ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Life in an Indian Prison

Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir by Arun Ferreira (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company), 2014; pp 164, Rs 295.

In his seminal work, Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault states that modern forms of punishment which centre around imprisonment as the principal site of inflicting a penalty have led to the elimination of the infliction of torture and pain as the principal techniques of punishment to become an economy of suspended rights. Arun Ferreira’s prison memoir forms part of the evidence which debunks this myth that the site of punishment has shifted from the body to the soul. The book is one of the rare documents of the modus operandi of the state in inflicting pain and torture on those it condemns. The few accounts that are present, including Vinod K Jose’s interview with Afzal Guru and the underground document brought out by the 1993 Bombay Blast accused, have failed to bring the enormity as well as the omnipresence of torture as part of the penal regime of the Indian state. The few judgments that deal with torture have either prescribed formulae to eradicate the same based on the premise that torture is an aberration rather than the rule or have helped make it the rule by holding that evidence obtained due to torture is admissible.

Having been a criminal lawyer I have heard enough stories to know otherwise. Infliction of pain and torture still constitute a principal technique of both investigation as well as punishment in India. Imprisonment and its daily degradations make little sense as a suitable deterrent in the eyes of the law enforcers in the political economy of punishment in a country where the vast majority of criminals belong overwhelmingly to the underclass whose rights in any case are suspended. The new discourse of state security post 9/11 has also contributed to the sanction of torture as a legitimate means of both evidence gathering and punishment as Ferreira points out in his book and as revealed by the accounts of happenings in Abu Ghraib.

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