Trade Unionist, lawyer, professor, writer, Sudha Bharadwaj was arrested on August 28, 2018 and has been lodged in Byculla jail since then. She has been accused of criminal conspiracy, sedition under the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act charges of funding a terrorist activity, conspiracy, being a member of terrorist gang or organisation, and supporting a terrorist organisation.
Born on November 1, 1961, Bharadwaj has turned 60 today. This is the fourth birthday she has had to spend behind bars. She has been associated with the trade union movement in Chhattisgarh for more than 25 years, and she is also the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and a member of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS).
An alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and a Professor of National Law University, Delhi, she gave up her United States citizenship, and decided to pursue law and practice in Bilaspur for the tribals in Chhattisgarh. She has fought for their land, and protected them against illegal detentions, arrests. She wrote a piece on our indigenous people for SabrangIndia in 2015, which may be read here.
While working for trade unions, and later, after becoming a lawyer, she realised that not just the workers, but the farmers also required legal representation, given the cases of land acquisition. It was then that she thought of setting up the group Janhit, to fight for community forests rights, for Adivasis, in cases of Public Interest Litigations (PIL), and environmental cases.
Her health has significantly deteriorated in jail. She reportedly has diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and depression. She also has a history of pulmonary tuberculosis. Sudha had also been suffering from loss of appetite and diarrhoea after the first dose of her anti-Covid vaccine but was only given some antibiotics for relief.
In a press conference organised in May this year, Smita Gupta, Bharadwaj’s close friend said, “Even water is not properly available. Sudha has rheumatoid arthritis. Her teeth are in such a state she can barely manage to eat. She has lost hair, weight and last year a report showed she is eczemic. Given that the virus is virulent and Byculla jail is crowded, Sudha should not be there.”
Gupta said that Sudha had become frail, and that she could not do her own work. “For a person like Sudha to take help to do daily chores like washing clothes, shows a severe situation. When the issue was highlighted on social media, the jail superintendent said Sudha is a habitual complainant”, she said.
On the eve of Sudha’s birthday, Smita posted a lovely picture of her friend on social media to say, “Today marks the 60th birthday of Sudha Bharadwaj, her fourth in prison. She is an undertrial in the Bhima Koregaon case against 16 human rights defenders from different parts of the country. A prisoner of conscience, a political prisoner, held without bail or trial. In a case whose edifice is eroding day by day, as more and more expert analysts show that the evidence is dubious, inadmissible and inadequate.”
During the ravaging second wave of the pandemic, the Bombay high court had dismissed Sudha’s daughter, Maaysha’s petition seeking her release from Byculla prison till the virus is contained. She had complained that she was facing difficulty in contacting her family members from jail and that the jail authorities were not providing her with her medical records.
The court disposed of her petition but said, “In our view prisoners have a right to obtain their medical records from the prison Authorities under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. In view thereof, all the medical records including medicines prescribed and the test reports shall be provided to the Petitioner on request. In fact, we would go a step further and say that this direction should be followed by the prison Authorities qua all the prisoners. We also agree that the Petitioner should be allowed to make a phone call in the presence of a jail official to the approved family member/s after any of her visits to the hospital.”
The order dated May 21, 2021, may be read here:
Current status of her case
Almost 3 months ago, on August 4, 2021, the Bombay high court had reserved orders on her default bail plea application. She had moved the high court challenging two orders of the Pune Sessions court on grounds that the court had no jurisdiction to pass orders in her case.
On November 26, 2018, Judge KD Vadane had extended her detention period by another 90 days and allowed the time to the Police to file their chargesheet. She submitted to the court that upon the expiry of 90 days of detention, there was no valid or lawful order extending time for the filing of the chargesheet, and hence she is entitled to default bail.
During the course of the hearing, as per a Bar & Bench report, her lawyer Yug Chaudhry, relied upon certain replies received from the Deputy Registrar of High Court under the Right to Information Act which stated that the Sessions Judges had not been appointed as special judges under the NIA Act.
So, the main issue that the high court will have to address is whether Judge KD Vadane’s orders granting Pune Police an extension to file the chargesheet, and subsequently taking cognisance of the 1,800-page supplementary chargesheet is null and void as he was not a special judge under the NIA Act.
The order may be read here:
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