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Jailed Peasant Leader Akhil Gogoi's Health Deteriorates, Activists Express Concerns

The leader, who was at the forefront of the anti-CAA protest in Assam, has been jailed under the controversial UAPA.

Guwahati: Assam based farmers’ organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi, who has been lodged in jail since December 27, 2019 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), has been seriously unwell for some weeks.

Between February 29 and March 6, the Guwahati jail authorities have brought him to the Guwahati Medical College (GMC) twice for treatment.

Local news channels have aired video clips of a frail Gogoi brought to the hospital on a wheelchair for some days now. It has raised considerable concern over his health, leading a number of activists from the state to sit on dharna in Guwahati, demanding his unconditional release.

On March 5, popular musician and anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) activist Manas Robin released a video appeal to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to provide him immediate medical treatment. He said, “For political differences, if an Assamese is being pushed by you to die a slow death, history will never forgive (you).”

On March 5, Gogoi’s wife Gitashree Tamuly told The Wire that she is ‘deeply worried’ about her husband’s health. “I have no idea what is happening. The jail authorities have not given me any information,” she said. Tamuly underlined that the reluctance of the jail authorities to provide her information on her husband’s health is in contrast to the previous times Gogoi was jailed. “There was no communication gap before,” she said.

Also Read: Interview | Akhil Gogoi’s Wife: This Time, His Arrest Felt ‘Somewhat Different’

Gogoi has been a sharp critic of the BJP-led Assam government and of the party’s ideological fount, the RSS. He was at the forefront of the protests against the CAA in the state when he was arrested by the NIA under the charge of being a ‘Maoist’.

On March 6, the jail authorities brought Gogoi to the hospital after the NIA court in Guwahati ordered a day before that it should continue providing treatment to Gogoi, including follow-up treatments. The order also said that if necessary, depending on his health status, jail authorities shall “explore the possibility of in-patient treatment”.

This February 29, Gogoi was hurried to the hospital after he complained of fever and stomach ache. After multiple tests were done, he was taken back to jail. According to Tamuly, her husband has a medical history of kidney stones, joint/bone pain and also liver bile afflictions.

Gogoi fell ill before he and other KMSS leaders, who have also been lodged in jail for ‘seditious activities’ under UAPA, were to stage an indefinite fast in jail on March 1.

Specialist team’s visit

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 directions of the NIA court asking jail authorities to furnish a detailed health report on him. The NIA’s directive on March 3 was a result of Tamuly’s petition seeking an intervention from the court.

Tamuly’s petition mentions that “the jail authorities have been deliberately negligent towards his health.” On March 4, the chief doctor at the Guwahati Central Jail informed the NIA court through a report stating, “Akhil Gogoi has been examined and at present his vital signs are stable and within normal limits. He is conscious and in good physical and mental health. Earlier on various occasions, he was sent to GMCH for consultation with specialists.”

The medical report, a copy of which The Wire has accessed, states, “On February 17, he was referred to the dermatology department for skin infection and medicines were prescribed. On the same day, he had a consultation with the rheumatology specialist for joint pain and was advised medicine. He was also been prescribed eyeglasses along with dental advise for full mouth sealing. Also, on the same day, he had a consultation with the endocrinology specialist who advised for further investigations and review. On February 20 he had a consultation with the ENT specialist and was diagnosed with Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. Medicines were prescribed along with a follow-up. On February 27, his case was reviewed, and he was suffering from deviation nasal system and sinusitis. On February 29, he was referred to the casualty department on an emergency basis with complaints of fever, abdominal pain and general weakness.”

The chief jail doctor said, “I requested the jail superintendent to arrange medical check within the jail premises by specialists of urologists, medicine and surgery.”

Tamuly narrated the sequence of events to this correspondent. “On Tuesday (March 3), I visited Akhil at the jail. By then, the doctors at the jail administered him saline (intravenous drip). The doctors told me that he was having ‘pressure’ [high blood pressure]. On Monday (March 2) as well, I had visited him, but I was told he was sick. Then, on the following day, when I had gone to meet him once again, I was told he couldn’t get up from the bed and so he won’t be able to meet me. Then I decided to file a petition in the NIA court. After that, the jail authorities submitted a report to the court.”

Gitashri Tamuly. Photo: Gaurav Das

She is really worried about her husband’s health condition inside the jail. “His cell is not easily accessible if there is an emergency. I feel there is a communication lapse on the part of the jail authorities in informing me about his health status. This was not the case in the past. I am worried and so are the people of Assam. I don’t know what is happening,” Tamuly said.

On March 4, activists from groups such as the Human Rights Alert, Manipur, and Human Rights Defenders Alert, moved the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) expressing their concern over Gogoi’s ‘deteriorating health’. They sought a direction from the commission to the Centre so that a team of doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) can visit Gogoi and conduct a medical examination to submit a report.

In the letter addressed to Justice (Retd.) H.L. Dattu, the chairperson of NHRC, they said that “He [Akhil Gogoi] was taken to GMCH after 75 days of his arrest, and he was kept under observation for a day; no tests were conducted apparently for the clearance from the ‘National Investigation Agency’ and sent back to the central jail. He wasn’t admitted to the hospital despite complaining about stomach pain due to urine infection.”