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Padma--A Perpetual Prisoner?

Impunity of the Chhattisgarh Police

Varanasi Subrahmanyam, the author of this article, is a political prisoner currently in Visakhapatnam central jail. This article was sent to us by Venugopalrao Nellutla (venugopalraon@yahoo.com).

The tide of police excess and impunity in Chhattisgarh does not seem to end. The tale of Bellala Padma, a political prisoner in Chhattisgarh prisons for the last eight years, reveals what goes behind this miscarriage of justice.  

Bellala Padma, 41, is a political prisoner currently in Jagdalpur jail. For the last eight years she has been in jail as an under-trial prisoner. A political activist right from her school days in Hyderabad, she joined the women’s movement in Andhra Pradesh and was later associated with the Chaitanya Mahila Samakhya (CMS).

She narrated her story of repeated arrests after acquittals by Chhattisgarh police in a letter to the District Legal Service Authority (DLSA), Kanker, Chhattisgarh in the first week of May 2015.

Padma was first arrested by the Chhattisgarh police near Bhilai town on 3 August 2007. After illegally detaining her for 10 days, the police produced her in a court on 13 August.  She was shown as an accused under? Crime No 17/06 of Madded police station of Bijapur district and sent to Jagdalpur central jail. On 10 August 2009, the Dantewada sessions court acquitted her on all charges. She felt happy and hoped to leave for Hyderabad so that she could take care of her 80-year-old widowed mother and ailing sister.

But that did not happen.

Momentary Freedom, Protracted Imprisonment

Immediately after the judgment, the Chhattisgarh police took Padma to various police stations in several districts in their efforts to procure a fresh warrant against her. The police got it the next day, 11 August. They kept her in illegal custody for 36 hours before taking her to Raipur central jail during midnight. Raipur jail officials neither questioned the undue delay in the admission, nor asked the reasons for bringing her to Raipur jail instead of taking her to Jagdalpur jail. Next day, she was “released” from Raipur jail.

However, the police procured a fresh warrant against her on the same day and Padma was sent to the mahila jail (women’s cell) of Raipur central jail, after an hour of “freedom.” The police foisted four more cases on her.

Justice Delayed

The trial process was inordinately delayed. The prisoners were not produced in the courts on the dates of adjournments for several months. When prisoners were produced, witnesses would not turn up. Though the right to speedy trial is recognised as part of the fundamental right to liberty (“It is implicit in the broad sweep and content of Article 21,” Hussainara Khatoon Vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar, AIR (1979) SC1360), “snail’s pace” trials are the rule in Chhattisgarh. To top it all, Padma was shifted to a distant Raipur jail purposely to delay her trials.

After repeated complaints, the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) team visited Jagdalpurjail in April 2012. The problem of non-production of prisoners to courts was solved to some extent thereafter.

Padma was acquitted in all the cases, after five years of her rearrest. The last acquittal was on 18 December 2014. It was just a week after the whole world celebrated the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Confinement Continued

So far Padma had spent eight years in Chhattisgarh prisons as an undertrial. But her tribulations were far from over. After the proceedings at the Jagdalpur sessions court, wherein Padma was acquitted from all the charges, in her “last” case, she was taken to Jagdalpur jail, after which she was “released” from the jail, the next day.

However, almost immediately she was again taken to Kotwali police station. They kept her there till 1 pm and availed this time to “produce” a couple of fresh warrants.

Padma was back to square one. She began her third stint of prison life in Jagdalpur’s women’s barrack. Police piled up four more cases on her. Some trials are running pathetically slow. In some, there is no progress at all.

Subversion of Justice

When Padma was first arrested in August 2007, she was shown as accused under Crime No 17/06 of Madded police station. However the Madded police registered cases against her only when she was out of custody in 2007 in what seems like a deliberate move to keep her behind the bars. All the cases she faced so far, eight in all, could have been brought to light as early as possible after her first arrest.

This delay in filing cases is a violation of a law established by the Supreme Court as early as in 1983. The Supreme Court held in Uday Chand and Other versus Sheik Mohammed Abdulla, Chief Minister of J&K and Others ((1983) 2 SCC 417) that a person cannot rearrested without appraising the court (that makes the release order) that investigation for any other offence was then pending against the accused. In the same case, Supreme Court had held that the rearrest of the four prisoners was illegal.

In what can only be interpreted as a miscarriage of justice, the police have allegedly foisted cases against Padma that bears no connection to her. The accused in these cases in Bijapur and Kanker districts is a certain “Padma”, a name that appears in four criminal cases, but which is not Bellala Padma. That however has not detered the police in implicating Bellala Padma without verifying other details about her age and address that would have provided identifying information, which activists allege have been overlooked by the police.

Padma in her letter, that she wrote to a magistrate, enlisted these discrepancies but received no reply.

The judiciary became a mute spectator to the misuse of power by the police in the whole process. They have failed to curtail the deliberate and devious strategy of rearrests by the police to keep Padma in confinement for eight years.

An Appeal

She put her agony in her letter when she wrote:  “If you are in incarceration beyond a limit, you are sure to end in agony and tension. I am becoming unwell physically and psychologically, because of the unending confinement in the prison. My family too has to live in anxiety. I have an aged mother to care for. My concerns revolve around her. She cannot come to meet me because of financial reasons. Since years, I am longing to hear my dear and near ones. After spending years as an undertrial, and repeatedly being deprived of my freedom every time after each acquittal of the last pending case, by bringing fake warrants, the whole exercise of re-arrests is squashing my human rights resulting in colossal travesty of justice.”

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