In Zimbabwe, prison = death

The Republic of Chikurubi is getting worse. Last week, Zimbabwe’s “justice ministry” and prison officials revealed that at least 100 prisoners died from hunger and starvation this year. At least 100. Given Zimbabwe’s prisons, they could as easily have been remand prisoners as convicted prisoners, but really, what difference does it make? They’re dead, and they died a long, slow, painful, harrowing death. If that’s not torture, what is?

There is shock but no surprise here. Four years ago, a report on death and disease in Zimbabwe’s prisons began: “A bare struggle for survival, with food at its core, has come to define prison life in Zimbabwe. Describing the conditions in two of the capital city Harare’s main prisons in late 2008, a prison officer explained: “we’ve gone the whole year in which—for prisoners and prison officers—the food is hand to mouth…They’ll be lucky to get one meal. Sometimes they’ll sleep without. We have moving skeletons, moving graves. They’re dying.” Prison staff have had to convert cells and storage rooms to “hospital wards” for the dying and to makeshift mortuaries, where bodies “rotted on the floor with maggots moving all around”. They have had to create mass graves within prison grounds to accommodate the dead. In many prisons, the dead took over whole cells, and competed for space with the living. Prisoners described how the sick and the healthy slept side by side, packed together like sardines, with those who died in the night. A former prisoner, a young man, struggled to convey the horror of these conditions: “That place, I haven’t got the words…. I can describe it as hell on earth—though they say it’s more than hell.” Another simply said, “The story of the prisons is starvation”.”

As prisoners lose the bare struggle for survival, humanity loses the bare struggle for dignity. Doctors, lawyers, ex-prisoners, prisoners’ family and friends, prison staff, and others have written repeatedly that Zimbabwe’s prisons are death traps. Some talk about “necropolitics”, the power politics of death. They say necropolitics is “the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.” In Zimbabwe’s prisons, it’s not about living and dying. It’s about ways of dying. There’s torture, and there’s starvation. Life or death is not the currency. The currency is pain and suffering.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, which is a government agency, has shut off water to Marondera Prison: “About 500 inmates at the Marondera Prison are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases after the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) disconnected water supplies over a $375,000 Bill… The complex has not had water since December 4th raising prospects of an outbreak of diseases such as cholera.” The officer in charge of the prison describes it as “a time bomb.”

Torture. Death by starvation. Cholera. In the prisons of Zimbabwe, the time bomb has long exploded. It’s beyond time for a real change.

 

(Photo Credit: News Day Zimbabwe)

Kavita Srivastava is not a saint, she’s a feminist

 

Kavita Srivastava addresses the press

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara was a Brazilian Archbishop, a liberation theologian, who famously said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.” Kavita Srivastava could take that a step further. She might say, “If I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are the poor hungry, they call me a Maoist … and send the riot squads to my house.”

Today, October 3, 2011, the Indian government sent a truckload of Special Task Force police to the home of Kavita Srivastava, allegedly to find a woman who had aided the Naxalite movement. The implications, for Srivastava and for many others, were clear. This was meant as a threat, as intimidation, for her leading role in the Right to Food Campaign; for her leading role in questioning the draconian, and worse, conditions in Chhattisgarh, all in the name of rooting out the Maoists, the Naxalites, the `dangerous ones’; for her leading role in the pursuits of women’s rights, civil right, human rights, democracy. In fact, right now, Kavita Srivastava is locked in battle with the State around the very issue of how poverty itself is to be determined. Who’s poor? Ask that, and truckload of heavily armed men may visit your house early some morning.

Kavita Srivastava is the General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a 35-year-old Ghandian-socialist (of sorts) organization. In that capacity, she witnessed, and documented, the trial of Binayak Sen, also charged with complicity with Maoists, in a highly publicized trial. Srivatasa wrote of the “sinister ways of the Chhattisgarh Police”. She described the climate of threat, violence, and vindictiveness the local police create. Even in a very public trial, the police assumed they could tamper with evidence and never be found out, or if found out, never be punished. Never is a long time, but it seems that in the long arc of the short term, the police may have been right.

Kavita Srivastava is a feminist researcher and activist who has researched the intricacies of so-called women-centered development program in Rajasthan; who has researched, and challenged, the impact of irrigation mega-projects, again in Rajasthan, on rural women and men, focused a laser beam on the ways in which such so-called development projects further marginalized women in particular; has researched gender politics, development, and women’s agency. Kavita Srivatasa has advised and counseled on ways to take the Right to Food to court … and beyond.

And that is why Kavita Srivastava is a dangerous woman, because of her simple and radical refusal. She refuses to accept hunger. She refuses to accept starvation. She refuses to accept anything less than justice, for women, for men, for all beings. No Naxalite was found in Kavita Srivastava’s home. No one, including the police, ever thought one would be found. But there was, and is, something there, something dangerous, more dangerous than the State can imagine or control. The question and practice of justice. Kavita Srivastava is not a saint, she’s a feminist.

 

(Video Credit: The Hindu / Rohit Jain Paras)