Recently, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) members were arrested for the murder of TP Chandrasekharan, a former leader who had quit and formed his own party. While it once again highlighted the political violence in the state, Kerala’s political culture is also reflected in its jails.
According to data provided by highly placed sources in the prisons department, there are altogether 70 CPM workers convicted or under trial for political violence in Kerala’s prisons. There are 40 BJP and RSS members, the number of Congressmen is 25 and the Indian Union Muslim League, a major partner in the ruling United Democratic Front, also has 25 of its workers behind bars. Plus, there are ten prisoners who belong to other parties. In addition, there are 60 prisoners booked under the Goonda Act (Kerala Anti Social Activities Prevention Act 2007). “They are involved in political violence for all parties, freelancers doing it for money,” says an officer in charge of a central jail in Kerala.
These numbers might not seem huge but, taken as a proportion of the total number of people in jail, they are significant. There are only 6,399 prisoners in Kerala, either convicted or undertrial. Also, the current number of political prisoners doesn’t reflect the actual number of cases of political violence. “We have to consider the cases being withdrawn by both the parties—Congress and CPM—when they come to power. Hence the actual number of men involved in political violence would be higher than these figures,” says Harish V, a social activist.
The CPM might have the largest number of inmates with 70, but its supporters bizarrely argue that it actually shows that they indulge in less violence. The logic is that the CPM is a common enemy of the other three—BJP-RSS, Congress and the IUML whose combined number, 90, is greater than that of the CPM.
The data also show a drastic decline in women inmates. There are only 189 female prisoners, from 400 to 500 ten years back. Jail officials put it down to street-based sex work coming down thanks to mobile phones. Nalini Jameela, a sex worker turned activist and writer, says, “Moral policing is another reason for visibility of sex workers coming down. Also, organisations supporting sex workers help them get bail.”