The Case of July 1977

 

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

 

India has been witnessing a trend where dissent is being met with charges of sedition. What has been the response of the Indian state towards dissenting individuals. How do we differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate dissent? The following discussion charts an important case which is reflective of the inhuman treatment meted at the hands of the state. 

 

In 1987, Nilanjan Dutta wrote about one such rare case from a decade before. Archana Guha, a school teacher accused of sedition, was picked up by the Calcutta police in July 1977 and was brutally tortured for the two years she was held in custody. Dutta notes how, Once the Emergency was lifted, the Left Front government in West Bengal not only took a long time to compensate Archana for the salary she lost during her imprisonment, but it also failed to arrange for her proper medical treatment.

 

An anonymous reader in their letter, disagrees. In a response to Datta’s piece, they argue that it was the Left Front government that bore Archana’s and her brother’s airfare to Denmark for her medical care. Further, they write that the state government was also willing to set up a medical board for Archana’s treatment.

 

Saumen Guha, Archana’s brother, replies to the EPW reader, writing that the West Bengal government did not offer Archana any medical help until Amnesty International took interest in her case. Besides, the correspondence between Amnesty International and the state government, where it expressed concern over the human rights violations in West Bengal, was never made public.

 

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Torture in Custody, Sumanta Banerjee, 2001
  2. Torture in Colonial India, Anupama Rao, 2001
  3. Torture of Adivasis in Chhattisgarh, Amnesty International, 2010
  4. Defining an Absence: Torture ‘Debate’ in India, Jinee Lokaneeta, 2014
  5. India’s Silent Acceptance of Torture Has Made It a ‘Public Secret’, Baljeet Kaur, 2018
  6. Police Atrocities and the Quest for Justice, Saumya Uma and Vijay Hiremath, 2020

 

Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—“Prison and Torture”

 

Curated by Anandita Chandra [anandita@epw.in]

____

NILANJAN DUTTA, 1987
x

 

TORTURE VICTIMS DIRECTLY BRINGING THEIR TORTURERS ON THE DOCK IS RARE



 

But Archana Guha filed a case against the five policemen who tortured her for two years when she was in custody.



 

Archana Guha, a former school teacher accused of sedition, filed a petition in the court of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Calcutta, on August 20, 1977.


 

 

Archana was asleep at her house on July 17, 1974 along with her mother, her brother’s wife Latika Guha and a friend, Gouri Chatterjee.


 

 

The three young women were whisked away by the police to Lalbazar, the headquarters of the Calcutta police.


 

 

A special cell created to look after ‘naxalite’ activities had already earned notoriety. It included some ‘expert and efficient’ staff Ranjit Guha Neogi, nicknamed Runu, was one of them.


 

 

“In the special cell, one room was used as an office room, another room was used by Runu Guha Neogi and the third room which was the smallest of all the three rooms and which was dark was known as Torture Chamber.”


 

 

In her petition, Archana painfully narrated the ordeal of the three women, day by day.

 

 

“My hands and feet were tied up and I was slung upon a pole as Gouri was also done. My head was down and feet were upwards. Accused Santosh then began to hit the soles of my feet with a club with force. Accused No 1 (Runu) occasionally came inside the Torture Chamber and began to kick me on my hips. Accused No 1 then pressed burning ends of cigars on my elbow and on the soles of my feet and with the burning end of cigars he burnt the nails of my two big toes. The torture continued for a long time and I became semi-unconscious after feeling abnormal cerebral pain.”


 

 

[A] second session of torture Policemen named Santosh, Aditya and some others joined Runu in the torture.


 

 

Runu Guha Neogi then ordered someone called Kamal, fondly described as ‘sone ka hath’ (golden hand), to give Archana a ‘magaj dholai’ (brainwash). After that she was hanged by the hair and beaten by Aditya, Runu and some others until she was foaming from her mouth and fell unconscious. That night she was lodged not in the female lock-up but in a solitary cell.


 

 

During her torture on the next day she was threatened with brutal rape and was hit on the head by a leather strap.


 

 

Her condition deteriorated rapidly. She recalls, in her petition, the aftermath of the cruel torture: “I used to suffer terrible pain in my head and I became almost unconscious very often in the jail.”


 

 

Soon after the Emergency was lifted, Archana filed a case against five policemen, Runu Guha Neogi, Kamal Das, Santosh De, Arun Banerjee and Aditya Karmakar. She had to be brought to court on a stretcher at that time.


 

 

The newly-elected Left Front government in West Bengal took a long time to compensate Archana by paying her the salary which she would have earned during the period of imprisonment. She refused a dole of Rs 100 per month offered to her as a ‘political sufferer.’


 

 

Proper medical treatment was not arranged by the state and she almost lost all hope of getting well. Unexpectedly enough, Archana was adopted by the Amnesty International and taken to the centre for the treatment of torture victims in Denmark.


 

 

These developments inspired Archana more instead of dissuading her. She painstakingly pursued the case which has been dragging on for a decade.


 

 

After the hearing of the original petition the case was committed to a Sessions trial on December 20, 1978, on the basis of prima facie evidences. All the five policemen named in the petition as accused were charged under sections 330/34 (voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession or information), 331/34 (causing grievous hurt), and 348/34 (wrongful confinement to extort confession) of the IPC.


 

 

The accused have moved the high court to obtain stay orders at least three times till now on various grounds, the chief one being the eligibility of Arun Prokash Chatterjee, the then senior standing counsel of the state, to defend Archana.


 

 

Hearing was to be resumed on June 9, 1987. But there was no magistrate at the court. So it was resumed on July 17. The date was significant for Archana and her companions, for they had been arrested on the same date 13 years ago.


 

 

The lawyer for the accused has, meanwhile, produced death-certificates of Arun Banerjee and Aditya Karmakar. Accused No 2, Kamal, has been ‘absconding’ from the very beginning. The police failed to trace him in spite of the fact that his whereabouts had been found out and submitted before the court long ago. And strangely enough, he is understood to have never been an employee of the police department but a casual torturer recruited by them!


 

 

Arun Prokash Chatterjee, Archana's lawyer and an active member of the CPI(M) had requested the CM personally to suspend the police officer. All these went unheeded.


 

 

Even the Haratosh Chakraborty Commission appointed in 1977 to look into the allegations of police excesses during the previous government was shelved after it made scathing remarks against some of these police officers in its interim report. This was a gross violation of the CPI(M) Central Committee resolution adopted during March 26-27, 1987.


 

 

Arun Prokash Chatterjee, who has been involved throughout in the case as counsel, has come to the opinion that an amendment of the Evidence Act, shifting the onus of proof to the accused, backed by public consciousness, is necessary for effective redressal of such cases. It is hightime that the matter be taken up on an urgent basis.

 

Click here to read the article.

 
A READER, 1987
x

GUHA’S CASE IS BEING REVIEWED BECAUSE HER CPI(M) LAWYER FEELS STRONGLY ABOUT IT



 

As nearly 3,000 school teachers had been imprisoned under Congress rule, Archana Guha’s case could not be treated in isolation.



 

As has now become standard with such writings, the Left Front government of West Bengal is the villain of the piece. Nowhere is it mentioned that the air ticket for Archana Guha’s travel to Europe was borne by the state government, who also arranged for a general allowance to supplement her medical expenses in Denmark.



 

 

Nor is there a reference to the fact that the West Bengal government had set up—or was willing to set up—a special medical board for her treatment, but she chose to travel to Europe. The state government also arranged for the full travel expenses of an escort and Archana Guha’s brother travelled as the escort. 



 

 

With Archana Guha away, none here thought she was interested in pursuing the case. Now it has been revived because presumably she has come on a vacation and her CPl(M) lawyer feels strongly about it. 


 

 

There were nearly 3,000 school teachers who had been either imprisoned or hounded out of their neighbourhood during the years of Congress terror. Archana Guha’s case could not be treated in isolation. A general cabinet decision on all the cases was necessary. But it was finally done.


 

 

Each of the facts stated above can be verified from the International Department of Amnesty International. 

 

Click here to read the article.

 
SAUMEN GUHA, 1988
x

IN PRINCIPLE, THE GOVERNMENT NEVER HELPS ANY TORTURE VICTIM TO RECOVER



 

It is contemptible to suggest that Archana has been trying to fool the media and human rights organisations for 10 years.



 

Firstly, Archana was never offered any medical help by the West Bengal government until Amnesty International began correspondence on this matter, and the then government refused to arrange the medical treatment for Archana in Calcutta as recommended by her doctor.


 

 

Then only Amnesty assumed responsibility for her medical treatment as a trial case. (Archana was the First patient in the world to be treated by Amnesty).


 

 

The whole history is well-documented, and I was personally concerned with all the contacts and correspondence regarding my elder sister Archana’s case and medical treatment.


 

 

So, it is very clear that in principle, the government never helps any torture victim to recover unless there develops a situation when it may be reviled nationally and internationally. ‘A reader’ either does not know the entire history, or he/she is fabricating the information.


 

 

Secondly, in no case, including that of Archana, have torturers been suspended, even when the fact of torture is known internationally.


 

 

Amnesty International wrote many letters (for instance, it sent to the West Bengal government an aide-memoire recalling its Report of the Mission of India 1978) expressing serious concern about the violation of human rights (specially torture and deaths in police lock-ups) in West Bengal.


 

 

But the government has never made the correspondence public, nor even put it before the assembly for open discussion.


 

 

Finally, I totally reject the charge that Archana is not interested in her case against torturers and believe that the concerned reader moves in circles wholly unconnected with her, if s/he claims that “none thought” she was interested.


 

 

For the last ten years, Archana has come to Calcutta every year only for this case, and the case moved to the Supreme Court once, the high court thrice, the sessions court once, the magistrate's court twice in these ten years. All these shifts were due to the petitions/appeals of the torturers who tried hard to avoid trial.


 

 

Archana cannot fool everyone—the international and national TV, the radio, press and human rights organisations—for all the time (ie, for the last ten years) and it is contemptible to suggest that that is what she has been trying to do.

 

Click here to read the article.