From Segregation to Labour, Manu’s Caste Law Governs the Indian Prison System | Sukanya Shantha

Editor’s Note: This article has been reposted with permission from the writer, Sukanya Shantha & The Wire, with illustrations by Pariplab Chakrabarty. It is also available in Hindi, Marathi, Urdu, Tamil, and Malayalam. This article, part of the series ‘Barred–The Prisons Project’, is produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

On his first day at the Alwar district prison, Ajay Kumar* was gearing up for the worst. Torture, stale food, biting cold and harsh labour – Bollywood had already acquainted him with the grisly realities of jails. “Gunah batao (Tell me your crime),” a police constable, placed at the undertrial (UT) section, asked him as soon as he was escorted inside a tall iron gateway.

Ajay had barely mumbled something, when the constable snapped, “Kaun jaati (Which caste)?” Unsure, Ajay paused and then hesitantly said, “Rajak”. The constable was not pleased with the response. He further inquired, “Biradari batao (Tell me the caste category). An inconsequential part of his life so far, Ajay’s caste identity, as part of a “Scheduled Caste”, was now to shape his 97-day stay in the prison.

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Pandemic Policing in Madhya Pradesh | Podcast

A conversation with Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project (CPAProject) on their 2020 report, “Countermapping Pandemic Policing: A Study of Sanctioned Violence in Madhya Pradesh” & on what motivates their intervention in the criminal justice system, the everyday policing of certain groups (like denotified tribal communites) and the over-reliance on criminal law to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

You can read the full transcript with accompanying audio here.

The CPAProject is a grassroots litigation-research intervention based in Bhopal that particularly focuses on accountability against the criminalisation of marginalised communities across the state of Madhya Pradesh.


जेल: जहां सत्ता एकदम नंगी है | मनीष आज़ाद

तुम अकेले हो,

और कमरा भी बंद है,

कमरे में कोई आईना भी नहीं है,

अब तो अपना चेहरा उतार दो

बहुत पहले जावेद अख्तर के मुहं से ये पंक्तियाँ सुनी थी। जेल जाने के बाद ये पंक्तियाँ अक्सर मेरे दिमाग में गूंजती रहती थी। मजेदार बात ये है की जेल में सच में कोई आईना नहीं होता। पता नहीं ये पंक्तियाँ किस संदर्भ में लिखी गयी होंगी। लेकिन जेल के विशालकाय बंद दरवाजे के पीछे राज्य सत्ता यहाँ बिना किसी मुखौटे या आवरण के पूरा का पूरा मुझे नंगा नज़र आया। दरअसल यहाँ किसी आवरण की जरूरत भी नहीं है. क्योकि यहाँ किसी की निगरानी नहीं है।

सरकार या राज सत्ता द्वारा किये जाने वाले जिस भी अपराध को आप समाज में दबे छुपे रूप में देखते है, आपको उसका एकदम नंगा रूप यहाँ जेल में दिखाई देगा, चाहे वह भ्रष्टाचार हो या क्रूर दमन। कभी कभी लगता है की जेल बनाने का एक बड़ा कारण शायद ये रहा होगा की यहाँ सत्ता अपने स्वाभाविक यानि नंगे रूप में बिना किसी आवरण के थोडा आराम फरमा सके।  

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Short Releases, Long Sentences | Sahana Manjesh

Raju, a daily wage labourer was incarcerated at the age of 20 in the year 2000. He left behind two sisters and middle-aged parents. If Raju was to step out of prison for the first time now in 2020, the pandemic might be the last thing to bewilder him. In the time that he has been behind bars, his parents have passed away and he was not even able to attend their funerals. The house that belonged to his parents has since then been captured and sold off by encroachers. He was not around to contest the sale. His sisters have married in the meanwhile. His sisters’ husbands were not informed about his existence. In any case he no longer knows where they live. Raju worked on a handloom machine while in prison to earn some money, but those skills are not of much use in the real world. All his friends have grown up and moved to cities for work. 

How can he re-start his life outside prison? What real chance does he have at making a meaningful life?

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Declared Criminal: Denotified Tribes, Police and Prisons – Twitter Curations

In November 2019, we hosted guest curators on our Twitter to explore the colonial roots, legacy & current issues regarding legislation that declared socially marginalized & nomadic communities as ‘criminals’: Criminal Tribes Act (CTA). Each of the curators took up the detsolnet handle for a week to explain several aspects of CTA.