Gurpreet Singh: Activist's prison memoir exposes the underbelly of the world’s so-called largest democracy

Kobad Ghandy paid a high price after giving up his privileged life to work for the poor and oppressed

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      After spending about a decade in jails, Kobad Ghandy has penned his experiences to showcase inhuman conditions under which political dissidents are being incarcerated in India.   

      Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir isn’t just his story, but a commentary on jailed scholars and activists who continue to face brutality from the state for merely questioning its power.  

      Ghandy, 74, gave up his privileged life to serve the poor and oppressed. For that, he was arrested and forced to spend years in different jails under trumped-up charges. His only fault was that he was trying to mobilize people to fight back against unjust system.  

      As a young man, Ghandy went to London for studies but chose to return to India and work toward uplifting the marginalized. That was because he was so deeply moved by the social inequality in his home country.

      His life as an activist began in Maharashtra where he worked among Dalits (the so-called untouchables). He and his wife, the late Anuradha, dedicated themselves to this cause. The memoir, which is available on Amazon, gives a passionate account of that part of their lives.  

      Ghandy was first arrested after being branded as a Maoist ideologue in 2009, 18 months after Anuradha passed away. He was abducted by police at the age of 62 from New Delhi where he had gone for medical treatment for multiple ailments.

      Thereafter, he was booked under series of charges and was moved around to different jails across the country until he won freedom through the courts in 2017.  

      Ghandy's memoir gives insight into how jails and draconian laws are used to break the will of political activists, who continue to face arrest under the current right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP regime. It also tells how Muslims and other minority communities, in addition to oppressed classes, are overrepresented in the justice system.

      This stands in sharp contrast to the legitimacy enjoyed by Hindu supremacists who continue to terrorize minorities with impunity due to the backing of the government. Whereas Hindu extremist groups function openly, political organizations such as Communist Party of India (Maoist) and minority-run groups have been outlawed. 

      Ghandy was dubbed as a sympathizer of the CPI (Maoist), which believes in revolutionary change and is fighting a class war. In spite of his release after remaining in jails for eight years, Ghandy isn’t fully off the hook. The book's title clearly suggests that he potentially faces future arrest.   

      Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir has become even more relevant under the present government, which has intensified its attacks on dissent. That's apparent in the arrests of scores of left-wing Indian scholars who've been thrown behind bars in recent years.

      This is not to suggest that India's democracy wasn’t theatened under the previous regime. After all, Ghandy was arrested when a Congress-led coalition held power. Back then, the government considered left-wing radicalism as the single largest internal security threat and tried to suppress voices of disagreement to protect the interests of the ruling classes.

      The BJP government has gone a step further by suppressing dissent more aggressively in the name of majoritarian Hindu nationalism, which treats minorities and left-wing activists as enemies and unpatriotic.