Sunday, March 30, 2008

Not without my father

Away from the pseudo-activism of the Bollywood glitterati, a young assistant director of Taare Zameen Par fights for her father, who is under arrest on charges of being a Naxalite commander. Rahul Pandita reports.

Aamir Khan has probably never heard of Prashant Rahi. But on the day his maiden directorial venture Taare Zameen Par was released to critical acclaim, a young assistant director of his production team lay huddled, crying silently in one corner of a Mumbai apartment. Like the rest of the production crew, Shikha was very excited that the film for which she had worked really hard for months had finally hit the cinema halls. Her friends and relatives had begun to call since morning, and, in the late afternoon when her mobile phone rang again, she took it for yet another congratulatory call. But that phone call changed everything. It was a phone call from the police station.

In the newly-built state prison of Uttarakhand, on the outskirts of the capital Dehradun, a line from Iqbal’s immortal Saare jahan se accha Hindostan humara, written on a wall in front of the jail superintendent’s office reads, Hum bulbule hein iski (We are its bubbles) instead of Hum bulbulen hein iski (We are its bulbuls).

“So you have come to meet Prashant Rahi?” asks the young deputy jailer, and then instructs his junior, “Photo khincho inki (Get his picture clicked.) Anyone who comes to meet Rahi has to get his picture clicked first. A young man, perhaps a prisoner on duty, does that job, with a camera attached to a computer. He also then takes a printout of that picture.

In the visitor’s hall, 49-year-old Prashant Rahi receives his visitors with a warm smile. “Imagine, the policemen who claimed to have recovered a laptop from me did not even know how to operate that; they actually sought my help in getting it started,” Rahi tells this laughingly to anyone who cares to listen.

The Uttarakhand police claim to have arrested Rahi three months ago on December 22, from a forest area near the state’s border with Nepal, which they say was a temporary base of the Maoists. He is charged of being the zonal commander of the CPI (Maoist). Apart from the laptop which Rahi mentioned, he claims that some Maoist literature, which included books on Mao and a few pages of a magazine, taken out by the CPI (Maoist), was recovered from him. But senior police official refute that claim. “We also recovered a complete blueprint of the Naxalite movement in Uttarakhand which was commissioned to him by the top Naxal leadership,” says a senior police officer, who supervised Rahi’s arrest. The officer says that in the blueprint Rahi has written clearly that earlier he was a member of the People’s War Group, which merged with another Naxalite group to form the CPI (Maoist).

Rahi, a former journalist with The Statesman, says he was picked up from Dehradun itself on the afternoon of December 17, while walking on a road. “I was immediately blindfolded. The policemen in plain clothes said I was someone called Ram Singh who had robbed a businessman in Bijnor,” he says. It was only after senior police officials came to interrogate him, he says, he realised that he was being charged of being a Naxal leader.

Rahi is a very well-known face in the intellectual circles of Dehradun. He is believed to have translated a number of literary classics into Hindi. His friends say he was also very active during Uttarakhand’s movement for a separate statehood. He had also been trying to organise landless labourers against landlords.

“Let’s put it this way: Rahi always felt the urgency of doing something for the voiceless more than we do,” says Ashok P. Misra, a senior journalist and a former colleague of Prashant Rahi. “But to think that he was an active Naxalite commander is too far-fetched; I have a problem with the way the state has dealt with it,” he adds. Another former colleague and senior journalist, Rajiv Lochan Shah said that the state was trying to exaggerate the Maoist threat by arresting people like Rahi. “After the PM’s statement that the Naxalites posed the maximum threat to the country’s security, it seems that the Uttarakhand government wants to bite deep into the cake of Central funds allotted for fighting Naxals,” he said.

“If Rahi was indeed a Naxalite commander how come not even a tamancha (country-made pistol) was not recovered from him?” Shah asked. “The fact that we didn’t plant any arms proves that our recoveries are perfectly legal. Let Rahi’s fate be decided by the judiciary,” Inspector-General (Law and Order), Uttarakhand Police, M.A. Ganapathy said.

Rahi alleges that he was tortured brutally while in captivity. “At one point they said they will bring my daughter and force me to rape her,” he alleges. He says he was even forced to sign his confessional statement. “When I wrote ‘signed under duress’ they did not understand what that meant,” he says.

The police has filed a charge sheet against Rahi and, as per his lawyer, the chances of his release on bail in near future are almost nil. “There are lessons to be learnt from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh,” says the SSP of the state’s Special Task Force, Abhinav Kumar, “It doesn’t make sense to wait for anything big to happen and then act.”

Meanwhile, the battle has just begun for Shikha. A letter written to her by her father on the International Women’s Day is clutched hard against her chest (“He asked me to be strong”). Away from the pseudo–activism practiced by the glitterati of Bollywood, she is hoping that her father is freed soon. “There is a strange rule in the jail manual – I cannot send sweets for my father which he likes very much,” she regrets.


Anonymous said...

One is sorry to hear the plight of Mr.Prashant. But let me remind you no known leader of Naxalite has been tortured or murdered, except when they were fighting against mafia in north India, where two many corrupt forces are in play, unlike south.
The state of affairs with regard to Naxalsim as an ideology are also deplorable, which sans humanism and flawed vision, which is unfortunately true for India.
With systematic annihilation of Human rights activists belonging to other casts by the people of same ideologies, Naxalsim in India has become the forte of Caste forces, which will eventually lead the nation to a tragedy unforeseen.

Rahul Pandita said...

Anonymous, Thanks for dropping in. What you are saying is not true. Naxal leaders have been tortured brutally across India. In Kerala, a young Naxal activist, Ajitha was tortured and paraded almost naked by the state police after her arrrest. Her memoirs have just been published by Srishti publishers. In West Bengal, Punjab, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh - all over - the state has dealt with them like ordinary terrorists or criminals.
It is also true that the Naxals have not been able to shed their caste identity altogether. It will take time. But with that, one hopes, poverty and hunger from India's hinterland vanishes too.

Anonymous said...

You hint at Aamir Khan being a pseudo-activits. Buddy, you yourself are nothing more than a pseudo journalist/intellectual. You need to mention aamir khan to gather attention and it seems pathetic attempt at publicity. Aamir khan is not responsible for each and every person's misery and neither can he champion every social cause. He earns his living from film industry not from donations unlike you. You should have been careful with the tagline you used. You dont have to disrespect somebody or doubt his intention to gather attention. Dont look for the monsters in the outside world, kill the monster inside you.

Rahul Pandita said...

Anon, thanks for calling me your buddy. I am no intellectual; I am a medicore journalist, that is all.

Yes, I have hinted at Aamir Khan being a pseudo-activist. There are certain facts about this story pertaining to Mr. Khan which I have not revealed at Shikha Rahi's request.

Meanwhile, you are free to call me anything. The monster within me won't die that easily.

Anonymous said...

I dont know what to say. I dont know Mr. Khan personally. I know him through his blog or media in general. I dont know her reasons for hiding the facts about Khan. But why hide the facts?
So what if he is a pseudo-activist, most of us are pseudo human beings.
You dont want to reveal the facts about Aamir yet you hint at him being a pseudo activist. Without facts to support, this shows you in poor light not him.
I dont know what the reality is but you could have taken her cause without maligning Aamir. If you had to mention it, then morality demands you should have put forward the facts.
She has a genuine plight and may God help her in her struggle.
Dont get me wrong. I am not defending him or anything. Its just that i wanted to know the truth.

Anonymous said...

A few question popped in my mind:

Is it her job constraints not allowing her to reveal the truth about Aamir Khan?

Is Aaamir's blog a big fat lie?

Do all bollywood stars cheat their fans including aamir khan?

Is all the activism just a publicity stunt for all bollywood stars?

Rahul Pandita said...

Anon no. 1, I am not and I have not maligned Mr. Khan at all. Morality demands a lot of things, but for a journalist, ethics come first. So I have to respect what my subjects are not comfortable with.

Anon no. 2, Is Aamir's blog a big fat lie? I hope not. For your last two questions: No comments, please.

Vivek said...

Hi Rahul,
It is pity that we call India as democratic state. People like Prashant, who tries to fight for downtrodden people of society, has to go under horrifying experience.
Argument of Mr. Ganapathy I-G police is really silly.
He seems to accept that then can plant arms to any body according to their willingness. Probably just for this sake of argument they did not plant any arm.
Anyway it's not worth to discuss here anything about any pseudo activities.
Do you have any idea about so called "judicial" status of the case?

मुनीश ( munish ) said...

Rahul u have seen insurgency and experienced it too. still kind of sypathaising with naxal cause?

Rahul Pandita said...

Munish, I am no Naxal sympathiser. But still, I wonder what makes some of the best minds of this country leave their glossy careers behind and spend years in jungles, battling an apathetic state and malaria among other things.

What I have faced is actually terrorism. And Naxals are not terrorists. Romanticism apart, most of the grassroot Naxal cadre comprises of those who have seen hunger and who have witnessed oppression from small oppressors like the police constable, tehsildar, local contractor etc.

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