'I was put in an anda cell. No window, light or air. Only grills.'
'During the monsoon, water would seep. There were rats running around all the time.'
'We were forced to sleep under bright lights all the time. Those bright lights are never switched off.'
After Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji was arrested in Chennai on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, allegations about the DMK leader being assaulted in the Enforcement Directorate's custody surfaced. The Tamil Nadu Human Rights Commission said it would look into Balaji's allegations of ill-treatment at the ED's hands during his arrest. The ED has denied the allegations.
Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP and executive editor of Saamana, the Shiv Sena's daily newspaper, was arrested by the ED last year.
In the second of a multi-part interview with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Neeta Kolhatkar, Raut reveals how he was treated after his arrest.
"They have no lock-up facilities (in the ED office). They only have a conference room where we were kept. We sat there and were made to sleep on the table there. I told the court I am a heart patient and have seven stents; the room I was kept in has no light or ventilation."
What was the entire process of your arrest, if it was done at midnight? What did the ED do from 5 pm till midnight?
They picked me from Bhandup (north east Mumbai, where he lives) at 5 pm and took me to their office at Ballard Pier (south Mumbai).
They did clerical work -- filling name and other information.
I had answered all their questions twice before in my house. The same was repeated.
I told them categorically I had appeared for every summon they made, my wife too has appeared and we have answered every question.
Now what more information do you want from me?
I was told a senior officer from Delhi was expected, he was to sign the arrest warrant.
Till then they kept me with them, telling me I was arrested, but it was endorsed only after midnight when the officer came.
I was kept in that ED office for eight days, I could do absolutely nothing.
How are the conditions in the ED office? Is there a lock-up? How were you treated?
They have no lock-up facilities. They only have a conference room where we were kept.
We sat there and were made to sleep on the table there.
This place has nothing and is the epitome of inhuman, merciless (nirghrun) that breaches every human right of a citizen.
I told the court I am a heart patient and have seven stents; the room I was kept in has no light or ventilation.
While questioning me, they showed me some stupid paper. I told them outright this has been brought from elsewhere, it is not from my house and I would just throw it in the dustbin.
They would wave silly papers and say this has been found in the search of your premises.
They didn't stop there. They took my younger daughter with them and brought her to our Dadar house (north central Mumbai) and made her open it.
There wasn't even a lady police who accompanied her.
They instructed her to sit while they searched the premises.
Afterwards, the court slammed them and the judge clearly stated it was an illegal arrest.
When you were shifted to prison later, which cell were you kept in? Which jail were you shifted to?
After the ED custody tenure was completed, they shifted me to jail. In fact an interesting thing happened.
The ED didn't ask to extend my custody after their eight days custody. This may have been the first time that the ED told the court they didn't want me in their custody. I was sent to the Arthur road jail.
How was your first day in jail? How humiliating was it?
Your human rights are never protected in jail. That is the place where every human right of a citizen is breached.
There were many important people in Arthur road jail when I was there. Privileged people of our society. Every single person told me they were wrongly arrested.
Anil Deshmukh was there. Sanjay Chhabria, Avinash Bhosale and Nihar Garware met me. I also met Peter Kerkar and Satish Uke. I went through the entire drill which every prisoner has to undergo.
Were you mentally prepared for the treatment in jail that you would have to endure?
Once you know you are going to be arrested, you have to mentally prepare yourself.
I never collapsed mentally and this is what I urged fellow inmates to follow.
I wasn't allowed to meet people often, but whenever I did, I would boost their spirits and tell them, this is a battle and we have to fight.
I was put in an anda cell. Anil Deshmukh was also in an anda cell. It is a small cell. No window, light or air. Only grills. During the monsoon, water would seep. There were rats running around all the time.
We were forced to sleep under bright lights all the time. Those bright lights are never switched off.
The only leeway given to me was home cooked food because of my heart condition.
But by the time that food is brought to your cell, it is presented in a condition that puts you off from eating it.
It is first opened, checked by police at 10 different points. They rummage, press, to see if a blade or a pair of scissors or something pointed has been smuggled in it.
There are other security drills you have to endure.
Let me remind you, every single political prisoner in this country is enduring these excesses in different jails across the country.
We are not terrorists, goondas, dacoits or anti-nationals, we are political prisoners who have been framed under false charges by this government and sent to jail to serve their vested political interests.
Some may have buckled under pressure and joined their party, like some of our legislators have gone.
Most of all, (Maharashtra Chief Minister) Eknath Shinde is a victim of the ED, his personal assistant has been arrested.
The only difference between them and us is they are scared while we are not afraid. Some of us have faced the agencies fearlessly.
In which barrack was your cell? Were you allowed to meet and speak with fellow inmates?
My conversations or interactions were only when I used to be taken for the mulaqats.
Most of the time I was in my cell. I was kept in the same barrack where (26/11 terrorist Ajmal) Kasab was kept.
Next to his barrack, Anil Deshmukh was kept.
The authorities have prepared a cell in anticipation that Nirav Modi will be brought here; he, of course, hasn't come to India as yet.
I was put in the same yard where (26/11 handler) Abu Jindal was kept in high security, a bullet proof, bomb proof cell.
What was your routine every day? Could you exercise?
When I was kept with the ED, there was no scope to do anything. In the Arthur road jail I kept a routine.
I would wake up early, take walks in the barrack for an hour, read and write.
I have written all my experiences and I will publish them in a book.
I used to read a lot. I would go to the library. It is quite small, but has a few books.
There were times when I'd meet my family, my staff from Saamna and they would bring me books to read. Yes, the court permitted to take notebooks and pens.
My office staff came to meet me, to take instructions for the news to carried and especially for editorials to be carried.
This would, of course, be over the telephone and it has its own limitations.
Then people would come to the court to meet me, a large number of people would come to meet me.
At that time, the ED complained to the court that many people come to meet me.
The court slammed them and asked why does it bother them?
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com