On 29th July 2011, a 15-year-old girl from Mailpidi village, Jharkhand was arrested by the police on her way home from school in Dhudri Murhu. Her crime? Bank robbery, armed conflict with the police and she was apparently Maoist.
‘Stop pretending to be a student…’ the police told her as they went through her school bag and roughed her up.
This is the story of Magdalene Mundu’s tryst with state oppression.
Over the past few decades, Jharkhand has been the scene of many arrests where individuals are falsely accused. In some cases they have been activists fighting for their land rights and for tribal rights (not that this justifies arrest) and in others like this case, the individuals are entirely innocent, victims of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Magdalene’s village, Mailpidi, is nestled between the Elephant Corridor and the Saranda-Singhbum range in Jharkhand. No roads or vehicles go there, the only way you can reach it is by foot. Magdalene shifted to Murhu in the next district and rented a place to stay with her brother so that she could go to school easily. Little did she know that her plans of getting a better education were going to be put on hold by the Jharkhand police.
After being falsely accused, Magdalene was taken to the Khunti jail and then later transferred to the Namkum Women’s Probation Home. She stayed here for 10 months and for the first 9, no one knew where she was— not her family, not her friends, not her teachers.
“But why did they think she was a Maoist? Did she do something?” I asked Amita, our IndiaUnheard Comminty Correspondent who worked tirelessly to get Magdalene out of jail safely.
“This was not the first time she was arrested” Amita reveals, “She was arrested in 2010 after a tussle at the Murhu State Bank between some people and the police. She wasn’t involved in any of it. She and her friends were visiting her sister who lived nearby.”
Amita continues, “They went to see a cricket match at her sister’s house when that shootout happened. The police came around to do a routine search and found a bunch of kids in school uniforms who weren’t originally from Murhu. They concluded that they must be Maoists and took them all into custody.” Magdalene and her friends spent 3 months in jail.
It took a lot of convincing from her teachers to come in and clarify that there had been a mistake and they were eventually let out. They put the incident behind them and attempted to move on with their lives. Magdalene went back to her school and continued to live with her brother in Murhu.
July 2011. Magdalene finds herself in a women’s probation home again. The accusations made against her are as bizarre as the whole situation itself.
“There was no evidence against her. It seems that the SPO instigated the other police officers to arrest her. The charge sheet from the event in 2010 does not even have her name on it,” says Alistair Bodro an activist who has worked closely with Magdalene and many others like her.
“I am sure if you took a look around the Khunti and other jails in Jharkhand, you’d find that around 70% of the people there are falsely accused and innocent. They are poor and have no one to ask after them. So what will they do but languish?”
It was again a matter of happenstance that Alistair found out that she was in the probation home. But once he had the information, he was able to set the ball in motion and get her out of jail. Magdalene was reunited with her family who were undoubtedly relieved that their youngest was still alive.
Eight months on, Magdalene is beginning to put back together her plans that were rudely interrupted. She confided in Amita at one point that she felt very strange around people and wondered what they thought of her. Were they constantly thinking that she is a Maoist?
Her family is convinced that she should just stay at home and forget about finishing school. “But she’s not going to give up so easily.” Says Amita. It has taken some doing, but Magdelene has been able to secure admission in the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya. The District Commissioner and school principal were very supportive. She will be joining school in the New Year when the session re-starts.
Magdalene has been considerably more fortunate than the hundreds if not thousands who have perished in the jails of Jharkhand at the hands of an oppressive state that doesn’t give a damn about its people. Our Community Correspondents have documented many cases themselves and activists like Alistair have worked with many. But does anyone listen?
“This needs to come forward. More people need to know about the state’s repression otherwise it will never stop,” says Alistair
Article by: Kayonaaz Kalyanwala