Guwahati: With widespread speculation that peasant leader Akhil Gogoi of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), who is lodged at Guwahati Central Jail, ‘may’ be showing COVID-19 symptoms, his wife Geetashree Tamuly told The Wire that she is in ‘total darkness’ and that she has not been given any information about her husband’s present health status.
Gogoi has been lodged in jail since December 27, 2019, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for his alleged role in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests that rocked Assam last winter.
On Sunday night, Tamuly, who teaches Assamese at the B. Borooah College in Guwahati, took to Facebook after news broke out that Gogoi was ailing and ‘showing’ signs of COVID-19.
In the Facebook post, she wrote:
“It is now several months. There is no television in the house. Many things are kept at bay without even knowing it properly. Just now on Facebook, I saw that Akhil is not keeping well and is sick. Signs of COVID-19. What to say I do not know. Many people are calling me asking about Akhil. But what do I know? After he was taken away from Guwahati, I could not even meet him. Previously when he was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) and when he was taken around from one place to another, I used to get phone calls from any police station at around midnight. But this time there has been no dispensation of any information. Neither phone calls. When I was in Dibrugarh and after getting in touch with DGP, Assam Police I was told to submit an online application to the deputy commissioner of Dibrugarh district. I gave and after two weeks there was a reply which I got but the reply was ‘rejection’.”
“And then he came to Guwahati. And repeatedly one after another I had to return from the jail entrance. Even after securing permission from the NIA court, I and the legal counsel were not granted or allowed to meet him on the grounds of Coronavirus. And then I pinned my hope on meeting him on June 29. But before that Guwahati was put under total lockdown. Now, besides the local television news channels and newspapers, there are no other ways for me in getting any information about Akhil or his health. It seems legal advice, its related discussion and disease-these aspects now may not be related to the rights of the accused or their families. It is now as if COVID-19 situation is the most important. But still, at this point, with the only available medium at my disposal that I have expressed my anxiety and apprehensions.”
When The Wire reached out to Tamuly, she said, “I am being kept in the dark. There is no information surrounding my husband’s present health status. I am deeply worried. It was only through news channels and Facebook that I got to know he is suffering from fever and has body ache. But it is still not clear. No one is saying anything to me.”
“I am not even sure how the news channels could get hold of the news about Akhil’s health. Is it really true? What is their exact source? These things should be made clear. I am quite helpless now, she added.
“The last time I met him was in March when he was in Guwahati and was about to be taken to Sivasagar. If I have to meet him, I will have to approach the Gauhati high court. But the process takes 15 days and a writ petition has to be submitted. Even the courts are not in session and are not functioning in regular terms on account of the lockdown and pandemic,” she added.
According to senior KMSS leader Mukut Deka, another leader – Bitu Sonowal, who is also lodged at the Guwahati Central Jail after being arrested by the National Investigation Special Court (NIA) for anti-CAA protests – has also been unwell since Sunday.
Gogoi’s legal counsel Santanu Borthakur submitted a petition at the NIA on Monday, seeking information about Gogoi’s health. “We hope that an order will be passed,” he said.
“Akhil has not been well for a week now, and now Bitu Sonowal has fever and body aches. We are not getting any information about what exactly is happening and are worried. Since we’re not getting a clear picture of his health, we have submitted a petition so that both the Gogoi’s and Sonowal’s families can know about their health,” said Deka.
On Monday, Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told Prag News, “We have got examples that many persons living in jail are being detected as positive. And immediately whatever care needs to be given will be taken care of. And in Akhil Gogoi’s aspect, we will definitely request for the care that needs to be given and what the investigation agency needs to say we will say.”
On June 25 and 26, 1,200 prisoners at Guwahati Central Jail went on a hunger strike seeking COVID-19 measures like swab testing and quarantine for new jail inmates, better food and adequate health facilities, clean drinking water and for the release of Akhil Gogoi, other undertrials and others.
In the early months of 2020, Gogoi was afflicted with multiple health-related issues. Between February 29 and March 6, the Guwahati jail authorities took him to the Guwahati Medical College (GMC) twice for treatment. On March 4, a team of specialists visited Gogoi at the jail. The team suggested a “proper treatment”.
This visit was also carried out on the direction of the NIA court, which asked jail authorities to furnish a detailed health report. The NIA’s directive on March 3 was a result of Tamuly’s petition seeking an intervention from the court.