On the first death anniversary of Father Stan Swamy, the tribal rights activist who died awaiting bail on July 5, 2021 in the Bhima Koregaon – Elgar Parishad, all his co-accused are on a hunger strike for a day.
They are protesting against the alleged lack of proper medical treatment and the institutional murder of Father Stan by a negligent administration, to mark his first death anniversary.
"Even one year after of the brutal assassination of Father Stan Swamy by the prison administration and the government, instead of any change in the people, their brutal mentality and prison conditions, the situation is only going from bad to worse with every passing day," the letter by accused Sudhir Dhawale to Superintendent of Taloja reads.
A mandatory magisterial inquiry into the death of Father Stan is yet to be completed and a petition filed by the Jesuits regarding the same is pending before the Bombay High Court.
Father Stan was the last and oldest accused to be arrested in the case, from his home in Ranchi, Jharkhand, on October 8, 2020.
"While standing shoulder to shoulder in the fight for the rights of poor tribals even while suffering from Parkinsons, Father Stan Swamy, 84, was jailed with the intention to teach him a lesson for his humanitarian values," the letter states adding that Father Stan was harassed for small things like getting a support-stick and a sipper.
Regarding the abysmal treatment facilities in Taloja prison, the letter says that there are no specialist doctors and nurses and the patients are given the same type of medicine for any life-threatening disease. "However, a rosy picture of a prison is presented on paper."
The letter narrates the incidents leading up to Father Stan's death wherein the National Investigation Agency (NIA) opposed his bail saying that he was "pretending to be ill."
Moreover, "even after he got infected with Corona, he was sent back to prison by the government hospital instead of admitting him for treatment," in late May 2021.
"It was only after Hon'ble Bombay High Court's intervention that he was shifted to a private hospital for treatment. But it was already too late by then and the prison administration and the government together killed a beautiful human of this country."
Only recently Father Stan Swamy's humanitarian work was posthumously awarded with the Martin Ennals Award, which is regarded as the Nobel Prize for Human Rights. "A battle needs to be fought in his own country to prove his innocence - in a country which is termed as a democracy," the letter adds.
The letter also mentions the case of co-accused and Telugu poet, the 82-year-old Varavara Rao, who was infected with Covid-19 twice in the prison. After an authoritative order granting him temporary bail on medical grounds for six month, the High Court, earlier this year refused to grant him permanent medical bail. An appeal in this regarding is pending before the Bombay High Court.
"My co-accused, including me, are not getting proper medical treatment. We are not being referred to any private hospital for further treatment. To protest against all these inhumane acts and policies, to protest against the institutional killing of Father Stan Swamy, and in honor of the first Memorial Day of Father Stan Swamy, I will be observing a one-day 'fast' on 5th July," the letter dated July 4 finally states.
According to the letter the accused who will be on hunger strike are DU Professor Hany Babu, academic Anand Teltumbde, journalist Gautam Navlakha, activist Sudhir Dhawale, advocate Surendra Gadling and Mahesh Raut, researcher Rona Wilson, advocate Arun Feriera, and journalist Vernon Gonsalves, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichore
The Bhima Koregaon Case
The Bhima Koregaon battle was fought between 25,000 mighty Peshwa army and 500 British soldiers, including people from the Mahar (Dalit) community. The names of martyrs in the war are inscribed in the memorial by the British Army back then.
The hundreds of people visiting the war memorial at Bhima Koregaon were attacked on January 1, 2018, after violence erupted. They were mainly from the Dalit community, and one died in the stone-pelting.
An FIR was registered regarding the violence the same day. However, another FIR was filed by right-wing activist Tushar Damgude on January 8, 2018, and was pursued. The houses of several activists, were searched on April 17, 2018. It was alleged that the violence at Bhima Koregaon resulted from inflammatory speeches held at the Elgaar Parishad conference on December 31, 2017.
The scope of the investigation was eventually widened, with the Pune police claiming retrieval of incriminating documents in the form of electronic records. This included an email written by a certain 'R' to Comrade Prakash on April 18, 2017 talking of a "Rajiv Gandhi-type" operation. The email was part of the documents investigated by forensic investigation firm in the - US Arsenal – which concluded the evidence was planted.
The accused were booked under sections 121, 121A, 124A, 153A, 505(1)(b), 117, 120b r/w 34 of the IPC and sections 13,16,17,18,18-B,20,38,39 and 40 of the UAPA.
The 15 people accused in the case are as follows — Jyoti Raghoba Jagtap, Sagar Tatyaram Gorkhe, Ramesh Murlidhar Gaichor, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Hany Babu.
Most of the accused in the case were neither named in the FIR over the violence nor present during the 2017 event.
Charges are yet to be framed in the case.