Medical care is available, he says, but at a price. âIf you can pay Rs 100, you’ll get an injection. Cough medicine comes for Rs 50. If you can pay Rs 500, you can even be treated at the medical college. Of course, if you are branded a Maoist, you can forget about that.â The entire prison, he says, runs on bribes, with career criminals scouring the local newspapers for news of wealthier people being arrested. âThere are a lot of simple village youths in custody on false charges of being Maoists,â he says. âThey cannot afford to get even the basic necessities in jail.â
Even release from prison has not been kind to Guha. Prison meant the end of his tendu business, as his partners were unable to sustain it in Chhattisgarh after his arrest. âEconomically speaking, I only have my loans,â he says. âEven if my creditors don’t pressure me to return their money, I know it’s at the back of their minds. I’m starting not from zero, but from minus [sic].â He lost both his parents in the course of his arrest, famously not being allowed to attend their last rites, even by the Supreme Court. âThe police repeatedly raided my house after my arrest,â he says, âand my wife and parents had to move house three or four times. Eventually, my parents decided to move back to their village, as the police hounding had made living in Kolkata an unsustainable proposition. It was impossible to continue my father’s treatment in the village, and he died of a cardiac arrest two years later.â
Guha, however, insists he has no regrets. âI understand that I faced some personal losses,â he says. âAnd I do regret those, sometimes. But jail gave me time to think. My years in prison have strengthened my conviction to stand up against injustice. I cannot forget all those unknown people who helped me. I have to stand up for all those other people I don’t know. It is my social obligation.â
I ask him whether he intends to become a full-time activist. “First I need to survive,” he says.