The family members of activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case have claimed that they were systematically denied medical treatment and the condition of activist Vernon Gonsalves was yet another act of “criminal negligence” of prison authorities.
Gonsalves, arrested for his alleged role in the case, was recently admitted to the state-run JJ Hospital in Mumbai. As per his lawyer, the activist had been diagnosed with dengue and was on oxygen support.
Organisers of Elgar Parishad say accused are being denied basic human rights.
In a press note issued on September 10, the family members of these arrested activists sought state intervention in the functioning of prison authorities to ensure speedy treatment to all “political prisoners”.
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Medical treatment delayed
Citing Gonsalves’ condition, the press note claimed medical treatment was delayed and that it was yet another act of “criminal negligence” on the part of authorities of the Taloja Central Jail in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, where he was lodged.
As per the signed statement by the family members of the arrested activists, “Gonsalves…fell ill with fever on August 30th, and even though his condition was steadily deteriorating, he was treated with just paracetamol and antibiotics in jail, for almost a week. After much pleading, he was taken to JJ hospital on Sept 7 and was given oxygen support.”
“However, instead of continuing his treatment he was callously brought back to jail where his condition continued to worsen. It is only after his lawyer and wife, Susan Abraham, approached the court and obtained an order, that the prison authorities finally admitted him in the emergency ward of JJ hospital, where he is still under treatment,” the signed note added.
The Elgar Parishad case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches delivered at the Elgar Parishad conclave, held in Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon Bhima war memorial located on the city’s outskirts. One person was killed and several others were injured in the violence.
Over a dozen activists and academicians were named accused in the case, investigation of which was later taken over by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from the Pune police which initially investigated the case.
The press note cited the recent deaths of several undertrial prisoners, including Father Stan Swamy, after allegedly being denied prompt medical attention. “It has barely been a year since Father Stan Swamy, also an accused in the Elgar case, passed away while still a prisoner after being denied prompt treatment following COVID-19,” it said.
Talking about poet-activist Varavara Rao, another accused in the case, the press note said he too was subjected to inhuman treatment in jail where he was denied proper medical care in spite of his age and various serious ailments. It was only last month that he could acquire a medical bail from the Supreme Court.
“Similarly, it was only very recently that we heard the shocking news of the death of Pandu Narote, a 33-year-old Adivasi, in Nagpur jail where he was convicted under various UAPA charges for having Maoist links,” the note said. Narote’s lawyer also alleged that his death was caused due to gross negligence by the prison authorities, the note alleged.
The family members demanded that the state immediately and urgently intervene in the functioning of prisons so as to ensure speedy treatment to all “political prisoners” such as Gautham Navlakha, Hany Babu and others, the note said.
“We also demand the immediate release of political prisoners who are languishing in jail as undertrials for years. If the state is incapable of guaranteeing their safety and security in prison, it would be better that courts intervene to grant bail to these political prisoners so that their precious lives are saved,” it said.
PUDR demands proper health facilities
The Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) also — in a press statement on Saturday — demanded proper health facilities and immediate medical attention for jail inmates. Citing the illness of Gonsalves, PUDR statement said: “The fact that he was immediately put on oxygen support at the hospital, points to the apathy of the jail authorities regarding the health of prisoners lodged in their custody.”
PUDR has also demanded the release of all undertrials in the Bhima Koregaon case and prosecution of Ex-Taloja jail superintendent Kurlekar, who, the statement alleged was “responsible for Stan Swamy’s death.”
Calling for proper health facilities and immediate medical attention to jail inmates, PUDR has sought decongestion of Taloja Jail.
Demanding protection of the rights of political prisoners, PUDR said that the “pattern of medical negligence, a facet of state oppression against political prisoners is all too familiar.” It cited the example of Siddique Kappan — Kerala journalist who got bail just a couple of days back – who was shifted to AIIMS and diagnosed with Covid, 5 days after falling ill, only after a Supreme Court order. “The Solicitor General and Mathura Jail authorities had vehemently opposed bail despite 50 confirmed Covid cases in the over-crowded jail where Kappan was lodged,” PUDR said.
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“The denial of bail, coupled with the negligence of the jail staff and paucity of health and sanitation facilities, means that the incarceration of the Bhima Koregaon accused has taken on a murderous turn. Without a trial in sight, the anxiety of an endless wait, the impossibility of bail, Stan Swamy’s death and Varavara Rao’s debilitating health, the incarceration itself has become a punishment,” the PUDR statement said.