A Woman Adivasi Activist Goes to Jail

Early in the morning, the police came to arrest Sursibai but they didn’t recognise her so they asked someone to find out where she was. Sursibai was on her way to fill drinking water from the hand pump in her village Jamasi in Dewas District of Madhya Pradesh in India. The people were aware about the police and informed Sursibai that she should not come before them. She waited for a while hiding in the tall cotton plants to avoid arrest but then on an impulse decided to go and meet them. She appeared in front of the police and introduced herself. Then she went to prepare tea for them. After that Police men asked Sursibai to come to Udhaynagar Thana with them for some work. She got ready to go with them and said to her husband that she would come back quickly. She thought that she would get bail soon and be back. The police men had come to arrest Sursibai without lady police which is mandatory. On the way the police men stopped the van and went to arrest other women. Sursibai was sitting alone in the Van for half an hour. The police men came back without arresting the women. They reached Udaynagar Thana that is 7 k. m. from her village Jamasi. Sursibai was told to remain seated in the van. Then the police men started to prepare papers to arrest her and she remained sitting there for around 5 hours. After completing the papers they took her to the next police station Bagli by bus. It is 35 k. m. from Udaynagar to Bagli. There, they had called a lady police to accompany her and she was presented in front of the sub- divisional magistrate at around 5 o’ clock in the evening. Police did not give a chance to the people from her village to present the bail application in the court. She was sent to the district jail in Dewas that is also 60 k. m. from Bagli. While she was under the control of the police men, the whole day she was hungry. She could not object to this but also not ask for food, but the police department is habitual in delaying the case procedure for producing arrested men or women in the court. She entered the jail at 9 p.m. and was put in the women’s compartment, where there was not much light. The Lady police opened the lock of the heavy steel door. The lady police entered in the hall and pointed out a separate cemented cot and asked other women to give two blankets to Sursibai and then she came out from the hall and pulled the two parts of the door together with a sound like an elephant’s trumpet. She said that no one should come near it and then she locked the door from outside with a heavy lock and hung the key on her wrist. For a little a while she held a baton and then crossed the windows to show that the prisoners are under the control of the lady police and then she sat on her bed outside and asked women to give hand made bread to Sursibai if they had any left. One woman had a child so she always kept some bread for her child and she gave that to Sursibai. But she didn’t eat thinking that it was for the child and instead she tried to sleep on the hard bed. There was one blanket for putting on the bed and one for covering herself but the whole night she could not sleep due to empty stomach. She drank water and tried to sleep but could not sleep at all. From time to time she would peep outside through the window and feel free. She woke up early in the morning and tried to befriend the others. Next morning another lady police came on her duty and started asking about the case in which Sursibai had come to jail. Then Sursibai explained that she is a social activist fighting for the rights of her tribes people and not a criminal. She works for her community to solve their problems. Sursibai countered the question of the lady police by asking her how she did not know of the tribal women’s campaign for closing the liquor shops in this district. The women’s organisation “Kansari Nu Vadavno” (which means Felicitating the Goddess Kansari who is the symbol of their staple cereal Sorghum) is a rights based organisation set up to demand the basic needs like health care systems, safe drinking water, schools and to implement the Right to Information Act, Forest Rights Act, Right to Education Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Closing illegal liquor shops was the main agenda of the organisation. Sursibai is one of those thousands of women who led a peaceful campaign to curb it. It was most effective between 1996 to 2000. There were 25 women with different cases in Dewas district jail. She was very happy to stay in the jail because she wanted to know everything about the jail. The hall had a toilet and ash for washing hands, big windows with thick iron rods, fans and big walls all around the hall so that no one can see outside the jail. The heavy door was opened at 8 a.m. so that they could come out from hall in the morning and move in the courtyard, brushing their teeth and taking tea and breakfast. There were no twigs for brushing teeth like she was used to in the village. She brushed teeth by crushing small pieces of coal into powder. Tea was served in a full of glass by a male prisoner. It was not hot as she was the last in the queue for getting tea. One hour later the breakfast, salty porridge, was served in a plate, and she had a stomach full. Undercooked and burned handmade bread five in number and a tasteless dish of gourds and potato curry were given for lunch. The same tasteless food was served to the jail inmates every day. There were two lady police on duty for them. Sursibai had been arrested on October 22nd, 2013 when general elections were going on in Madhya Pradesh. She was brought to attend the court hearing in Bagli around once in a week. On hearing days her lawyer presented the bail application for her but she was not given bail till the supplementary charge sheet charging her with attempt to murder police men was filed by the police. Sursibai is not a common woman and that is why she has been falsely implicated in this case by the police. The government is not always very positive when people demand their fundamental rights and object to its illegal actions. After, 9 days, she began to worry about her house, children, animals, chicken and goats? Then she started to lose her confidence and reduced her diet. No one could say for certain how long it would take to get bail and get out of the jail. With the stress, she definitely became much pressurized and became ill in the jail and lost her weight too. The bail application was rejected twice in Bagli and finally she got bail in the Dewas court. After 3 and half months she got bail at the end of the day on 16th March 2014. Her son and husband were present to receive her. Since they could not reach their village that day they stayed in her relative’s house in a nearby village and phoned her family members to arrange for the formality to take her back in their community. Among the Bhils a stint in jail is considered to be a defiling one and so the prisoner after release has to perform rituals to be purified. Sursibai is one of many Bhil women who have gone to jail fighting for their rights because the Government is not prepared to give them justice. The fight goes on.

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