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Revisiting Political Prisoners Question: Building the United Struggle Against Fascism

Judiciary is dubbed as one of the 4 pillars of democracy. When all hope is lost, we are told to put faith in the judiciary’s ability to deliver the right democratic justice. I remember the words of Justice Krishna Iyer, “If every saint has a past, every sinner has a future, and it is the role of law to remind both of this.” Iyer is attempting to focus on the transformative nature of humans, where everyone has the potential to improve their strength and understanding in order to improve their life- an equitable social order is imagined. However, in the present, the attack on the notion of dissent is normalized by the ruling class, with the imaginations of such an equitable law lost in speeches and grand rhetoric.

On November 8, 2021, a tribunal framed charges against journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol (Bangladesh) for circulating “objectionable” information about ruling party leaders. In a similar way, journalist Shamsuzzaman Shams was abducted by the police on March 29th, a few days after he had written a report on hunger, in Savar, Bangladesh. Sri Lankan government authorities detained three student activists, who participated in an August 18, 2022 demonstration, under the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows up to a year’s detention without trial. In Myanmar, since the Junta government rule, the government has suspended privacy law, right against arbitrary detention, and amended the Code of Criminal Procedure to make the new and revised offenses non-bailable and subject to warrantless arrest.

In India, the minority oppressed religions are being targeted by the Brahmanical Hindutva fascist state, especially the Muslim population. Fahad Shah, founding editor of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested by the Kashmiri police. Interestingly, when the Kashmiri police summoned Fahad Shah, it was just a normal investigation regarding his 2020 reports related to the raids of the nearby areas, which were published on The Kashmir Walla. Soon after, the police accused him as a member of a group who is spreading “anti-national” Facebook posts on social media. Siddiqui Kappan was arrested by the UP police when he was travelling to cover the Hathras rape case as a journalist. In 2022, Rupesh Kumar Singh, an independent journalist working in Jharkhand, was arrested by the Indian state under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, under the allegation that he supported the Maoists.

Journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh, defiant amid his arrest

We can see a clear relation between the rising crisis of imperial capital, the intensifying attack on minorities, rising chauvinism, strangulation of real national liberation struggles and outright dispossession of peoples’ lands, waters and forests. The case of Afzal Guru was the turning point when, for the first time, the Supreme Court accepted the mandate that to satisfy the “popular consciousness of the masses”, capital punishment is a justified verdict even with lack of concrete evidence against the likes of Afzal Guru. We have previously discussed the concept of “prisoners of conscience” in our article ‘Lessons From Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s For Us’. To understand the changing trends and trajectory of political prisoners, we must also consider the case of Mazdoor Adhikar Sanghathan activist Shiv Kumar. The police meted out caste violence in their subjugation of Kumar as a labour activist. In ‘Majdoori: Third Degree’, Shiv mentions, “when they were inflicting torture against me, their brahmanical morality reflected everytime when they said ‘Chamar hokar neta banega? Saale teri netagiri nikalta hun!’” (You want to be a leader while coming from the chamar community? We put you in your place!)

Certainly, it is a well-accepted definition all around the world that the accused who are facing charges with no personal interest, profit or gratification but are charged for serving a larger, collective objective, would be considered as a political prisoner. Interestingly, nowadays, there is a shift in the trends of framing charges in India and largely within south Asia that, “mere suspicion” has become a sufficient ground to put a person behind the bars under UAPA, National Security Act (NSA) or some other draconian laws. “Mere suspicion” in itself is not a crime. Without any act, no person can be accused of crime under criminal jurisprudence because actus reus is the most essential aspect to determine whether a crime has been committed by a person .

The government and other apparatus of the state machinery tries to blur the difference between criminal and political prisoners. Media trials of political prisoners try to convert public opinion against them. In 2002, in a BBC interview, Narendra Modi said, “I did not do anything wrong. I managed everything in a very appropriate manner but I missed managing the media.” This statement has a historic significance in the present when every big media house is being purchased by big corporations and is being run in a centralized manner. Before attacking any activist or person, the government already operates with a plan for a media broadcast to malign the image of the activist as a criminal. Through popular mass conception, they try to cut off the masses from understanding the political position of the person, and the government gains all the sympathy of the masses in under the garb of cleaning up crime from this country.

Types of Political Prisoners in India

I often see social media posts of my friends regarding political prisoners. It gives me great relief to see that people are really concerned about those who sacrificed their life for the sake of the society. India is the prison-house of the oppressed and exploited. Adivasi people who are resisting the forceful annexation of their land are rapidly being tagged as “Maoist.” Similarly, Muslims, who are being targeted globally to justify the war against terror, in India are being continuously butchered by Hindutva forces to achieve their fascist goal. Since time immemorial, Dalits have been targeted because of the Brahmanical nature of the society which is strictly based upon caste supremacy and pollution.

Siddiqui Kappan dragged back from the Court after a hearing

After 2019, the ongoing atrocities against Kashmiris have become an everyday affair, even though, activists and common people in Kashmir have been targeted since the 1990s. In a similar way, other nationalities are also being targeted by the Indian state very frequently. In Punjab, in the recent episode of Amritpal Singh’s arrest, more than 300 people have already been arrested. Many of them were arrested on the grounds of mere suspicion.

Identitarianism and the Question of Political Prisoners

After 1980s, there is sharp trend of rising identitarian politics recognised all over the world. This phenomenon has impacted the Indian space too. Almost every oppressed identity’s struggles have become dominated by middle class (petty-bourgeoisie) leaders. After 2000, there was an upsurge of post-modernism in the university circle of youths. This new generation was easily co-opted under the narrative of postmodernism, which actually cut further sections already divided on the caste-class lines. This sectarian aspiration is not a good strategy against fascism.

In the question of political prisoners, new trends influenced by post-modernist thought are emerging. Disha Wadekar, one of the persons coming from this trend, has raised the Dalit-bahujan political prisoners question through legal reform. She has strongly questioned the indiscriminate arresting of who the state calls “denotified criminal tribes,” the arrest of people under anti-vagrancy laws and the intentional targeting of traditional dwellers of forest. Along with broadening the question of political prisoners, she also targeted the Brahmanical nature of political structure. But instead of questioning the state as a structure, as a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, she targeted the overall #ReleaseAllPoliticalPrisoners movement. The oppressive political reflection and arbitrary arrests of people are the broader manifestation of a larger Brahmanical Hindutva Fascist state; but Wadekar selectively targets only those questions which are coming from the already established legal framework. In the same place, she has sidelined the questions of the thousands of Adivasi people who are targeted in the name of being “Naxal.” In a similar fashion, the question of the working class and the atrocities on them through the larger imperialist-brahmanical framework is also being sidelined by her. She is also running a structure named CEDE (Community for Eradication of Discrimination in Education and Employment), which argues that wealth is not enough to counter oppression but ceding one’s “social capital” by way of creating a network for oppressed caste lawyers within state bureaucracy is the solution to lack of diversity within the bureaucracy. Instead of questioning the broader imperial-Brahmanical education system, which is based upon discrimination, the purpose of this project is to strengthen the class-based hierarchy and ensure the creation of more Dalits as participants in the crimes against the masses that the Indian state practices.

This trend uses the understanding of the political prisoner question that developed in the New Afrikan struggle in the USA, a Marxist understanding of the prisons, and super-imposes it to de-legitimize the entire movement on political prisoners. Disha, in one of her tweets, de-legitimizes the overall political prisoners movement by only mentioning Hindutva fascist V.D. Savarkar and comprador politician M.K. Gandhi as examples of who the category of political prisoners is used for, arguing that all prisoners are political prisoners. In her interview with, when talking about the Bhima Koregaon incidence, she only talked about the Dalit prisoners who were targeted after Shaniwar Wada incidence. She was unable to grasp the nature of the Bhima Koregaon program which gathered all the oppressed  and exploited on one stage against Brahmanical Hindutva Fascism. Dalit population has been celebrating this day consistently since time immemorial. But the targeted attack happened only in 2018-why? Delinking this from the overall political situation is a problematic and limited way to understand the nature of state collectively. This sheer generalization of all prisoners is also coming from the very postmodernist framework where the prison system is formulated as a oppressive power structure, without questioning the nature of state and the overall contradiction that drives it. But our main concern is that no question is coming towards developing a larger movement against the arbitrary state structure. While the questions that persons like Wadekar raise are important and her argument regarding the nature of prisons as inherently political is not wrong, the sectarian approach and post-modernist negation of the difference between the political prisoners and rest of prison population is highly problematic in building a fight against fascism.

The overall perspective of this bourgeoisie-apologist approach towards the political prisoner question is not going to solve this problem. Instead of developing a large movement on the question of political prisoners, Wadekar’s framework is just questioning the current movement through a very narrow perspective which is not tackling the entirety of the caste question too. It is unquestionable that these questions which have been raised by Disha must be taken with all due seriousness, but we must appeal for the larger unity for the should be the major focus to advance the movement in the correct direction.

We have to understand the dialectical relation between struggle and unity. In the political prisoners’ questions we need to focus on the collective struggle of the oppressed and exploited of this country and should propagate the necessity of the revolutionary spirit to get over this reactionary system. Unity must be built on the basis of struggle. The most real and objective realization of reality can be experienced in the collective struggle. When the contradiction of the fascist state is getting sharp in India, we have to concentrate all the forces to hit on the weakest link of this imperial capital and its comprador nexus.

Bari Pidikaka, Dongria activist who died in police custody

Anti- imperialism and the Question of Political Prisoners

We are living in the age of the contradiction between imperialism and oppressed nations. We are living with the contradiction of imperialism and cheap labour from the oppressed and exploited nations. Yet, we are riddled with confusion between the national and comprador nature of the ruling class. A defender of exploited Adivasis against the loot of imperial finance capital, G.N. Saibaba clearly understood that this loot came in the form of mining, road infrastructure, big dam projects, etc. When Sai got arrested, he was also raising the questions of Adivasi political prisoners. Consciously, he was trying to build a consciousness against the imperial loot in the form of the fascist militia Salwa Judum (during congress time) and Operation Green Hunt. Similarly, Anand Teltumbde was trying to expose the relation of big landlords with imperialist forces. Hany Babu (Delhi University English Professor), who was targeted in Bhima Koregaon case, was the member of Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners. CRPP has a history of seeing the question of political prisoners in totality of the contradictions that riddle Indian society.

We see a trend nowadays that the oppressed and exploited are also being divided on the demand of political prisoners. Most of the left parties were silent on the ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) because the Indian state declared them “terrorist.” Others posited half-hearted resistance, as was visible in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) response which did not uphold the ban, arguing that bans against the likes of PFI and the Maoists “have not been effective” in curbing their political activities. CPM only differed with the state on the tactic, not on its dubbing of PFI as an “extremist, terrorist” organization, instead even equating PFI with the Brahmanical Hindutva fascist RSS.

All progressive forces were mocked when the Indian state seized the entirety of Punjab in the name of curbing the Khalistan threat. Indian state held the entire state of Punjab hostage, taking more than 300 people as prisoners under suspicion of backing the Khalistani movement. Thousands of adivasi political prisoners are confined behind the bars in a similar fashion but we are silent, because they are all called Maoist by the Indian state. Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti members extended their solidarity to the Tuticorin struggling people who faced brutal targeted killing by the Indian state in their protest against the imperialist Sterlite Copper factory. We don’t have any data about how many Manipuri and Naga people are being prisoned for their national liberation struggle either. The future is not far when the recently-protesting peoples in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh against imperialist development will also be targeted by the Indian state.


If we correlate these dots, we will find the actual nature of Brahmanical Hindutva Fascism. Why did the previous generation of activists get picked apart so easily by the state? Because the Indian state has already tested that these oppressed sections are divided and they are unable to develop a collective struggle against them. Our divided struggle is their victory. We must never forget that the violence at Bhima Koregaon and the subsequent arrests of activists was planned and executed by the Brahmanical Hindutva fascist forces. The Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad was the challenging force developing against the Indian state. Revolutionary, Dalit, Adivasi, oppressed religious minorities all were there on one united platform and that was the real threat for Hindutva. If we are to accept the story of the Indian state that Elgar Parishad was organized by the Maoist forces, then we should go ahead and give a look at their understanding of the Indian political situation and nature of the United Front (UF) too.

by Nishant Anand, student of law, University of Delhi

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