The books that are born out of experience always stand out. Fractured Freedom by Kobad Ghandy is one such book. Kobad Ghandy was born into a well-off family. He did his schooling from the famous Doon School and after completing his college education from St. Xavier College, Mumbai he went to the UK to do his CA.

In England of1970s, after experiencing bitter racial discrimination, he slowly became aware of the socio-political environment around him. Mr. Ghandy wanted to know the causes of racial discrimination and began visiting British Museum Library in his free time. There he read extensively on Indian’s colonial legacy from the books by BC Dutt, Dadabhai Naoroji and others.

He realized how the Indian economy was ruined by the two centuries of colonial rule.  While his understanding of the socio-political issues was deepening, the socialist revolution was sweeping the entire world. Great changes were taking place in China. India was rocked by the Naxalite movement.

Meanwhile, he was engrossed in reading Marxist literature. During this time Mr. Ghandy also participated in some political activities for which he was briefly jailed. Finally, he decided not to complete his CA and return to India to work for social change. Coming to India he joined the radical Left.  His liberal-minded parents sympathized with him. Thus Ghandy’s awareness of his surroundings completely changed the course of his life.

He wrote, “Oscar Wild once said, ‘To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist that is all.’ But if we were to truly ‘live’ we cannot but be sensitive to our surroundings, where now not only our people but also nature, our land, forests, water, and even air, are being destroyed.

“To merely ‘exist’ could be convenient for oneself, but tends to turn people into robots; at the most enjoying sensual and material pleasures with little sensitivity of love, affection, warmth in their relations with others or empathy for the sufferings of others.”

Returning from England, Ghandy plunged into radical politics. First, he started working in the slums of Mumbai. He came in touch with Progressive Youth Movement which was run by two professors Dev Nathan and Vasanti. Interestingly about four decades ago I had also met both of them. In Mumbai, Kobad met Anuradha, a most charming student leader from ElphinstoneCollege whom he married later.

Anuradha also came from a well-off and cultured family. Both of them declassed themselves and leaving the middle-class comfort they took to a simple lifestyle. To devote more time to their causes they decided not to have any children. Kobad and Anuradha mainly worked among the Dalits and tribal people for nearly four decades.

While working among the Dalits, both of them realized that majority of Indian Marxist theoreticians did not pay due attention to the caste question in India. In this respect, he mentioned an excellent treatise written by Anuradha on caste.

Meanwhile, Anuradha developed certain ailments working among the tribal in harsh conditions. In 2008, in spite of her poor health, she went to Jharkhand to take a class on women’s oppression.  On her return from Jharkhand, her health further deteriorated and she suddenly passed away. Anuradha’s death devastated Kobad Ghandy. Here ends the first section of the book.

The real drama in the book starts in its second section. On 17 September, 2009 at about four in the afternoon Kobad Ghandy was kidnapped from the bus stop of Bhikaji Cama Place in Delhi in a filmy style by half a dozen of tough guys in an SUV.

Later he came to know that he was arrested by a team of a special branch of AP Police. They thought him to be a member of the politburo of the MCC, Naxalite outfit. Subsequently many a case was foisted on him. Following his arrest, Ghandy had to spend ten long years in various Indian jails as an under trial till he was released on 16 October 2019.

In Delhi’s Tihar jail alone he had languished for seven long years. In this section of the book, we get a horrific picture of India’s criminal justice system. It rarely dispenses justice but mostly perpetuates injustice. The liberal and humane verdicts of the Supreme Court are implemented in their flouting.

In jail, he was kept in HRW. In the book, Ghandy has written in details all the suffering, ignominy and humiliation he had to undergo in jail.  Simple thing- why did it happen? Is it because he worked for the poor and marginalized section of society? Finally, except for a tiny thing, the police could prove nothing against him in the court of law.

The book also raises a serious question about the Indian jails. Shouldn’t the jails and the criminal justice system of a country be humane and civil? Here, appendix II of the book can be an eye-opener for all of us. The appendix mentions the book Is it police (2014) by V K Singh, IPS, D G, prisons, Telangana.

A quote mentioned from the book by Ghandy is reproduced here: “Policemen are great status quoists. Naturally, it would be so as we kill all initiative, discourage all change mongers, and put great value on figures and statistics which can be fudged. Your career can be predicted by your attitude, caste, ability to lobby and having worked for the system to keep it afloat and smart and unprincipled ones enjoy the fruits without any sweat or plucking hair. This is policing!”

The appendix also includes a report prepared by a team of lawyers on Kabad Ghandy’s cases which has general implications on our criminal justice system. This section is also full of interesting anecdotes from his jail life, especially the description of his encounter with Afzal Guru is moving. Here he also reveals a lot about the corruption inside the jails and the jail life of some of the infamous dons. The description of his interaction in jail with Sudheendra Kulkarni, the one-time aid of former prime minister A B Vajpayee is also quite interesting. Other inmates of the jail had great respect for Ghandy.

Section III of the book is titled ‘Reflections and Relevance’.  From his experience of four decades of working for the poor, he realized that ‘not only are the parliamentary left in stagnation but so are the varied Naxal factions.’ So he is looking beyond.

He says, ‘’ To start with, the goalposts have to be changed from fighting inequality to happiness for all.’’ Here he emphasizes three things- happiness, freedom and good values. In the present context, his observations and suggestions need serious attention.

There is great spontaneity and honesty in the book. The book reveals that it is not that everything in the present establishment is rotten; the anti-establishment forces are also equally moth-eaten. Therefore there is an urgent need to look for a third alternative.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com