Prisoner rights

Kerala Maoist Konnath Muralidharan’s kin, activists say he’s being denied medical care in Pune jail

He frequently complains of chest pain and wants to consult a cardiologist but Yerawada prison officials allegedly refuse to release his medical records.

Denial of medical care is allegedly threatening the life of Konnath Muralidharan, a Maoist leader from Kerala who is languishing in Pune’s Yerawada Centrail Jail for three years now.

According to his son, who visited him on June 3, Muralidharan, 64, frequently complains of chest pain. “He wants to consult a cardiologist but the prison officials are denying him the opportunity by holding his medical records,” he said. “They would hand over the records only if ordered by the courts. So my father wants to approach the courts.”

Muralidharan’s health has been a cause of concern for activists across the world, particularly since he was admitted for two weeks in Pune’s Sassoon Hospital with severe chest pain on September 1, 2016. The Maoist leader, also known as Murali Kannampilly or by his nom de guerre Ajith, had undergone a heart surgery a few years ago. On September 6, the renowned American intellectual Noam Chomsky joined human rights activists, academics, writers and philosophers from India and abroad to demand proper medical treatment for Muralidharan. Chomsky also asked that the jailed rebel be given a fair, transparent and speedy trial or be set free. The demand was endorsed by Professors Gayatri Chakarvorty Spivak, Judith Butler and Partha Chatterjee, among others.

Denying proper medical care to a prisoner contravenes Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and liberty. Many judgements over the years have held that harming a prisoner’s body or mental faculties contravenes the right to life. The prison officials’ refusal to release Muralidharan’s medical records also flies in the face of the recommendations submitted by the All India Committee on Jail Reforms, set up in 1983 to devise a plan for prison infrastructure and treatment of inmates. Apart from ensuring their physical well-being, the committee asked jail authorities to be sensitive to prisoners’ perceptions, emotions and thinking, regardless of whether or not they had committed the offence they stood convicted of.

The Prisons Act of 1894 too shows leniency towards critically ill inmates, empowering the prison medical officer to shift them to wherever proper medical care is available.

Muralidharan was arrested on May 8, 2015 while he was being treated in a hospital in Talegaon Dhabada, about 30 km from Pune. He was charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for being associated with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) as well as under penal provisions related to forging, carrying and using “security documents”.

At the Yerawada jail, inmates who take ill are often referred to Sassoon Hospital, said Susan Abraham, a lawyer and member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, a civil rights group based in Mumbai. “The prison doctors’ panel doesn’t have a single cardiologist,” she added.

Asked why the jail officials are not releasing Muralidharan’s medical records, Abraham said “they think it will help the undertrial demand bail.” “But they haven’t given us anything in writing as we could challenge it in court,” she added. “They are not at all concerned about Muralidharan’s health or of any other inmates for that matter.”

Abraham said every prisoner is entitled to get a copy of their medical records. Her position is supported by the Council for Advancement and Protection of Constitutional Rights in India. “It is an essential document for seeking any external medical opinion,” the civil rights organisation based in Kochi, Kerala, said in a statement.

The council asked for an independent medical to assess Muralidharan’s condition. But he “should be given proper medical care first”, the statement added.

Contacted on the phone, Yerawarda jail officials refused to provide any details about Muralidharan’s health. “Sorry, we cannot talk about it over the phone,” an official said.

Birth of a rebel

Muralidharan is the son of Kannampilly Karunakara Menon, a former diplomat who served as a counsellor at the Indian Embassy in China from 1958 to 1961. Muralidharan reportedly began associating with radical leftist groups while studying civil engineering at what is now the National Institute of Technology in Kozhikode. In February 1976, he was named as an accused in the infamous Kayanna police station attack, but was acquitted by the courts along with all the other accused. His colleague P Rajan was not so lucky. He was arrested by the police and tortured to death.

Muralidharan was appointed to the Central Reorganisation Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) after it was formed in 1979 and rose to become its secretary. When it merged with the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in May 2014, he became the secretary of the new party.

While underground for four decades until his arrest in 2015, Muralidharan edited A World to Win, a magazine published by Revolutionary International Movement, a forum to coordinate Maoist movements across the globe. He also wrote what is considered a seminal book on land reforms, and caste and agrarian relations in Kerala, titled Land, Caste and Servitude.

In his three years in prison, he has applied for bail only once. The application was rejected by Additional Sessions Judge, Pune, RN Sardesai on the grounds that Muralidharan was a member of a banned group and that police had seized “books, handwritten Malayalam literature, fake PAN and Aadhar cards” from his rented apartment. If he were released on bail, the court said, he would abscond.

Muralidharan has challenged the order in the Bombay High Court. “The court is slated to hear his bail plea on July 2,” said Abraham.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.