Their lives are shattered. These people are trying quietly to weave back the strands brutally sliced to shreds by a McCarthyist State that invokes draconian laws against anyone who tries to live according to their conscience or think out loud or read ideas talking of a society “where the mind is without fear and head is held high.”
The cases of atrocities by the State on such people in hinterlands continues to pile up on courtroom shelves; and the victims silently and helplessly watch their dreams of a better life slipping away in the dark of prison cells. A case in point: Baba Saymote and Shabbir Masiullah.
For carrying books by Ambedkar
October 2007: The autumnal wind outside the Nagpur-bound train window was hot and fragile as a breath on a mirror. Four persons sitting in a reserved compartment were deep in discussions, talking about literature; the foursome were on their way to Diksha Bhoomi where every year thousands of Dalits gather to commemorate Dr Ambedkar’s embracing Buddhism.
The quartet wanted to put up a stall for selling books on Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar, Maxim Gorky and other great writers.
As the train entered the platform of Ajni railway station, a posse of plain-clothes policemen entered the compartment, checked their baggage and took them to Wardha where Nagpur Railway Police headquarter is located.
At the police station, Anil Mamane (printer-publisher), Dinkar Kamble (student), Babasaheb Saymote and Bapu Patil - were pushed into a maze where the signboards could be deciphered only by those who know the semantics of law. Talking to Deccan Herald from Sangli, Saymote says : “Till date I have not understood whether law is really for people.”
A post-graduate in commerce, Saymote, who recently cleared his National Entrance Test (NET), reminiscing the ordeal said: “They had put each of us in separate cells the first day, questioning us. Trying to make us admit to whatever they wanted us to say. And it is only the next evening that we were allowed to call our homes. By that time they had already announced to the media world; four Naxalites nabbed. After that the police slapped Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on us.. After all we were carrying books written by the father of Indian Constitution.”
The saving grace, according to Saymote was that in Nagpur Central Jail where they were all thrown, several other prisoners of conscience were quite supportive and even sat on a hunger strike as a mark of protest; and moreover in Nagpur, several human rights groups and social activists also pitched in.
But the release was not easy; their petitions went from one court to another, till in March 2008 the court finally accepted their lawyer’s plea that the books they were carrying were not on the banned list.
“At present I am involved with Gramin Dak Sevak Postal Employees Co-operative. I am awaiting acquittal and probably I may then enrol myself for law.
His case had captured the media attention. Shabbir Masiullah, a small time shopkeeper running a battery inverter shop in Malegaon continues to be flummoxed as to why the police zeroed down on him and charged him with serious sections.
Masiullah was picked up in 2006 from Malegaon. He was 34-years-old and after being illegally detained in a room where he spent an entire night blindfold, he was produced before the court after four days for custody. “To get a custody in the name of national security and tackling terror is one of the easiest things in the world,” he says.
“Initially, they mentally tortured me. Bombarding me with leading questions. Not allowing me to sleep. And then after some days I was told that I was being booked in some blast case. And to my shock, even though I was behind the bars, they slapped me for planning and planting explosives in Malegaon. I saw the blasts and my name being mentioned on television screen in jail. And then the ordeal started. They tried to bribe me and when that did not work they subjected me to third degree torture. They tried to fix me in some case in Nashik also. Narco test was administered to me. It turned out negative. Then again they tried to pin Mumbai train blasts on me and shifted me to Byculla jail. The worst is that an unthinking media goes tom-tomming at the behest of police.”
But five and a half years of incarceration could not break his will. The police had offered him a carrot: “Keep quiet in front of magistrate and you will be released.”
Masiullah says: “When I stood in front of the magistrate, I told him how I was threatened...made to sign...tortured... and how I was told to keep quiet. Call it providence or luck...Malegaon blasts case was solved and we all came out. I came out to see that my child avoids going to school; possibly other children may be taunting him...after all it is a stigma to be a suspect in a terrorism case...”