Nearly 1,000 men and women arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) are in prisons across India. The majority are undertrials, detained in jail for years even though they have not yet been convicted.

In the case of activist and alleged Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy, trials have been going on for more than four years, with Ghandy detained in Delhi’s Tihar jail and his bail pleas rejected repeatedly. Ghandy was arrested in Delhi in September 2009 on charges of being a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and is facing trial in 20 cases under the UAPA and different sections of the Indian Penal Code.

While in prison, Ghandy has been spending his time writing long letters to his friends and articles for niche publications, such as Parsiana, a community magazine for Parsis, and The Rose Bowl, a quarterly magazine for alumni of Dehradun’s elite Doon School, Ghandy’s alma mater.

This week, The Rose Bowl and Ghandy’s friend Gautam Vohra shared with a series of correspondence that Ghandy had penned from Tihar between 2011 and 2012. His letters touch upon everything from his health and life in jail to long discussions questioning the lawfulness of his arrest and imprisonment.

“The UAPA is being utilized to keep in all kinds of dissidents – even RTI activists – just by showing some link to a banned organisation,” he said in a July 2011 letter to Vohra.

In another letter that Ghandy wrote to the director of the National Human Rights Commission in November 2011, he appealed to be treated like a political prisoner and not a convicted criminal, “In the entire charge sheet there is no charge of violence…There is no charge of any criminal activity or criminal intent, which is normally accompanied with charges under the UAPA,” he wrote. “I have merely been put behind bars for my views and my work amongst the poor, who comprise 80% of our people. Incidentally the views (Maoist or Marxist) are not banned and freely available!” Here, Ghandy is referring to a Supreme Court statement that mere ideology cannot be the grounds for arresting a person.

Ghandy, now 67, was born into a wealthy Parsi family and studied in Doon School and Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College before heading to London to study chartered accountancy. It was in London that he first saw Marxist groups fighting racism and got attracted to the ideology. After returning to India in the 1970s, he began working with tribals and the rural poor in different parts of the country. He was a member of the Maoist People’s War Group but claims he was expelled from it in 1987.

In his letters, Ghandy repeatedly emphasises that he is not a Maoist leader or ideologue, and that the prosecution had not been able to produce any evidence against him in court. In March 2011, he wrote in a letter to Vohra, that after several months of delayed hearings, it was finally his lawyer’s turn to present a defence. “But when we landed up in March we were told that the judge was being transferred,” he wrote. When a new judge was appointed a few months later, the trial had to begin again.

Vohra, who was Ghandy’s 1963 batch mate in Doon School, said that Ghandy was a topic of debate and discussion amongst 30 of their classmates who attended their batch’s 50th anniversary reunion this October. “Some people in the group felt that Kobad has challenged the Constitution and had promoted armed resurrection,” said Vohra, a former journalist who now runs an NGO for tribals in Maharashtra. “However, some of us feel that the police has not been able to prove any charge against him in four years. He is an old man with deteriorating health, he should be released on special dispensation.”

The Rose Bowl, through its editorials, has consistently been supporting Ghandy, an alumnus of Doon School. “A man is innocent until proven guilty, but in Kobad’s case, nothing has been proven against him in all these years,” said Valentina Trivedi, editor of the magazine. “How can you deny anybody a fair trial?”