyapaar Mandal, an organisation predominantly of Hindus, had set up drinking water facilities at eight different places for the rally participants was a proof of broad support extended by local people cutting across community lines. So the Sangh Parivar resorted to their favourite strategy: brand the public resentment against Hindutva as “anti-national”, and then justify the Hindutva brigade’s own acts of intimidation and violence as ‘popular reaction’ or ‘mass movement’. On the 9th the local administration spent the whole day patrolling the lanes of the town, warning people not to participate in the banned mela.

But despite the ban and the intimidation, thousands poured in at Faizabad Railway Station, from all over the country, especially Bihar, U.P., Uttarakhand, Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Delhi, on the morning of the 10th. A huge mass meeting was held, which was chaired by the AISA General Secretary Sunil Yadav. It was addressed by Mithilesh Yadav, President of RYA, Ajanta Lohit, U.P. state secretary of AIPWA, Chitranjan Singh, V.P. of PUCL, Pranay Shrivastava of PUHR, Sunil of JSM, Mohd. Salim, RYA leader from Mirzapur and others. Following this, the people began the Sadbhavana March in peaceful challenge to the undemocratic ban. When the police cracked down on the march, and began to arrest, each and every participant offered arrest. With slogan of ‘we have seen and we’ll see how much room your jails have”, the police found that they did not have enough buses to accommodate the protesters. They were finally able to arrest only about a thousand people. All basic democratic rights were violated in the arrest – neither were people produced before a magistrate nor were they informed as to their destination or the nature, purpose or duration of their arrest. A huge number of those arrested were women, some with small children, and many of whom had left small children helpless at home.

Of those arrested 246 were taken to Sultanpur jail, while 639 were taken to Mau jail. During the excruciating 12-hour bus journey, no food was provided and even where the buses stopped, no food was available. Even water was insufficient in the burning heat. Inside the jail it was only the assertion and protest of the comrades which could win basic needs within the jail.

On the 11th the convention banned by the U.P. govt. was defiantly held within Mau jail. The message of the heroes of 1857 resounded within the walls of Mau jail, and its echoes reverberated far beyond. No jail walls, no bans could crush the voice of those determined to free their country from the clutches of fascists – all those arrested were proud that in this second freedom struggle they had played a part.

Far from extinguishing the spark of protest, the ban and arrest actually sparked off nationwide protests. On the 14th, an all-India protest was observed at Patna, Delhi, Calcutta, Ranchi, Lucknow and Benaras among other centres. In Delhi citizens from various walks of life protested the crackdown, marched in protest on the 13th, and submitted a memorandum to the U.P. Governor demanding the release of all those arrested. A protest statement was signed by several eminent citizens. (See box)

This statement said “it is shame that it has become illegal to organise programmes in memory of 1857 and remember the secular struggles of our freedom fighters, even while the VHP is being allowed to hold the twin city of Ayodhya and Faizabad to ransom on communal grounds and in open violation of court orders”.

The waves of protest by democratic sections even led to a heated debate in Parliament where several Parliament members demanded to know why patriots were in jail while anti-nationals were in power.

Within Mau jail, too, protest had begun. On the 14th a relay hunger strike was begun. A solidarity dharna took place all day, and in the evening there were cultural programmes. From 14th to 16th a total of 45 comrades observed one-day hunger strike.

Under pressure from the widespread popular protest, the U.P. administration attempted to divide the unity of the comrades by offering to release half the prisoners including the women on the 15th. When this offer was rejected they sent release order for all except RYA Gen. Sec. Lal Bahadur Singh and 4 others. Once again a massive protest took place in Mau Jail, and finally on 16th evening all prisoners were released. Comrades in Sultanpur and Faizabad had been released on 15th itself.

Comrades released in Sultanpur took out a victory march in the town, and were welcomed by the citizens of Sultanpur, as well as various groups and parties including Loktantrik Samajwadi Party.

We Transformed Adversity into Victory

MAY 10, 2002. 145th anniversary of first war of Independence of 1857. At dawn when we (Delhi students) disembarked from the train at Faizabad Railway Station, we were robbed off of our euphoria, when at the station itself we were informed that the Faizabad administration had banned the Shaheed Mela and Sadbhavna March (march for harmony). Shocked and confused we came out of the station where we found thousands of enthusiastic students, youths, women, cultural activists and progressive citizens waiting for sunrise to begin the march.

Soon revolutionary songs and slogans began renting the air exhorting the patriotic people to uproot and overthrow communal fascism lock, stock and barrel for an India of the dreams of our great martyrs. Songs remembering the great martyrs and freedom fighters, songs underlining the cause for which they had sacrificed their lives, songs describing the woes of the bleeding Gujarat and our motherland, songs condemning communal fascism with yearning for their immediate punishment continued non-stop till 11 a.m. Meanwhile we were witnessing encirclement by police forces, riot control vehicles, jeeps, vans and police buses. At 11.00 a.m., as soon as it was announced that we would now march to Ayodhya for harmony, thousands of colourful banners, placards festoons, posters, and red flags were hoisted up in the air making the arena look like a sea of red.

As soon as we began the march an array of heavily armed policemen backed by another cordon of police force blocked our way and started manhandling the marchers. Upon being stopped the marchers sat on dharna then and there till they were all arrested.

Ramchandra Paramhans spews venom against Martyrs’ Mela

RAMCHANDRA PARAMHANS, Chairman of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, in a press statement issued on May 9, 2002 dubbed the proposed ‘peace march’ on Mandir-Masjid issue as hypocrisy. He held that any demand other than building a Ramlala Mandir at Ramjanmabhoomi is against people’s sentiment. He justified the prohibition imposed by the district administration on the proposed peace march and Shaheed Mela organised by left organisations. Along with this, other mahantas and BJP leaders expressed deep resentment over raising Ayodhya issue on the pretext of the AISA-sponsored Shaheed Mela and said that this was a planned conspiracy to hit at Hindu mass sentiments and disturb the communal atmosphere.

The chairman of the trust Sri Paramhans said that they had full respect for the martyrs of the First War of Independence. But replacing Ramlala Mandir at Ramjanmabhoomi by a martyrs’ memorial is a disgrace to Hindu minds and martyrs as well, which would not be tolerated. This is a conspiracy to foment violence. So the administration must take severe action.

Mahanta Santram Das of Hanumangarhi Ujjainiya Patti, Mahanta Siya Kishori Sharan of Satguru Sadan Golaghat, ex-chairman of the town council Mahanta Awadhesh Kumar Shashtri have also blamed the organising committee for indulging in malicious anti-Mandir politics on the pretext of Shaheed Mela. These sants associated with the VHP said that in order to create disturbances in the otherwise peaceful Ayodhya the anti-Mandir parties are indirectly taking recourse to newer conspiracies. The BJP leaders blamed left parties for destroying communal harmony in the country. BJP district president Mahanta Manmohan Das and several BJP district leaders said that a peace march was needed in Gujarat. But the so-called secularists who created a background for riots in Gujarat have also come here to create disturbance in the name of martyrs of War of Independence. BJP media incharge said that in a meeting of senior BJP leaders, leftists were condemned for utilising martyrs for politics. BJP city president Ganesh Gupta and other leaders also criticised AISA and RYA for political misuse of the 1857 martyrs.

[Hindustan, 11 May, 2002]

From here onwards begins the transformation of adversity into opportunity, when we were packed into 16 buses with equal number of arrested marchers sitting on the roof of the buses in that scorching sun and hungry for the last 2 days due to long train journey from distant places of the country. The buses began a torturous 10-hour journey at 1 in the afternoon for Mau Jail. It is in this that we defeated the ill motives of the BSP-BJP government, Mahant Paramhans and Faizabad administration. A march that was only to cover 6 km from Faizabad to Ayodhya and a Mela which was to take place in 1 town was ultimately transformed into a march covering 250 kms on 16 buses, with each bus decorated with red flags and posters and full of slogan-shouting protesters. One flag from each window of the buses were held out that fluttered proudly in the Saffron-ruled state. Each town and village, through which our convoy crossed, witnessed an environment virtually like a shaheed mela, due to the marchers inside and atop the buses enthusiastically singing revolutionary songs, raising slogans demanding capital punishment to Narendra Modi and displaying banners, flags and posters and distributing leaflets. This is how we transformed our adversity into victory.

At 1 hour past midnight, after being wet due to heavy rain flushing in through the broken windowpanes, we reached Mau jail which is built 12 kms away from any habitation. The jail administration took full 6 hours to register the entry of 639 political prisoners. At 7 in the morning we were inside the jail, immensely tired, exhausted and hungry for the previous two and half days and sleepless for the past 2 nights. We immediately had to begin a protest demonstration when we found that the jail actually had no capacity to lodge and provide for this big chunk of political prisoners. Till 4 in the evening, until we got food, a series of protests inside the jail, slogan shouting, meetings and speeches ensued for immediately providing milk to the children and mothers feeding their infants, for immediately summoning the jail doctor from the city as many of the women and children had fallen ill. This bold and courageous show by the 639 (243 women, 396 men) political prisoners forced the administration to be up on its toes; and they were warned that any negligence towards sick women and children and all the political prisoners would cost them dearly. This whole event that followed our arrest at Faizabad, apart from other things, served for rapid politicisation of the thousands of the arrested marchers.

Each moment inside the jail, if anything, has left deep impressions on our minds and souls. Many students and youths who had recently earned jobs and had to join in that week, students who had exams, young men and women whose marriages were scheduled within that week, many women who had left their young children and babies in their neighbours’ custody thinking they would soon return, were all under stress. But, in spite of all this, not a single person complained or tried to get himself/herself released on personal bond, for which the policemen were seducing them. Two of the women from eastern U.P. actually bitterly scolded a policeman when he tried to coerce them to fill a personal bond for their release. After 4 difficult days in jail when actually a proposal was sent by the Faizabad Magistrate, that all 243 women and 38 babies and 100 men shall be released, it was really heartening to witness a firm refusal by the women, who were still under so much stress and facing so much difficulty, saying they would only go out when all of their comrades were released. On the 7th day it was still more heartening to find the proposal of the same Magistrate firmly rejected in which he said all but 5 leaders would be released. These attempts by the UP govt., and their state machinery to weaken our unity and spirit were defied and crushed deservingly.

On 11th of May, our 1st day in jail, we had throughout the day raised slogans sang songs, held meetings with the Jailor, formed barrack committees, a higher committee to talk to the jail administration, a women’s committee, and a food management committee. The huge walls of the jail that looked so terrible and appalling, suddenly became alive and invited attention for they had all been scribbled, painted, written and drawn with radical slogans, demands and graphic art of struggle. No wall inside the jail was left blank. Each wall now bore revolutionary inscriptions – this happened immediately after 7 in the morning and proving that an empty stomach of 2 and a half days, sleepless nights and terrible exhaustion due to 3 days of journey was not a deterrent to the spirit of the people assembled for the Shaheed Mela.

In the evening, the Ayodhya Convention was held inside Mau Jail with participation of all 639 arrested marchers and the Ayodhya Declaration was ratified from Mau Jail also.

If each morning and afternoon inside the jail witnessed struggles and protests for getting the status and amenities that are bound to be provided to political prisoners and for the implementation of the jail manual, each evening in jail was made alive with cultural performances that started 5 in the evening and continued till 11 in the night each day. Thus, the Shaheed Mela scheduled for the 10th of May, eventually continued for a full week, thereby signifying the influence and importance of our great martyrs and a yearning and strong determination to carry forward their legacy.

One thing that made us (Delhi students) awestruck and immensely influenced our own determination was the vast domain of potential and talent that we encountered. Women and men from most deprived class and women who toil under most stressful conditions created and sang those songs in which they exposed how the true sons and daughters of the Indian soil had been jailed by the anti-national Vajpayee and his ally Mayawati, and why those monsters were outside the jail. Among the women who routinely sang songs every evening were Zulekha Khatoon from Deoria, Nagina from Mirzapur, Dukanti Devi, Muli Devi, Anita, Mina, Asha and Lalita from Samastipur, Pooja from Kanpur, Sunita and Tulika from Allahabad, Uma and Dharma from Delhi and Lakhi Devi from Siwan.

Is remembering the martyrs against public interest?

[Editorial comment in Jan Morcha, a daily published from Faizabad]

The significance of such programme (Shaheed Mela) can hardly be denied. But Vishwa Hindu Parishad and fundamentalists were particularly irked by the programme because they knew that the people coming from all over India hold a definite identity and dignity that is not in accord with VHP ideology. Presently the VHP is portraying Gujarat episode and its “hero” Narendra Modi as symbols of Hindutwa identity and this is being opposed by the common people who hold that it is against the country’s unity and integrity -- it helps only in breaking the country rather than uniting it.

The pertinent question is: in what way does holding a programme like Shaheed Mela affect public administration? Should the act of remembering the martyrs, honouring them and propagating their views be construed as something against public interest?

Freedom of expression is enshrined in our constitution. Hence, a decision to prohibit a programme should not be taken on the basis of complaints lodged by adversaries. The opposition has equal freedom to propagate their views. When it is felt that the administration is acting as a supporter of some particular ideology, opposing others, it can only be taken as an undesirable attribute.

Imposing prohibition on Shaheed Mela, whatever might be its objectives, and cancellation of the venue of the convention allotted earlier, therefore, cannot be approved.

[Jan Morcha, May 11, 2002]


Cultural artists who performed on all 7 days were D.P. Soni alias Bantu, Sunil Kr. Bunty, Santosh Jha, Puneet, Nitin Kr. Pamnani, Rama Ji Shah, Hare Ram Guruji, Vashishta, Rajkumar from Bundelkhand, R.K., Shiv and others from Jharkhand. Other individuals who gave performances during each cultural evening were freedom fighter Com. B.D. Tyagi, Com. Jayatu Deshmukh (RYA President, W. Bengal), and Com. Ram Naresh from Gazipur. Cultural teams that were kept busy all the time were Kala Kammune, Hirawal, Samanwaya and Jharkhand Sanskriti Manch. Street plays on communal fascism, feudal violence, corruption, imperialism and dowry deaths were performed.

Last but not the least – excessive stress and bad conditions inside the jail, bad food, ill intentions of divide and rule by the U.P. govt. and other worries like jobs, exams and marriages, however failed to dampen our spirit even slightly. When the U.P. govt. finally surrendered and we came out of the jail, all of us came out with a pledge and a warning to the State govt. and its administration that next time we would come not in thousands but in lakhs, and not for Sadbhavna March for which you have arrested us, but to challenge and stop the communal and anti-nationalist VHP and Bajrang Dal mob on the streets of Ayodhya and Faizabad.

– Srikant

From Mayawati’s Jails

ETCHED ON the white marble slab, in the middle of the compound, were the names of more than a hundred people. Names of those who had spiritedly resisted the British rule at the cost of their lives. Close to it was the bust of Ashfaque-ullah-Khan who instilled terror in the minds of British rulers and inspired aspirations for freedom and India’s independence in the hearts and minds of countless youth. Around the marble memorial and the bust were the barracks, where prisoners were kept.

Faizabad Jail is historic: Ashfaque-ullah-Khan was sentenced to death here, Mangal Pandey, the hero of 1857 had spent his days of imprisonment here and in the post-Independence period, those who resisted the communal frenzy being engineered from the twin cities of Faizabad and Ayodhya were sent here and now it was being used to confine those who remembered the message and spirit of the martyrs of the freedom struggle. There could be no greater irony, but what else could be expected of a government which was being propped up by the forces of the Sangh, whose only “contribution” to the freedom struggle lies in fictitious tales of valourous struggles spun in the post-Independence period while trying to cover up their pre-Independence role of allegiance as agents to the British.

However, the history of Awadh knows better, the British had massacred 1,50,000 people following the repression on the 1857 Revolt. 1,00,000 of those killed were common townspeople. The anti-national nature of the UP government is evident from the fact that remembering the legacy of 1857 Revolt and the heroic tradition of Awadh, especially Faizabad and Ayodhya, was being made illegal, inviting imprisonment.

As the convention was about to start on May 11, the notorious PAC arrived, like gangsters on a rampage. The all-male police started lathi-charge targeting students, youth, women and children who had gathered around the Press Club. Twenty of us were pushed into the waiting trucks and taken to Faizabad Jail. Three more comrades were brought in late in the afternoon.

Citizens’ Statement

Against the Crackdown on the Students, Youths and Cultural Activists at Faizabad, UP

We condemn the arrest of students, youth and other activists of All India Students Association, Revolutionary Youth Association, All India Progressive Women’s Association and Jan Sanskriti Manch who had assembled in Faizabad to observe the anniversary of 1857 Revolt. The students and youth who had converged, from all over the country for a two-day programme to reclaim the secular legacy of Ayodhya on 10th and 11th of May had been prevented by the District Administration from taking out a Sadbhavana March and organizing a Shaheed Mela and Convention for an amicable solution of the Ayodhya issue.

This is a blatant violation of the democratic rights of the citizens to organize campaigns and movements for peace and harmony. It is a shame that it has become illegal to organize programmes in memory of 1857 and remember the secular struggles of our freedom fighters even while VHP is being allowed to hold the twin city of Ayodhya and Faizabad to ransom on communal grounds and openly violate court orders.

The last minute withdrawal of permission without citing any reason for the Sadbhavana March, Shaheed Mela and Convention and subsequent crackdown on participants is a clear pointer to the fact that the BSP Chief Minister is acting at the behest of the communal forces spearheaded by the Sangh Parivar. This has serious implications for the democratic process in the state.

We demand immediate release of all activists and leaders and restoration of democratic order in the state.

13 May 2002

[Signatories: Eminent journalist Prabhas Joshi, former Lok Sabha Speaker Rabi Ray, Muchkund Dubey, Swami Agnivesh, Surendra Mohan, Sumit Chakravarti (Editor, Mainstream), historian Prof. Uma Chakravarti, political scientists Profs. Manoranjan Mohanty and Nira Chandoke, Prof. Ali Javed, noted Hindi poet Manglesh Dabral, film-maker Anand Patwardhan, Ajay Bharadwaj, Sahjo Singh and Anwar Jamal, Nandini Sundar of PUDR, Chitranjan singh of PUCL, Javed Malik and Swati Joshi (convenors DU Forum for Democracy), Tripta Wahi of FDS, Members of DU Academic Council Tapas R. Saha and Ranjana Saxena, Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Vinod Khurana of LDTF and Krishna Sen Gupta of DTF, Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, Prof. Anand Chakravarty, Neeraj Malik, Vijay Pratap, Rajendra Pratholi, Prof. Anand Kumar, Ranjeet Abhigyan, Vijay Singh, Yogendra Yadav, V. Krishna Ananth and several others]

On 11th morning six of us were told that we were going to be detained in the jail for 14 days and sent to the barracks which held prisoners, who had been booked under criminal cases. Upon insisting on the rights of political prisoners and B Class status the jail authorities claimed that the higher authorities did not allow that. “Higher authorities” became the keyword for the next one week for the jail authorities who kept denying what was rightfully due to us. Later on we were told that orders of denial came from as far as Lucknow.

On the first day, we had not been provided anything to eat or drink till late in the night. Inside the barracks we were lined up every few hours for counting. In spite of Comrade Ajanta Lohit’s serious illness (cancer) special diet was not granted and in the women’s barracks the political prisoners were served the “punishment” diet prescribed for the prisoners.

The prisoners and a few jail warders expressed solidarity and interest in our struggle. They called us Andolanwallis and we held meetings with them and some women even started off with literacy classes, with the pens and paper we managed to sneak in. On 14th, we held a meeting in memory of Kaifi Azmi within the jail premises.

But the condition of prisoners was bothering. In the men’s barrack our comrades, including Dr.Ghosh, were offered the choice of sweeping the floor or paying up to Rs.300. The entire jail seemed to operate on ‘fees’ and everything was priced – common prisoners could avail ‘B Class’ status for a fee, special diet and hospital bed could be booked for a price while those who were actually ill were languishing in the stuffy barracks. Special food and intoxicants could also be availed for a fee.

The undertrials, who largely populated the jail, waited endlessly for a decision on their cases. In the women’s barrack there were women undertrials, who had been imprisoned for more than two and a half years. Poor and lower middle class prisoners remained in the prison while the rich could get away with good legal help.

Saffron hoodlums’ attempt to storm into the venue of CPI(ML) Central Committee meeting foiled

THE CPI(ML)’S Central Committee was holding its meeting at Malayala Grandhasala in the industrial township of Bihai in Chhattisgarh on 13-15 May, 2002. On 14th May, a bunch of Saffron goons led by the local leader of the Bharatiya Yuva Jan Morcha descended on the scene and tried to barge into the venue, in the name of protesting the CPI(ML) General Secretary’s statement calling for a memorial to the martyrs of 1857 at Ayodhya. Thanks to the alert volunteers, their attempt was foiled and they were firmly kept at bay. The meeting went on undisturbed. Frustrated in their attempt, the goon squad sat outside the venue and conducted a bhajan, chanting Jai Shri Ram for an hour and then left the scene.


The duties were distributed clearly on caste basis. The upper caste women cooked, supposedly because they were cleaner and the jail wardens could then get them to cook something for themselves. The cleaning, sweeping and mopping thereby went to non-upper caste prisoners. The central preoccupation of the women undertrials was to be in the good books of the jail wardens. And if they were to forget this by chance they were subjected to severe humiliating abuses and beatings. Some of the 16 women wardens were particularly cruel and lost no opportunity in harassing the already miserable women. They would switch off the fans in the sweltering afternoon heat and charge Rs.10 per prisoner for being allowed to see a visitor. As a norm newspaper was not allowed for the women prisoners and keeping pens and paper invited the wrath of the wardens who usually expressed their anger by beating. The prisoners had not been given rice for a year and children of the undertrials who found the bran chappatis too tough to eat had to remain content with small quantities of diluted milk given in the morning.

Our release orders came on 15 and 16 in batches after a week of protests all over the country. The people of Faizabad extended support extensively, an ex-MLA from SP also visited us. On 16th, soon after our release, a press conference was held to highlight the jail conditions by Dr.Shubendu Ghosh, Comrades Ajanta Lohit and Radhika Menon, where they deplored the inhuman treatment of prisoners inside Mayawati’s jails.

– Radhika Menon

Banished Again

Kaifi Azmi

Years of banishment over, Rama back home,

In the city however, missed the jungle days,

Dance of madness that he saw in the courtyard

On December Six, Shri Rama wondered

How barged this insane crowd into my residence.

About to wash his feet at Saryu

Thick bloodstains caught his eye,

Leaving ablutions got up Rama,

Rose he to leave his home and hearth,

Capitals atmosphere didnt suit me, said he,

Banished me again on December Six.


Kaifi Azmi, the renowned lyricist and progressive cultural personality and one of the founder members of IPTA and later its president, passed away on 10 May 2002. Liberation expresses condolences to the bereaved members of his family.