The Supreme Court recently rejected the bail applications of scholar and activist Gautam Navlakha, who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA for allegedly fomenting violence during during the Bhima Koregaon event.
The top court gave him and scholar Anand Teltumbde one week to surrender. The week ends on April 14, when both are expected to be arrested as they surrender to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The two, if arrested, will join the nine other respected human rights activists and lawyers who have been in Maharashtra’s jails for close to two years. Several politicians, activists, writers and scholars have condemned the hounding by police and the lack of attention by the courts.
On April 14, Gautam Navlakha penned down some of his thoughts on his impending incarceration. Written in the form of a statement, the text has been produced in full below, with minor edits for style.
As I prepare to leave to surrender before the National Investigation Agency headquarters in Delhi, I am glad that Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Indira Banerjee gave me another week of freedom when they passed the order on April 8, 2020.
A week of freedom means a lot in my condition, even in the age of lockdown. Their order resolved the predicament I encountered in complying with the March 16 order of the apex court, which obliged me to surrender by April 6 before the NIA, Mumbai. The lockdown that followed prevented me from travelling. Also there was no direction from NIA (Mumbai) regarding what I should do under the circumstances. I know now that I have to surrender myself to the NIA headquarters in Delhi.
The Indian prime minister has likened the challenge posed by COVID-19 pandemic to a state of “national emergency”. Meanwhile the apex court itself recently intervened in the matter of jail conditions, and issued guidelines to the authorities regarding the overcrowding of jail inmates and the threat posed to the prisoners and detenues, jail staff and other personnel assigned jail duties. This concern remains although no case of COVID-19 infection has come from any jail so far, somewhat reassuring for me. However, I am affected by the fear that my near and dear ones harbour about my captivity amidst COVID-19.
I cannot help but feel disappointed that the terse order of the Supreme Court on April 8 had no reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has overtaken the world, including all of us in India.
However, I can now begin to face the actual legal process, which accompanies cases where provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are invoked. Such Acts turn the normal jurisprudence upside down. No longer is it the axiom that ‘a person is innocent unless proven guilty’. In fact, under such Acts, ‘an accused is guilty unless proven innocent’.
Draconian provisions of the UAPA are not accompanied by stricter procedures regarding evidence, especially electronic, considering the stringent punishment provided for under the Act; the procedures, which otherwise provide tighter rules regarding evidence, are instead made elastic. Under this double whammy, jail becomes the norm, and bail an exception. In this Kafkaesque domain, process itself becomes punishment.
My hope rests on a speedy and fair trial for myself and all my fellow co-accused. This alone will enable me to clear my name, and walk free, having also used the time in jail to rid myself of acquired habits.
“Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom
‘Cause all I ever have
These songs of Freedom…”
∼ Bob Marley