You are here: Home Features India: Wives of political prisoners fight back
India: Wives of political prisoners fight back

Oct 21, 2011

Emotional trauma, health problems and poor financial conditions do not stop women in West Bengal from fighting for the release of their husbands and other political prisoners who refused to surrender their ideals before an unjust system.

Kolkata: In West Bengal, especially in the state capital of Kolkata, fervent celebrations mark the five days of Durga Puja. But the last time Shikha Sen Roy enjoyed Durga Puja festivities was in 2001 when her husband, the jailed Maoist leader and ex-state secretary of the West Bengal committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Himadri Sen Roy (alias Somen), was still with the family.


Post-2001, Himadri went underground and then on February 23, 2007, he was arrested and put in prison. Since then, life has been a grim battle for Shikha. "Although he had been away from home for years, I was happy because he was free. He was fighting against an unjust system. But now he's in poor health and it tortures me to think that he has been robbed of the one thing a person treasures the most - liberty."

Besides the emotional trauma, Shikha is also struggling with health problems. She's chronically underweight, under constant medication and even came very close to a nervous breakdown. "I couldn't have afforded medical treatment if it hadn't been for our family physician who respects my husband and refuses to accept any fees from me," she reveals, adding, "Yet, I often skip the medicines he prescribes because I simply cannot pay for them. But that's no big deal. The vast majority of people in our country cannot afford any healthcare at all." What is far more important to Shikha is to ensure that she can buy her husband the little things he needs in jail - clothes, dry rations, books, and so on. 

An activist with a local women's organisation, Shikha doesn't like to talk about her own suffering. Yet, one look at the single dreary room that is her home, stuffed with a rickety sewing machine that provides her daily bread - she is a ladies' tailor by profession - a small bed, a gas oven and a couple of plastic chairs, leaves little doubt of the wretchedness of her condition. But she chooses to remain positive believing that there are others who are far worse off than her. Women like Mukta Chakraborty, perhaps, wife of jailed Maoist leader and spokesman, Gour Chakraborty, who has been imprisoned for the last couple of years.

"They ransacked the single room in which I live with my son, interrogated me mercilessly, and took away dozens of books and every single photo that I had of my husband"
Shikha Sen Roy, wife of a political prisoner

A pall of gloom looms over Chakraborty's tiny home in the suburb of Madanpur, some kilometres from Kolkata, as her only son, Somprakash, too, has been arrested on suspicion of being involved in Maoist activities and sent to Jharkhand. Last heard, he was lodged in prison in Jamshedpur. With her voice shaking with anger and despair she says, "First it was my husband, and now my son. What was his crime? Joining the campaign for the release of all political prisoners, including his father? That alone made him a dangerous terrorist? Why don't they pick me up too and round off the score?"

Mukta works in a small medicine factory for paltry wages and is entitled to only one off-day in a week. "But I have already used up all my leave visiting my husband in jail, consulting lawyers, being present in court for case hearings and participating in campaigns demanding his release. So now my wages are deducted when I take off. At this rate, how will I meet my husband and son who are in jail in two different states? I'm really at the end of my tether," she rues. She asserts that she can bear most things, but what she can't bear is to think that her once lively and spirited husband is now confined to prison, ailing and weak, with the hope of freedom steadily fading away.

Mahamaya Sarkar, wife of jailed Maoist leader Chandi Sarkar, too, struggles every day to put up a brave front. A few months ago there had been a ray of hope when the state government had announced that 50-odd prisoners, including Sarkar, were slated to be released soon.

"Political prisoners are not criminals and we are proud to be fighting for them"
Shikha Sen Roy

"My daughter and I were so happy. I thought that that was to be the new government's first step in honouring its electoral promise of releasing all political prisoners. I couldn't wait for my husband to come home... it's been seven years and he is really old and ill now," she says. But her happiness was short-lived. The government soon announced that it would not be releasing any Maoist leaders as the central government had conveyed its strong reservations on the issue.

Things for her have only gone from bad to worse in the recent past. Earlier, her husband was lodged in Krishnanagar prison in Nadia district - where she lives in a tumbledown house with her only daughter. She could visit him often and keep an eye on his health. But he has recently been transferred to Dumdum Jail in Kolkata. The authorities suspected him of inspiring fellow prisoners to protest against the abysmal quality of the food and high handedness of the prison officials.

"I can't visit him regularly now," she says. "It takes nearly three hours to reach Kolkata by train. If I take time off from my small sari business, how will I earn?" Once a fortnight, Mahamaya travels to Kolkata, buys saris in bulk from traders and hauls a few bag-loads back to Krishnanagar, for sale. Of course, a lot goes unsold, which she lugs back and exchanges for newer stuff. It is hard work and it will be harder still if she has to fit regular visits to Dumdum Jail in to her schedule. "He is in the jail hospital now, but I have been able to visit him only once since," she sighs.

These are all brave women. They know it will be easy for their husbands to get bail if they publicly renounce their ideals and promise to cooperate with the government. But no one wants her husband to do such a thing. They are unanimous in the opinion that 'surrender' is a hateful word. "The police have raided my home twice - once before my husband's arrest and once after," recounts Shikha.

"They ransacked the single room in which I live with my son, interrogated me mercilessly, and took away dozens of books and every single photo that I had of my husband. The second time, they came in the dead of the night and accused me of sheltering Maoist activists! Now that my organisation has launched a movement demanding the release of political prisoners, I may be arrested too. I certainly wouldn't have borne all this if I had wanted my husband to surrender," she declares.

In Mahamaya's case after her husband's arrest, she had to spend many days away from home because the police would turn up at all odd hours for questioning. Even her minor daughter was not spared. Some weeks later she too was arrested on suspicion of having links with Maoists but was released after the charges could not be proved. "I shall never forget those days in police custody," she says, "and the torture that I had to face. I would not have gone through that horrible experience if I had wanted my husband to pawn his beliefs for bail."

Many feel that the new Trinamool Congress-led government in West Bengal has reneged on its pre-election promise of releasing political prisoners. "But it has not reckoned with us yet," says Shikha with quiet confidence. She has taken the initiative to bring together various women's organisations and wives of political prisoners on to a single platform to demand the unconditional release of not just Maoist but all political prisoners. "We will start a vigorous campaign soon. Political prisoners are not criminals and we are proud to be fighting for them," she concludes with conviction, "Till then our personal woes can wait."

Most Read
Most Shared
You May Like




Jobs at OneWorld










Global Goals 2030
OneWorld South Asia Group of Websites