Justice for Jahanabad TADA Victims

The war on terror has become a pretext for several governments, who proclaim their democratic status, to justify the imposition of black laws, which violate all notions of human rights known so far. There are reports in the press of the Bush government ambushing ‘Arab looking persons’ and subjecting them to humiliating interrogations using the infamous Patriot Act. In India, the war on terrorism was taken as an opportune time by the NDA government, to bulldoze in the much-opposed POTA through an unprecedented joint session of the parliament.

A number of persons are incarcerated in the country under POTA. The cases and statistics reveal that POTA has been used primarily for crushing political dissent. Though the case of Vaiko under POTA received extensive press coverage and has been the most talked about case of political vendetta, the other cases which have received less press space, also indicate the highly political nature of the charges. In Gujarat, for instance POTA cases have been filed exclusively against the minority community, 246 cases being that against Muslims and 1 case against a Sikh, out of 247 cases filed. In other states also, innocent poor in large numbers are being dragged into the jail under POTA for being ‘naxalites’.

The UPA government has announced in the CMP that POTA will be repealed. But already there are multiple noises from within the government that it may be modified, it is difficult to dispose of POTA so quickly and so on. The fact remains that neither is it difficult nor does it require any further delay, provided the government has the political will to carry it forward. Legal experts have stated that an ordinary session of the parliament is sufficient to dispose of POTA by introduction of an ordnance.

The terror of POTA would continue even after it is repealed, if we ignore the fact that even today, 9 years after the lapse of TADA, it is being invoked to victimise and crush dissent by the political establishment. The case of the of Bhadasi village of Arwal Police Station of Bihar, in which the Supreme Court on 2 April 2004 upheld the sentencing of 14 activists and sympathisers of CPI(ML) to life imprisonment by a TADA Court brings this to the forefront.

This case from Arwal points out how a lapsed law has been used to broaden the definition of terrorism. By sentencing the activists on the basis of unsubstantiated charges of the prosecution and declaring it as an exemplary case of terrorism, the judgement has created serious questions for the democratic and human rights within the country. While the court did not say the defendants planned to terrorise people or overawe the state, it still condemned them as terrorists because they were alleged to have clashed with the police. Thus, going by that standard, people who have participated in a protest where following a lathi charge the demonstrators clash with police in defence, could be branded terrorist! It is evident that laws like TADA and POTA are designed for collapsing the differences between democratic protest and terrorism.

The proof of the terrorist involvement of those sentenced under the Arwal case is the Marxist literature and the documents of IPF, which was into legal open mass activity! It is obvious that political expression stands threatened by legitimising political vendetta of this nature. And this has been done by a law that is supposed to have lapsed 9 years ago.

The consequences of TADA are felt even today and in the time to come many more cases under TADA will be opening up, going by the practice of opening cases to quell dissent. The effect of POTA will also continue even after it is repealed, if all cases filed under it are not withdrawn. This can be reversed, if the law ministry chooses to, by withdrawing all cases. This is the least that can be done for ensuing the restoration of the human rights of those who have been violated at the hands of vindictive governments.

The Arwal TADA case:

A chronicle of police vendetta and state led smoth ering of dissent

Arwal and Jehanabad have been notorious for police repression in the 1980s. In 1986, the police enacted the post-independence equivalent of the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre by firing at a peaceful rally at Arwal, killing 23 people. It was only following a statewide protest, culminating in a Bihar Assembly gherao that the then government was forced to order an inquiry and transfer the notorious SP, CR Kaswan.

Some of the persons accused under TADA in Bhadasi, had been at the forefront of the protest campaigns and the police were waiting to frame them. In 1988, a large contingent of police led by the Officer in-Charge of Arwal, went to Bhadasi, allegedly on the information that some “extremists” had gathered to conspire. The police started firing at the “extremists” who turned out to be villagers settling a dispute over a Singara (water chestnut) pond, which they were cultivating with the assistance of a cooperative society and which they feared would be forcibly harvested by the landlords. Three people were killed in the police firing. The villagers, who had already been witness to police brutality in the Arwal massacre, retaliated and in the ensuing clash, the Officer-in-Charge of Arwal was killed.

Significantly, however, most of those booked under TADA were not present at the site of the incident. Of the accused, only a few (which included four minors) had been arrested during the attack and they too had been picked up randomly from the pond and from their homes. The other names featured for the first time in the FIR filed by a Sub-Inspector, who had gone with the attacking police contingent. Those persons who had been featured in the FIR, surrendered in the court and no arms had been recovered from their houses. The police also have no seizure list to prove what fire arms were seized at the time.

At the time of the incident, TADA was being imposed by police station officers even without the approval of higher officials like DIG. The entire line up of witnesses for the prosecution included only police officials, who had gone to attack the meeting and a few police informers, who themselves had been armed.

The case was going on in the Jehanabad Session Court, where the Session Judge is the designated TADA judge and the accused had been appearing on the given dates. The charges of the police had several loopholes but the violation of the rights of those arrested continued for several years. For instance, the police had arrested one Vakil Ram and had claimed that the incident had occurred in his house. After spending 15 years in jail as an undertrial it was established that the house did not belong to him. Three persons died waiting for the judgement. Most of the accused spent more than a year in jail, including the minors before they could get bail but the case dragged on. In August 2003, the Judge at the TADA court announced that those charged were to be convicted and instructed the accused to be taken into custody. The sentence of life imprisonment soon followed. On 2, April, 2004, a two judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the TADA court’s judgment.

The cases filed under TADA have been withdrawn in several states, including many in Jehanabad and Arwal. However, it continues to be invoked in cases, where political vengeance is sought. The Bhadasi case is an example, where the recognized patrons of Ranveer Sena like Akhilesh Singh of the RJD pressurized the government not to withdraw TADA and pushed ahead with the prosecution. This is even as the private armies of the landlords have been given a free reign in massacring the poor and murdering activists and supporters of IPF and CPI(ML).

The gaps in the case and the serious implications:

Laying a path for violation of Human rights and Democratic rights

For justice to the Arwal TADA victims we demand that

1. The Bihar government withdraw the cases filed against the Arwal 14 under TADA, and appeal to the Governor of Bihar to intervene to free the prisoners.

2. The Law ministry withdraw all cases of TADA that have been filed so far.

For preventing further travesty of justice at the hands of black laws, we demand that

1. The parliament repeals POTA.

2. The Law Ministry withdraw all cases filed under POTA.

3. The union government ensure that all those incarcerated and already tried under POTA be freed and cases filed against them under the black law be withdrawn.

Profile of the Arwal 14, sentenced under TADA

Most of the TADA victims have been in public life, both prior to the incident and after it, as leaders and supporters of CPI (ML) Liberation and IPF, in agitations against police highhandedness and feudal terror of the landlords, while the rest have been innocent citizens or bystanders.

Shah Chand, 60 years, is the main accused in the case. He comes from a reputed and educated Muslim family of Bhadasi village, Arwal. Inspired by communist ideas, he entered public life and was elected to the post of Mukhiya, Bhadasi village, for the first time in 1978. Subsequently he has held several elected posts. In 1982, he was the member of the Jehanabad-Arwal peace committee. In 1994, he was elected to be the first secretary of the Inquilabi Muslim Conference. In 2002, he was appointed as a member of the Jehanabad-Arwal wakf board. Mukhiyaji as he is known, is a very popular leader in the area and has been commended for exceptional developmental work by the district administration for cost-effective canal building, literacy programmes and health campaigns. In 2000 he contested the Arwal Assembly seat but lost by a narrow margin of 2100 votes, following massive rigging by Akhilesh Singh, the RJD candidate and local patron of the Ranveer Sena, who went on to become the State Health Minister.

Tribhuvan Sharma, 40 years has been associated with the IPF and CPI(ML) after finishing his school and became actively involved from 1986. He was in prison for 17 months after the Bhadasi incident and took up full-time political work from 1989. There is no other case against him other than that of Bhadasi.

Madan Singh , 48 years, joined the army after Class 9 in 1971. He remained in the army and in 2001 he was promoted to subedar. He had come home on 10-day leave and was going to buy cement when the police arrested him and implicated him in the Bhadasi case. There is no other case against him.

Mahgu Chaudhary, 70 years, had been involved in the traditional caste occupation of growing the vegetable ‘singhara’ and tapping toddy from palm trees and selling it. He has been suffering from stroke-induced paralysis for the last two years.

Asim Chaudhary, 30 years, apart from practicing the traditional caste occupation of growing ‘singhara’ and tapping toddy, had been engaged in agricultural labour. He was a child of 14 years at the time of the incident.

Sohrai Chaudhary, 70 years, had been working as an agricultural labourer, apart from practicing the traditional caste occupation of growing ‘singhara’ and tapping toddy.

Baleshwar Chaudhary, 65 years, had been working as an agricultural labourer, apart from practicing the traditional caste occupation of growing ‘singhara’ and tapping toddy.

Churaman Bhagat, 65 years, is a small peasant and had been practicing agriculture. Since 1984, he has been actively involved in IPF and CPI(ML) work at the panchayat level.

Lachman Sau, 65 years, is a landless peasant and runs a petty village shop.

MadhoChaudhary, 40 years, had been working as an agricultural labourer apart from practicing the traditional caste occupation of growing ‘singhara’ and tapping toddy. There is no other case against him.

Shyam Chaudhary, 35 years, is a landless peasant and was engaged mainly in tapping toddy. He also made clay statues of gods and goddesses for sale during festivals. He was one of those “captured” by the police. He was harvesting Singhara from the pond, when the police dragged him out of the water. There is no other case against him.

Arun Kumar Bharati, 43 years, is a trained lawyer and a homeopathic practioner. He had been engaged in public activities and social work since 1985 and had been an activist of the IPF. He has been at the forefront of literacy activities in Arwal district for which he has also been commended by National Literacy Mission. In 1987 he had set up a brick kiln along with his father to earn a livelihood. The police tried extorting money from him as was the practise, but being in public life from student days he refused, upon which the police included his name in a case filed in Bhadasi, Arwal(193/88). His association with the IPF was the only reason for his being implicated in the TADA case; he was arrested from his house. No other case exists against him apart from these two.

Ajit Kumar, 29 years, had been working as an agricultural labourer. He was a child of 13 at the time and studying in Class IX. As it was a Sunday, on the day of the incident, he had gone home to Bhadasi. He was standing at the door of his house to see the police, when they “captured” him. He was kept in the Gaya jail with other juvenile undertrials, a fact still available with the officials. Yet he was tried in the TADA court as an adult.

Dr. Jagdish Yadav, 45 years, became associated with IPF in 1981 as a medical student of BH Medical College, Patna. He was a full time activist from 1985-1995 and subsequently became a part time activist of CPI(ML). He had been kept in jail for a year after the Bhadasi case. From 1996, he had been practicing homeopathy. His work with literacy mission has been highly commended by the district administration. There are no other cases against him, other than that of Bhadasi.

Justice for the Jahanabad-Arwal TADA Victims!

Release all those arrested under TADA and POTA!

Stop Violating Human Rights In the Name of Fighting Terrorism!

TADA, POTA and other such black laws are a blot on our democracy. The Jahanabad-Arwal TADA victims have been refused justice by even the highest court in the land. It will require a massive citizens’ effort to continue the struggle for their justice, which is also a struggle for the spirit of our democracy. We appeal to you to join this struggle wholeheartedly, and to join hands with others fighting similar violations and injustices, in order to wipe out the likes of TADA and POTA, not only from the statute books, but from practice.

Fourteen TADA Victims Appeal in the People’s Court

Hang us or Keep us Chained,

Struggle of the Poor Will Continue!

The RJD Government has conspired to keep us behind the bars under TADA Act, branding us as “terrorist”. The Supreme Court Bench has also put its seal on the RJD Government’s conspiracy and maintained the life imprisonment. This decision has put a question mark over the “impartiality” of the Supreme Court. In history, the ruling class has always meted out the same treatment with the fighters of democracy and freedom. Bhagat Singh was painted as a terrorist and was hanged. Nelson Mandela was also termed as a terrorist and kept behind the bars for 27 years. However, history is also witness to the fact that no barbaric acts of the ruling class could suppress the struggle for freedom and democracy. Ultimately it is the people who have been the winners and all the repressive rulers have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Starting from the Arwal massacre of 1986, to the massacres perpetrated in Bathe, Bathani and Miyanpur, and the killing of Comrade Manju, to the recent decision of the Supreme Court, the ruling class has always tried its full to suppress the voice of the poor. In their eyes, the killers of Bathe, Bathani and Miyanpur are not terrorists. In their eyes, those who destroyed Babri Masjid or perpetrated largescale killings in Gujarat, breaking the peace and unity of the country, are not terrorist. But we, who oppose these acts, are “war criminals of peacetime!”

Friends, we have fought for the people and till the end of our life we will remain with the people. Prison or the gallows cannot deter us from our path. However, the poor and the defenders of democracy must stand against this injustice.

People’s Court is far above the Supreme Court. It is the people’s court that has the right to pronounce the ultimate judgment. We appeal you to defeat the supporters of TADA and POTA and avenge the injustice inflicted upon the poor of the country.

We are the 14 leaders and activists of CPI(ML) Liberation, incarcerated in Jahanabad Jail, convicted to life imprisonment under TADA Act.

Signatures: 1.Shah Chand, 2. Tribhuvan Sharma, 3. Churaman Bhagat, 4. Arun Bharati, 5. Jagdish Yadav, 6. Madan Singh, 7. Ajit Kumar, 8. Lachman Sau, 9. Madho Chaudhary, 10. Sohrai Chaudhary, 11. Asim chaudhary

Thumb impressions:12. Baleshwar Chaudhary, 13. Mahgu Chaudhary, 14. Shyam Chaudhary.