Strikes in the gold fields and royal inheritance disputes – the Karnataka State Archives

The Distractions of the Archives

Janaki Nair
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‘A Handbook to the Ports on the Coast of India between Calcutta and Bombay, including the Island of Ceylon.’, Herbert Samuel Brown, Mangalore, 1897 from the British Library collection on Flickr

The tryst with dust begins with the dog-eared catalogues, in an untidy row on a rack near the few sets of tables reserved for scholars. The ambient noise and frequent and anxious queries about whether her last meal has been taken (“oota ayitha?”) combine to slowly inure the scholar visiting the Karnataka State Archives to assaults on the senses. KSA has never believed that research must take place in a sequestered environment; the true test of the committed researcher is to remain undistracted and absorbed with the yellowing crumbling pages before her despite the constant shuffle and loud talk around.

The business of settling down to work by the archival staff – opening and closing metal drawers, to the accompaniment of loud comments on the bus ride to work (now happily shifted to the travails of the metro), children’s illnesses, the state of the State – is best ignored by the scholar easing into the normal working of archives. By about 11.30 am, after having sat fidgeting in their cabins, or at their desks, depending on their place in the hierarchy, as staff start drifting away for their morning cup there is a respite when the huge cavernous archives fall briefly silent. Then, vigorous discussion is resumed, within the earshot of scholars, of the price of sites, houses in this fast-growing metropolis. Yet the stacks of files exert their own charm and fascination. And their own set of distractions.

The Kolar Gold Fields – attaching the past to the present

Looking back on my career, I wonder how often that sidetracking from the determined search for paper trails, the tracking of a chronological sequence, has been rewarding. Sometime in 1989, while in the Karnataka State Archives, I came across a reference to a strike in Kolar Gold Fields on April 6, 1930, the very day when Gandhi broke the salt laws. Requisitioning the file transported me immediately to another part of Mysore, to the dark tunnels two kilometres underground where three generations of gold miners had worked. That file, an accidental find, then led me to KGF, to “reattach the past to the present” (as Arlette Farge has put it). I developed a warm association with and a deep understanding of its inhabitants, their sense of the place as both liberating and exploitative.

An inheritance denied

Many such engagements are suddenly enabled when the bundles of files are brought out: disappointment at a trail running dry, elation when, not one, but fifteen fat files related to the debts of the Maharaja of Mysore tell a fascinating tale of women, widowed, driven to insanity, hopeful, being denied their rightful inheritance. We may not have gone looking for these women, but they spring, from the enigmatic shadows of petitions written by those adept at the law, they turn, as if in despair, to the possible new airing that the mere historian may give to their faded, papery presence.

Sensory pleasures of the paper file

Imagine the surprise when, on my recent visit to the Karnataka State Archives, I was warmly welcomed to a completely new way of doing research, since all the files had been digitized. No more that tactility, that direct connection with the past as your turn the yellowing pages, that perpetual acquaintance with dust. Natalie Davis, similarly, laments what we have lost in the process of new technologies of access, which are so much more convenient, and yet deprive us of the file as a sensory object. The petty joys of easier access, of going home with entire bundles of files in your small thumb drive, cannot replace the rewards of that meandering, that slow absorption that marked our own pasts as researchers. In that unexpected, chance encounter with the cantankerous bureaucrat, the frightened peasant, the pious but unhinged woman, that eloquent worker and his “anonymous” note, that which may never become an article or a book, or even a footnote, but yet has enthralled the reader for many hours at the small cramped desk, that encounter will never be the same again.

and of distractions that lead nowhere

I still remember the call I once received from a student who had visited the National Library in Calcutta, where she had found some strikingly relevant materials with which to take her research forward. Her enthusiasm matched that of one who discovered a new vein of gold in the dark, spent, underground. Others may report how their eyes glaze over when they see the long rows of spidery figures, meticulously maintained, on what has been spent on say, education, or on the construction of a building. But it is those who report that they have been distracted by the trial of witches when they were searching for the agricultural labourer, or by the long disquisition on the infirmities of caste when they only wanted access to the education of the artisan or those captivated by the richly embroidered handwriting in the private papers of a businessman, these trails that might lead nowhere, that make the defiantly dull environs of the archives an absorbing and enticing place.

 

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British Library on flickr: Image from ‘A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar’

 

 

 

 

 

Janaki Nair is Professor, Modern History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her publications include The Promise of the Metropolis: Bangalore’s Twentieth Century, OUP, 2007, Women and Law in Colonial India: A Social History, Kali for Women in collaboration with the National Law School of India University, 1996, Mysore Modern: Rethinking the Region Under Princely Rule, University of Minnesota Press, 2011, and Miners and Millhands: Work, Culture and Politics in Princely Mysore, Sage Publications, 1998. 

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G. N. Saibaba – coverage and medical condition

Articles, letters, and reports on G. N. Saibaba’s arrest and imprisonment from 2016 on are being collated here for those who need details about his case. The most extensive coverage of G. N. Saibaba’s arrest and responses until 2015 is available here.

2018

2017

2016

2015

G. N. Saibaba on his medical condition and experience in prison, January 18

 

Colleague Dr. G. N. Saibaba’s current condition (described in the latest letter to Prof. Hargopal)

Professor Hargopal ji,
Chairperson
Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. G.N. Saibaba

I am grateful to you and all the eminent members of the committee for your kind concern about my deteriorating health condition after being lodged in this prison without medical investigations and treatment for the last more than 10 months. I also want to express my deep sense of gratitude to the committee members and all my fellow teachers at my university and various other universities across the country for the concern and consistent help and care given to my family.

Apart from my 90 percent disability and complete wheelchair-bound condition coupled with my severe and fatal multiple ailments, I am also depressed for being wrongly judged without following the basic criminal legal jurisprudence and ignoring the total lack of evidence against me in the false and fabricated case.

My severe disability renders me to face a doubly oppressed condition in the prison, over and above the rigorous punishment intended by the law through this incarceration. You all are aware that I am being subjected to this degrading human condition for being a conscientious teacher and responsible citizen by opposing and writing against the most obnoxious violations of human rights of Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalised sections in our times. As I am not allowed to write the entire picture of my situation, in this letter I restrict myself to my fast deteriorating health condition, though I only refer to my degrading and inhuman condition in passing hints.

At the time when the unfortunate judgement was delivered on March 7, 2017, I was undergoing treatment for acute pancreatitis in Rockland Hospital, New Delhi under the direct medical payment facility of my University. Though the doctors advised me not to travel and continue to take treatment by undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy (surgical removal of my gallbladder), I took special permission from the doctors to discharge me from the hospital so that I could attend the court in Gadchiroli for the judgement. The doctors warned me that the non-removal of gall bladder would effect my pancreas which was already infected due to the slippage of stones in my gallbladder into the duct connected from it to the pancreas. A second attack on pancreas would turn to be fatal causing irretrievable jaundice, diabetes and other complications, and failure of the pancreas itself. However, I explained my doctors that I would return to the hospital for the surgery the day after the judgement. Little did I expect that I would be sentenced? I was sure that I would be acquitted from the false and fabricated case for I never did any crime and the evidence on record assured me of that.

After I was imprisoned, I have been continuously suffering from the attacks on my pancreas frequently and reeling with unbearable pain from time to time and with frequent indigestion, loose motions and pangs of stomach-ache. I have lost weight considerably, though I can’t check it as I can’t even stand. Meanwhile, an internal mass bulging developed in my stomach on the left side and it started growing gradually in the last three months. It has been causing severe pain. Any amounts of antibiotics couldn’t subdue it. There are no symptoms of hernia. It could be malignant/ cancerous growth unless ruled out through appropriate medical investigations. The pain from this growth is humanly unbearable. It’s a mystery for myself how I have been still surviving.

You are aware that I was taking treatment for my left brachial plexopathy, three damaged muscles of my left shoulders along with the attendant nerve system at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi. Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy along with occupational therapy combined with electromagnetic modes of TENS and STIMULUS were going on to revive the damaged nerves and the muscles. The treatment came to an abrupt halt with the judgement sending me for rigorous incarceration for life. Without these therapies on daily basis, I will lose my left hand totally. The tests at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre after months of treatment showed that the nerves and the muscles (two) started responding and reviving. These 10 months of gap in the treatment must have caused relapse of the damage and the revival must have reverted back. I have been suffering from shooting pain in my left hand and left leg day in and day out. There has been no possibility of a physiotherapist available in the prison. If I do some exercises on my own, I am getting a swelling and pain in my left shoulder muscles.

You know about this injury of brachial plexes system of nerves in my left shoulder that happened due to the dragging of me by my left hand from my wheelchair by the police constables at Aheri police station after I was arrested in Delhi and taken by the Gadchiroli police on 9th May 2014. Had I been given treatment within days of the injury, I could have regained my left hand. It was only after 9 months after imprisonment, I was taken to a hospital. It was after a division bench headed by the then Chief Justice of Bombay High Court gave the order to shift me to a private hospital in Nagpur that a proper investigation was done but it was already too late to heal my damaged nerve system. Ever since this injury, I have been living only with my functional right hand, having both my legs totally effected by polio in my childhood.

The damage to my left shoulder further restricted my bodily movements. I was managing myself in a wheelchair including successfully performing my teaching assignments at the university of Delhi. But this injury caused devastating impact on my life as it restricted my wheelchair or to get into my car to go anywhere.

I had submitted all my past medical records at the time of my admission in the prison on 7 March, 2017 following the conviction on the same day to the prison hospital. I have been also submitting my requests for medical investigations and treatment. I have submitted in writing from time to time whenever I suffered chest pain, palpitations in the stomach and chest followed by black outs.

On 5 January 2018, I submitted my latest condition requesting for immediate medical investigations and treatment to the Chief Medical Officer of the prison hospital. I mentioned the following symptoms and ailments in the letter:

1. Serious Heart Condition: I have been suffering from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy diagnosed earlier.
–Frequent chest pain
–giddiness, systemic Hypertension
–Dyspnoea, on exertion
–Recurrent Syncope – 4 episodes in the last 5 months
–Palpitations in the chest.
2. Gallbladder stones
–Choleclithiasis diagnosed earlier
–advised for Laproscopic Cholecystectomy
–frequent attacks of gall stones on Pancreas.
3. Acute Pancreatitis
–Diagnosed earlier, but treatment left incomplete due to imprisonment.
–Pain in the stomach
–Gas formation
–Palpitations in stomach/ abdomen
–Daily indigestion, loose motions continuously
–Acute pain in the stomach extending to the chest.
4. Bulge of mass on the left side of the stomach
–Painful bulging of cyst like mass of flesh internally
–It started 3 months ago and gradually increasing every day.
— It was told, it could be hernia or malignant/ benign inflammatory growth
not investigated so far.
5. Left Shoulder / Left hand partial immobility with shooting pain
–Earlier diagnosed as Post-polio syndrome with HT, IHD, HOCM, COPD
–Contradictory diagnosis as: Left brachial plexopathy
–three damaged muscles in the left shoulder/ hand: Deltoid, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus.
–partially damaged muscles: Teres minor, rhomboidus
–shooting pain from shoulder to fingers persisting
–unbearable pain in shoulder if I shift from bed to wheelchair more than 3 times.
–Rotator cuff injury with tearing in supraspinatous tendon.
–Before incarceration after conviction, I was taking regular course in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy along with electro-magnetic wave therapy called TENS & STIMULUS to the damaged muscles for pain reduction and rejuvenation of damaged muscles and nerves at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), New Delhi every day for two- three hours. With the incarceration, the therapies stopped abruptly.
–Any exercises on my own causing swelling in shoulder muscles with severe pain. Since my left hand doesn’t raise, I can’t do much. The therapies are machine-assisted and assisted by specially trained therapists at ISIC.
6. Sleep Apnoea
It was diagnosed at CARE Hospital, Hyderabad that I was suffering from severe obstructive sleep apnoea. Earlier diagnosed of severe obstructive sleep apnoea
–I am suffering from frequent breaks in sleep
–sleeplessness
–feeling of obstruction in throat
–I was advised to use auto C-PAP machine. And I was practicing the machine for continuous sleep before imprisonment.
7. Postrate Problem
–Pain in anus
–reduced frequency of urination
–difficulty in passing urine, pain in urination
–enlarged postrate. Have been on medication for this.
8. Kidney Stones
–Earlier diagnosed with renal stones / calculus
–Frequency and flow of Urine reduced
–difficulty in passing Urine
–Recurrence of renal calculus treated twice earlier.
9. Frequent Cough and Cold with Fever
–continuous fever with cough and cold in the last 2 months
–chest congestion
–breathlessness, frequent chest pain
–palpitations in chest
10. Muscle Spasms – Cramps
–Severe spasmatic attacks in both hands and left leg
–Paralytic attacks in left hand and left leg
–Spasmatic / cramps in chest and stomach.
11. Bachache
–Severe pain in the bach
–Pain in the vertebra column
12. Bend in the Spine / vertebrae column
–causing severe pain
13. Severe pain in the legs
–twisting pain in the legs
–continuous and constant pain in both legs
–Spasmatic attacks in the legs.
–legs get severely cold.
–I was taking alternative cold and hot pack therapy at home.
14. Bilatral Vocal Cord nodule
–Vocal cord lesion
–pain in speaking
–voice has changed drastically
— 10 months before advised excision biopsy.
15. I need to be investigate for diabetes
16. I need to be investigated for Thyroid problem
17. Eye-sight might have changed. Investigation is required
18. Post-polio syndromes need to be explored to check them and control their growth

Except for the last four problems, all other 14 ailments were either diagnosed or in the process of investigations. You are aware that Tendon Transfer surgery was abandoned for the time being at CARE hospital, Hyderabad for correcting the left shoulder muscle at the eleventh hour by Professor (Dr) Kotwal who came specially for the surgery to Hyderabad from New Delhi. Similarly, an expert/ specialist doctor from Jaipur was to come to Fortis Hospital, New Delhi to check my damaged nerves to connect them in a surgery.

I was taken to the local Government hospital on 23rd August 2017 for sonography test. After the test, I was asked to come again for the diagnosis in the Department of Gastroenterology. I had a very bad experience during this visit. I was totally apprehensive of going to the outside hospital for medical investigations and treatment as I am a 90% disabled person completely bound to a wheelchair. A huge number of security forces accompanied me while untrained police personnel handled me in my wheelchair in an undignified way, to say the least. Firstly, I was terrified to see such a huge police force. The presence of such an armed force terrified hundreds of patients, their attendants, doctors and the Para medical staff including those who were to conduct the test.

At the main gate of the prison, the police personnel literally lifted me by holding my polio-effected legs and damaged left hand and right hand like a dead body or a bag of luggage from my wheelchair and put me in a vehicle. They did this every time I was to be taken at different buildings in the hospital, despite my protests. They simply don’t know how to handle me and my wheelchair because they are not trained for this job. However, I have no complaints against those personnel as I believe that they are not trained paramedical staff to handle a 90% disabled patient with multiple ailments and brittle bones vulnerable to break with a little force applied at them.

Apart from the police personnel not able to handle me properly, I felt humiliated for being lifted like a sack of sand or a dead body. I felt deeply hurt. I lost my self-dignity and bodily integrity. Handling a disabled person’s body with respect and treating him or her as a respectful human being is the law of the land today. It is a moral and ethical question as well. It is part of India’s commitment to international community as India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities. My intention to tell you the story of my humiliation in the hands of the police personnel is not to blame them. They were not even aware that they were not able to handle me like a human being. It was not their mistake. They were not the force supposed to handle me. For the same reason, I never lodged a complaint against the police personnel who dragged me by my left hand and damaged brachial plexes nerve system when I was arrested in May 2014. I have been suffering with enhanced disability in my body over and above the 90% disability I suffered in my childhood due to polio.

For these reasons I have refused to go to the Government hospital for medical investigations and treatment until these circumstances is removed. Now if my polio effected brittle bones fracture, there is no way I can get them healed properly. Again I have to live with more serious disability for the rest of my life. As it is, I am leading a difficult life. I do not want to take any further risk. If something untowards happens, nothing can be retrieved to save my life even if I blame the police personnel (which I don’t want to do in any case).

But my health condition has turned critical. ;I have given in writing to the authorities on 23rd August and 29th August 2017 requesting them to allow my family members, lawyers and a personal doctor of my choice to handle me while taking me to the hospital and during my stay in the hospital for the medical investigations and treatment, which is being done with other prisoners who are not disabled. Why is this not possible in my case?

Meanwhile, in the last four months, my health has deteriorated further and reached a critical stage. I have been tolerating pain and suffering with will power. My critical health condition and bench-mark 90% disability put me in far excess of the sentence of punishment I am asked to suffer. My refusal to the local hospital in the last more than four months is not my own choice. The circumstances created by the custodial conditions imposed on me are responsible. The authorities in control of these conditions have done little to address these circumstances. In fact the law of the land now empowers the Government departments to address these kinds of question. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 along with the rules framed for the Act in 2017 empowers the authorities to take all measures to protect the disabled persons from inhuman and degrading treatment. Chapter 1, section 6(1) and 7(1) of this Act make such provisions very clear.

I have suffered a lot in the past more than 10 months. In addition to the severe ailments I have been suffering from, as a disabled person, inaccessible and unfavourable conditions have reduced me to the level of animalistic state removing all human dignity from my person. You are kindly aware that I cannot survive without the assistance of two persons round the clock. I cannot attend to calls of nature on my own. People have to help me to do my daily chores. I can only survive in the specially created environment at home and in my work place. If I could become a successful teacher and ardent researcher in my discipline of study, the credit goes to my family members, colleagues and the University where I work.

The inhuman and degrading treatment that I am compelled to face in the conditions of my incarceration, and the objectification of my body in the hands of the state go against the letter and spirit of the UNCRD and RPD Act, 2016. The values enshrined in these covenant and law emerged out of centuries of enlightened human struggle worldwide. As one of the senior most human rights activists in the country, you can understand me better than anyone else. I have been refusing to be treated inhumanly in my attempt to uphold these cherished human values. This is also because my conscience does not allow me to be treated as an object depriving me of my human dignity. Life is important certainly, but life with human dignity and human values is more important. I hope you appreciate my humble position in this regard.

In these circumstances, I request you and the entire Defence Committee to explore the possibilities to secure my freedom by bringing the falsities and fabrications in the case and the fallacious and incongruous conclusions arrived at in the judicial order without following the principles of criminal legal jurisprudence to the notice of the higher judiciary. I strongly feel that this is the only way out for me to save my life without losing my human dignity and bodily integrity.

I was taken to the Govt. Hospital once again on 17th January 2018, almost 5 months after the first time, though my requests were not looked into. Once again, I became totally helpless. This time, once again I was subjected to similar treatment. The sonography test was repeated and a doctor diagnosed that my gall bladder contained multiple stones. The problems occurring to my pancreas were due to the gall stones. I was told orally by the doctor that I should immediately undergo laparoscopic cholecystectomy. But the doctors refused to examine all other major health problems and ailments by referring me to the relevant Departments. I was told that I would need to go to each Department separately through separate processes. It will take several months to conduct several tests. For example, to examine the real condition of my gallbladder and Pancreas, alone need several tests like CBC, LFT, Serum amylase and lipase and other imaging tests (have to be conducted). Finally they would say that some of the medical investigations and treatment are not available with them and would refer me to J.J. hospital, Mumbai. You are aware that this happened earlier. This piecemeal way of conducting investigations over a period of several months without any co-ordination with the departments of several specialities is common in this hospital. Unfortunately my physical disability and the logistic of carry me to the hospital do not allow this long process to bring any relief to my ailments before they turn fatal. When some of these ailments and left brachial plexus injury developed during my imprisonment as an under trial prisoner, the same hospital stated that the medical investigations and treatment were not available with them.

For the above reasons, a division bench headed by the then Chief Justice of Bombay High Court shifted me to a private hospital in Nagpur, where the medical investigations were available in a suo-moto case based on a report on my health condition in The Hindu in May 2015. After initial treatment, I was sent to Delhi for further treatment as the private hospital referred me due to the lack of facilities with them, on bail under medical grounds. Then I was treated at various hospitals, Fortis, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi and CARE hospital, Hyderabad. The treatment was continuing at the time of the judgement at Rockland Hospital and Indian Spinal Injuries Centre as some of the ailments acquired chronic nature and the pancreas problem arose as a new ailment.
You are also kindly aware that with my 90% disability and multiple ailments I need to be under constant and regular care of the specialist doctors and therapist for my survival and well being. The medical records from all the above mentioned hospitals speak for themselves in this regard. All these medical records are available with my family members. I request the Defence Committee and you to pursue through the medical records and take appropriate decisions.

Given my deteriorating health condition and 90% disability the Defence Committee may consider taking my health condition through the available medical records to the appropriate courts of law for speedy consideration of a bail plea on legal grounds, whenever such a bail plea is taken up by my lawyers at the possible early date.

Once again I thank you and the entire Defence Committee for your concern and help.
With kind regards

(G.N. SAIBABA)
Central Prison
Nagpur.
18th January 2018.

Misuse of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act

http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/12/web-exclusives/misuse-unlawful-activities-prevention-act.html-0

Susan Abraham (susangita50@gmail.com) is a lawyer and member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Excerpt:

The Gadchiroli Sessions Court judgment sentencing G N Saibaba, Prashant Rahi, Hem Mishra, Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Narote to life imprisonment and Vijay Tirki to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment is flawed and shows clearly to what extent the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act can be misused. Apart from citing irrelevant documents, it has ignored valid evidence and arguments presented by the defence, and accepted dubious versions of the same presented by the prosecution.

Life sentencing seems to be the order of the day in the largest democracy in the world, as India likes to call itself. Recent instances of life sentencing, all in March 2017, have dropped the veil of democracy off from the last institution meant to uphold it, the judiciary. This time, with the murder of judicial equity. We must beware the Ides of March!

In a shocking, highly controversial judgment delivered on 7 March 2017, Suryakant Shinde, sessions judge at Gadchiroli District Court, Maharashtra, convicted G N Saibaba (professor, Delhi University), Prashant Rahi (journalist from Uttarakhand), Hem Mishra (cultural activist and student at Jawaharlal Nehru University), Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Narote and Vijay Tirki (tribal residents of Gadchiroli) under Sections 13,18, 20, 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). All but Vijay Tirki, who was given 10 years of rigorous imprisonment, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

reading in prison libraries

What do prisoners read, and what kinds of books are stored in prison libraries? Without exception, histories of libraries mention S. R. Ranganathan as instrumental in the establishment of Library Associations (1933 in Calcutta) or Library Systems, Development Plans, Committees and Acts prior to and after independence. These served not only to emphasize the need for systematic library programmes, but linked prison populations to the category of the public, as has been done in countries with vigorous library movements. (Libraries and Librarianship in India by Jashu Patel and Krishan Kumar). Since then, prison libraries flow in and out of public view from time to time, as the object of reforms.

Anupama on libraries in Himachal Pradesh

Scholars of library science have produced detailed accounts of prison libraries, such as Anupama whose PhD thesis on prison libraries in Himachal Pradesh indicates that after preliminary reforms of 1835 in the colonial period, the Prisons Act of 1870 and 1894 shape the existing prison system in India. Post-independence efforts to ensure access to libraries can be traced to library manuals, such as the All India Jail Manual Committee (I960) and the Punjab Government’s Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Jails (1963) in Punjab, which directly recommended that efforts be made to make libraries more accessible. Individual states and prisons arrived at their own levels of reform, with the issue acquiring popularity and visibility from time to time through figures like Kiran Bedi.

Anupama’s work provides a history and account of 14 prisons in every district of Himachal Pradesh, including information on prisoners. It notes that some prison libraries such as the ones in Kangra and Kullu districts, worked in coordination with the State District Libraries, allowing prisoners wider access to material, while many others do not. Lahaul and Spiti have no prison and therefore no prison library. Her accounts of being alone with prisoners, and of having to access remote prisons are a valuable record.

Nirmal Singh on Punjab

Inmates or information debarred? An overview of library services in prisons of Punjab (India)’ by Nirmal Singh who is Assistant Librarian, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana, suggests that few prisons in Punjab have good libraries, often lacking even a newspaper, thereby locking their inmates away from any contact with goings on in the world.

Of the well-functioning libraries in various parts of the country, he mentions the Viyyur Central Jail (Kerala), which ‘has a separate library building with a collection of over 10,000 books in addition to newspapers and periodicals for 800 inmates (The Times of India, 2011)’, and the Central Prison, Poojappura which contains 15,000 books. Among other libraries that feature in his article are those of Bhondsi in Haryana, and Tihar in Delhi.

Singh also cites the Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH), Noida, which set up a library in Dasna Jail for prisoners. The library was stocked with over 4,000 titles by students ‘based on the survey of prisoners about their requirement for books as an extension of their social initiative under the Ranganathan Society for Social Welfare and Library Development.’, he states. ‘The institute also gifted two computers to the jail with library automation software uploaded’, and students trained prisoners to look after the library and the computers (The Times of India, 2012).

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The Centre on the Death Penalty and libraries in Madhya Pradesh

 

The Death Penalty Research Project at the Centre on the Death Penalty at the National Law University, Delhi took up the question and included queries about the library as part of its research among prisoners, some on the death row.

As with other studies on prison libraries, these interviews mention classroom like rooms which seat between 8 and 10 people. The SC Bose Jabalpur Central Prison Library is a typical example of a functioning library which stores books on history, fiction, and law among other areas, and prisoners are allowed to borrow books for a fifteen day period.   It does not have any link with state libraries. Records of borrowing and a catalogue of books is preserved and literacy and skill training classes are conducted by programmes such as sarv shiksha abhiyaan and NGOS. IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) has a ubiquitous presence in teaching programmes in prison to service literacy programmes. Officials in the Hoshiangabad prison stated that ten percent of the inmates needed basic classes in literacy, and the prison also conducted BA level courses that 76 inmates had cleared, while in the prison in Ujjain, 150 prisoners had sat the IGNOU exam. As is possibly the case in other prisons, while the officials at Hoshiangabad said that the prison put in requests for unavailable books when prisoners asked for them, a prisoner suggests that such requests were obstructed.

Vocation over pleasure

This is perhaps unsurprising as the prison mentions that the budget for books is the same as the stationery budget. Though some libraries in the country are linked to their state district libraries, this is not the case with most prisons. Such links could circumvent the absence of funds which, in the case of those prisons that actually address these needs, would be directed towards vocational training and more instrumental courses. In a prison in Gwalior, an official noted that since most prisoners from the Chambal region had very little education, rarely was a desire expressed for books.

Excerpt from an interview with a prisoner on death row reproduced here:

I: Can you tell us about your experience in prison?

J: As far as I am concerned, prison has proved to be the world’s biggest university. There is no book here that I have not studied. It is true that I can no longer see the sights and spectacles of the outside world. However, when I read I can visualize the world outside within my mind’s eye.

I: When did you begin to cultivate the habit of reading?

J: It is only after I came to prison that I began to read.

I: Would you say that your understanding has expanded?

J: Yes, this has been a change that has influenced my life and my outlook.

I: This expansion of understanding- what is the reason for it?

J: All my perspectives have been enhanced by the books I borrow from the library. I have read almost 10,000 books since coming to this prison. However, it’s been four years since I last stepped foot inside this library.

I: Why is that?

J: After escaping prison, I haven’t been allowed to come here. I request books inside my cell and they are given to me.

I: Which kind of books do you find most engrossing?

J: If you must know, Eyadi is a book I’ve read several times. Then there’s Manushyan Oru Aamukham, Aarachar and Ajith Varkey’s new book.

I: We have heard that you enjoy reading philosophical works as well.

J: My cellmate … has many philosophical books. He has been allowed to keep them in the cell. He has books about the law as well. I have read them all.

 

An unsuccessful meeting – George Lobo series

Attempts at unity

 

 

In the middle of 1956, a meeting held at the Little Flower of Jesus High School on Princess Street, Bombay, which tried to unify the different parties involved in the Liberation movement failed.

The meeting was organized by Rama Hegde and T. B. Cunha who attempted to form an umbrella organization. From the letter, it appears to be heavily weighed in favour of the Congress.

This letter is an account by organizers and signatories of the attempt to set up a Goa Action Committee.

Those named in the letter were prominent in the history of the movement:

Shri Vasant Borkar, Eng· T. B. Cunha, Shri Waman Desai, Dr. Simon Fernandes, Dr, Rama Hegde, Shri J. Heredia, Shri C. Kakodkar, Shri J. V. Kamat,  Shri N. B. Kamat, Eng. R. G. Kamat, Shri Shamrao Lad, Shri George Lobo, Shri Lambert Mascarenhas, Dr. U. M. Mascarenhas, Shri A. X. Mendes, Shri Luiz Mendes, Shri Gerald Pereira, Shri R. da.Gama Pinto, Prof. Lucio Rodrigues, Shri V. L. Shingbal, Shri S. B. D’Silva, Shri J. M. D’Sousa, Smt. Laura D’ Souza, Dr. Menino D’Souza, Shri J . Sukhthanker and Shri George Vaz.

A telegram arrived urging a postponement of the meeting: img014 2

The meeting decided against postponement and efforts at unity, in any case, fell through, owing it appears, to criteria set out by the organizers.

Amchem Zuz, a leaflet from the time of the movement can be read here. It was distributed, as the handwritten note says, in Bandra, at the Mount Mary’s Feast in 1956. (contributed by Diana Pinto)

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Sources contributed by Diana Pinto

 

 

 

Letters from Bombay, 1956 – George Lobo, Mazagon Dock, and the Voice of Freedom –

This post was possible because of contributions by Lydia Lobo and family, of letters written by George Lobo when he was Labour Officer at Mazagon Dock Limited.  These letters are between Lobo and Nicolau Menezes who was involved with the liberation movement, initially with its underground activities, and later with the underground radio station, Voice of Freedom.

George Lobo was eventually sacked from his position for his political participation. Subsequently, he was appointed to the Indian High Commission in Glasgow. (source: Diana Pinto) Details in Lobo’s letters reveal the connections between trade unionists, white-collar workers and anti-colonial movements in Bombay. It also has signs of the struggles against racism that continued within white-collar enterprises owned by Europeans after Indian independence.

Those familiar with the history of the city will find mention of the riots in Bombay over the formation of linguistic states, following the submission of the States Reorganization Commission Report. Eighty people were killed in January 1956 in Bombay.

Lobo also mentions the Azad Gomantak Dal, a militant organization in Goa, Lambert Mascarenhas, and his own involvement in the Goa Liberation Council, set up by Aloysius Soares, intended to be a platform to unify those with political differences.

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In a letter to the General Manager at Mazagon Dock Ltd., Lobo argues for equal pay for European and Indian workers on the ground that such differences would create dissatisfaction. He makes an appeal at the end: ‘When you took over at the helm of the Dockyard a feeling went through all ranks, and me in particular, that a new era cutting away from the past, was commencing in this Company…However…certain things have taken place which have disillusioned many of us in officer ranks, leave alone others, particularly in the ranks of Indian Assistants.’

Following his victimization by the management, Lobo made a representation to Shantilal Shah, Minister for Labour, in which he discusses both, his positions on equal pay, as well as his links with the Liberation movement.

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This is a representation to Morarji Desai, then Chief Minister to the government of Bombay, drawing attention to the effect that the victimization of Lobo in Mazagon Dock Ltd. could have among the Navigation companies and seamen’s unions which had many Goan members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We thank Diana Pinto, Lydia Lobo, and Sandra Lobo for these materials and invite other contributions at publicarchivesindia@gmail.com