JU students take out first ever street protest in Kolkata to free Soni Sori

From Tehelka.com:

Jadavpur students take out street protest in support of Soni Sori

Photo: Shankar Sarkar

The campaign to free Soni Sori broke new ground on Wednesday 12 December, with the first street protest for her immediate release being organised at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. It was a small beginning, with fewer than 200 college students and a handful of civil society activists carrying out a march; a turnout blamed by organisers on college exams. “This is only the beginning,” said Madhushree Das, one of the organisers, “and we will continue the protest and plan something big for January, when the students are back on campuses.”

One man, however, was not in the least disheartened with the turnout. Piyush Guha was a tendu leaf businessman in Chhattisgarh with little involvement in politics, when he was arrested along with Binayak Sen and Narayan Sanyal in 2007, and charged with sedition in what became the biggest political trial in recent memory. Jailed in the same Raipur Central Jail where Sori continues to be lodged, Guha was released in 2011 after the Supreme Court granted him bail. “I never imagined so many youths would come to support Soni Sori,” he says of the low turnout. “If there’s anything this era has taught us, it’s that we are on our own. But there is a potential in this crowd for a bigger campaign. Our generation of political leaders either never did anything for us or failed in the attempt, but the young men and women who came today to support a woman they do not know show that there is still humanity in the next generation.”

There are parallels between Guha’s and Sori’s incarcerations. Neither was considered a Maoist by the state establishment, yet both were arrested; a sign that the State is expanding its campaign to silence even the voices on the periphery of the conflict, anyone it considers collaborators or sympathisers, he says. “The government wants the people on the periphery not to speak, not to think.” The parallels breed empathy —reason Guha was at Jadavpur for the rally. “When I was in solitary confinement, my biggest fear was that the people had forgotten us,” he says. “Hearing about the nationwide campaign for our release gave us succour, and the initiation of this campaign will give her hope.”

Guha recounts the horrors of the jail hospital, which denied Sori medical aid as her health deteriorated and proceeded to give her a clean bill of health. “You get nothing in the jail hospital,” he says. “Even though there are nominally three doctors responsible for it, it is actually run by a compounder. No inmate ever gets treatment there. People are afraid to go there, as even minor ailments can become fatal. We saw countless people dying from lack of treatment in front of our eyes. I remember one inmate who committed suicide because he was being denied treatment even when the Raipur Medical College is just across the road.”

Piyush Guha

Medical care is available, he says, but at a price. “If you can pay Rs 100, you’ll get an injection. Cough medicine comes for Rs 50. If you can pay Rs 500, you can even be treated at the medical college. Of course, if you are branded a Maoist, you can forget about that.” The entire prison, he says, runs on bribes, with career criminals scouring the local newspapers for news of wealthier people being arrested. “There are a lot of simple village youths in custody on false charges of being Maoists,” he says. “They cannot afford to get even the basic necessities in jail.”

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