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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Book review: Colours of the Cage; A Prison Memoir

A human rights activist writes about the five years he spent in the Nagpur Central Jail on false charges of being a Maoist.

Updated: September 8, 2014 3:22:23 pm

By: Arun Ferreira

Book: Colours of the Cage; A Prison Memoir
Author: Arun Ferreira
Publisher: Aleph
Price: Rs 295

It was a typical hot Nagpur summer afternoon [May, 2007] when I was arrested at the railway station. I was waiting to meet some social activists when around fifteen men surrounded me. Some of them bundled me into a car which drove away at high speed. I was kicked and punched by them all the while. After five minutes, the car halted and I was carried to a room on the first floor of a building, which my abductors later told me was the Nagpur Gymkhana. From their conversations, it became evident that I had been detained by the Anti-Naxal Cell of the Nagpur police. They tied my hands with my belt and I was blindfolded, so that the officials involved in this operation would remain unidentified.

‘Maar dalo saale ko. Encounter mein usse khatam karo’, they yelled, threatening to kill me in an ‘encounter’, or an extra-judicial execution, a bluff people routinely use to scare people they’ve detained.
….Through the day, I was flogged with belts, kicked and slapped, as they attempted to soften me up for the interrogations that were to follow…

…I was afraid they’d kill me. Thus far, there was nothing official about my detention. They hadn’t shown me a warrant, nor had I been taken to a police station. I feared that the police could murder me and pretend that I’d been killed in an encounter. I’d read about many situations in which the police claimed to have had no option but to open fire when suspects they were attempting to arrest had resisted. I knew that the National Human Rights Commission had noted thirty-one cases of fake encounter killings in Maharashtra alone in the previous five years. The physical torture, though painful, was relatively tame compared to this prospect.

At midnight, eleven hours after I had been detained, I was taken to a police station and informed that I had been arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004, which is applied to people the state brands as terrorists. I spent that night in a damp cell in the station house. My bedding was a foul-smelling black blanket…A hole in the ground served as a urinal…I was finally served a meal: dal, rotis and abuse.

…Within a few hours, I was woken up for another round of questioning. The officers appeared polite at first but quickly resorted to blows in an attempt to encourage me to provide the answers they were looking for. They wanted me to disclose the location of a cache of arms and explosives or information about my supposed links with Maoists. To make me more amenable to their demands, they stretched out my body completely, using an updated version of the medeival torture technique of drawing (though there was no quartering). My arms were tied to a window grille high above the ground while two policemen stood on my outsretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor. This was calculated to cause maximum pain without leaving visible injuries. Despite these precautions, my ears started to bleed and my jaws began to swell.

In the evening I was forced to squat on the floor with a black hood over my head as a posse of officers posed behind me for press photographs. The next day, I would later learn, these images made the front pages of newspapers around the country. The press was told that I was the chief of communications and propaganda of the Maoist Party.

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