NIA Court Allows Jailed Activist Sudha Bharadwaj to Access Five Books a Month

Special judge D.E. Kothalikar said the lawyer will be allowed to access books from outside the Byculla prison, but only after the superintendent "carefully" examines them for "objectionable content".

New Delhi: A special NIA court has allowed lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who is in custody for her alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon case, to access five books a month from outside the Byculla prison.

According to a report in The Hindu, special judge D.E. Kothalikar directed the Byculla district prison’s superintendent to “carefully examine the books” for objectionable content.

“The Superintendent shall carefully examine the books and if they contain objectionable material, which preaches violence, vulgar, obscene, pornographic or the material propagating the banned organisation namely Revolutionary Democratic Front or CPI (Maoist), in that case he shall not allow the applicant [Bharadwaj] to accept such books,” the court said.

Bharadwaj is among several activists and lawyers who were arrested by the Pune Police in the Elgar Parishad case in 2018. In 2020, the case was transferred to the National Investigating Agency (NIA), which has subsequently arrested more activists and academics, with the most recent ones being Delhi University professor Hany Babu and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy.

In November, a parcel containing two kurtas and one book for Bharadwaj was sent to the prison. However, the prison authorities removed the book, The Empire of Cotton by Sten Backert from the parcel. The following month, lawyers representing Bharadwaj along with co-accused in the Elgar Parishad case, Babu and Gautam Navlakha, approached the special NIA court seeking access to books and newspapers in prison.

Navlakha sought two books, The World Of Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse and Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott while Babu asked for A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh and Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin.

The Bombay high court slammed Taloja prison officials in early December 2020 when they refused to accept new spectacles that were sent by his family in a courier. Navlakha has very poor eyesight and is near blind without the aid of his prescription glasses.

The court had said that there is a need to conduct a workshop for jail officials to sensitise them on the needs of prisoners.

In the case of Stan Swamy, lawyers had to move the court seeking permission for him to use a straw and sipper in prison to drink water, as he cannot hold a glass because he has Parkinson’s disease. The Taloja jail authorities obliged, but after nearly one month.

Also read: Arnab Goswami and Varavara Rao, Unequal Citizens Before the Law

On Wednesday, the Bombay high court heard a plea by Varavara Rao’s wife and asked the NIA and the state prison authorities to take into account the age and health of the Telugu poet. “The petitioner is above 80. Keep in mind his age and health conditions. While making submissions on the bail plea, reflect on his health. We are all humans, this is an issue about his health,” Justice Shinde said.

A file image of Varavara Rao.

The plea said that prison authorities had neglected to provide the 80-year-old with appropriate medical attention since 2018.

In November last year, the high court had allowed Rao to seek treatment in Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital for 15 days which was later extended by the court. It observed that Rao was almost on his death bed and deserved proper care.

During his time in jail, Rao has sustained a head injury, tested positive for COVID-19 and is possibly suffering from dementia. Family members have said that his weight has dropped drastically.