Civil Society members request Maha CM to shift Bhima Koregaon activists out of jail

In a letter to Uddhav Thackerary, Romila Thapar and others have highlighted the risk to life the activists face in jail during the pandemic given their ailments and co-morbidities


Noted historian Romila Thapar, along with four other intellectuals, Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Maja Daruwala and Satish Deshpande, who had requested the Supreme Court of India to order a probe into the arrest of the human rights activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon, has now written to the Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray expressing concern about their ongoing incarceration especially and demanding that they be placed under house arrest during the Covid-19 crisis.

In September 2018, Thapar and others had requested for a court-monitored probe into the arrests of these human rights activists saying that the arrests had been done arbitrarily, without evidence and were an attempt to stifle dissent. However, their petition was rejected through a majority 2-1 verdict.

Rights activists and lawyers – Varavara Rao, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj, Sudhir Dhawale, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde who had been arrested under stringent charges and were accused of having Maoist links, have been imprisoned since 2018 have consistently been denied relief from arrest even with some suffering serious ailments and now being under extreme risk in wake of the pandemic.

In their letter to CM Uddhav Thackeray, the signatories said, “At present, all eleven of the accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case are lodged in prisons in Maharashtra. All of them are either senior citizens or have serious co-morbidities, or both, that would place them at severe risk if they were infected by Covid-19. One ofthe detained persons, the poet Varavara Rao who is 81 years of age, suffered a collapse recently and was placed in the ICU. He continues to be in precarious health.”

Recently, a special court rejected the interim bail pleas of Varavara Rao and Shoma sen which they had filed on medical grounds, National Herald reported. Varavara Rao suffers from pre-existing medical conditions like Coronary Artery Disease, hypertension and he was even admitted to a hospital on May 27 after he complained of dizziness and fainted. Shoma Sen also suffers from various ailments like glaucoma and high blood pressure. The court denied bail saying that both the activists were being provided medical treatment inside jail and didn’t need to be released.

In a similar fashion, the special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court had rejected activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s bail plea which she had filed on medical grounds. The activist who suffers from co-morbidities like diabetes and high blood pressure has now moved the Bombay High Court for interim relief.

Seeing the latest developments, Thapar and others, in their letter added, “We are deeply concerned about the undue level of risk they (activists) are being exposed to which may easily prove fatal. The conditions under which they are lodged are extremely poor and provide no guarantee of their continued well-being. As the highest official of the state government you have absolute authority about where these prisoners can be lodged while awaiting trial.”

In light of the present scenario, requesting the CM to take a humanitarian step to prevent the unnecessary exposure of elderly and well-respected public persons to such an avoidable hazard, the signatories asked for the 11 human rights advocates to be removed from the current overcrowded facilities and be placed under house arrest, where they would continue to remain available to the justice system while their families ensure their well-being as best as possible.

The complete letter by Romila Thapar and others may be read below.



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