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Book review: Colours of the cage

For those who know nothing about human rights activist Arun Ferreira, he was arrested by the Nagpur police on charges of being a naxalite in May 2007, and then charged with everything from murder and criminal conspiracy to rioting and possession of arms. The presence of a pen drive in his pocket also prompted his abductors — for that is what they were — to label him the chief of the CPI (Maoist) organisation’s propaganda and communication network.

Colours of the Cage

He was acquitted of all charges in September 2011, but re-arrested by policemen at the prison gates. Early this year, Ferreira was finally acquitted of all charges; the state had not been able to prove a single one. By then, however, five years of his life had been lost forever.

Colours of the Cage is a brutal, no-holds-barred account of those lost years in prison. The writing is unvarnished, and refreshingly unencumbered with the need for forced metaphors simply because the truth is far more powerful. Sample this: “To make me more amenable to their demands, they stretched out my body completely, using an updated version of the medieval torture technique of drawing (though there was no quartering). My arms were tied to a window grille high above the ground while two policemen stood on my outstretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor.”

This ought to be required reading in educational institutions across India, keeping in mind the inexplicable wave of nationalism currently sweeping our country. It ought to be read by lawyers and journalists, the police and politicians. It ought to be read because it is such a slap in the face of everything we claim modern India is supposed to stand for. Ferreira takes us into a world of blatant violations of justice, in India’s dark corners, untouched by the unrelenting glare of TV cameras.

It’s where time appears to have stopped, where torture is encouraged, corruption is endemic and helplessness is taken for granted.

To his credit, Ferreira doesn’t use the real names of his tormentors, explaining that he cannot blame them for the system that makes them who they are. At 42, and now studying to become a criminal lawyer in order to work with political prisoners, he is testament to the fact that the human spirit can be bent, but not broken.

Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir, Arun Ferreira, Aleph, Rs 295. Available at leading bookstores.

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