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Jailed Professor Hany Babu Hospitalised With Eye Infection, Tests Positive for COVID

His family has alleged that they were not informed about Babu's health condition.

Mumbai: Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu M.T., who was arrested last July in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, has tested positive for COVID-19. He was first admitted to the JJ Hospital in Mumbai and later moved to GT Hospital. Babu, 55, developed an acute eye infection on May 3, since when his family and lawyers have been struggling to ensure that he is given proper medical care.

JJ hospital dean Dr Ranjit Mankeshwar confirmed that Babu was hospitalised in the early hours of May 13, following an eye infection. A swab test for COVID-19 was also conducted. Mankeshwar confirmed to The Wire that Babu’s test returned positive and that his left eye continues to be sore with double vision. His vitals are normal and he is stable, Mankeshwar claimed in a message.

Jenny Rowena, Babu’s wife and an associate professor at Delhi University, said the family has had a harrowing time trying to get information about the jailed professor’s health. Both the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and prison officials have refused to keep the family informed, she said.

According to a press statement issued by Rowena, Babu’s mother Fathima and his two brothers – Harish M.T. and M.T. Ansari – were not informed about his health condition until late on Thursday evening. When Fathima reached the JJ Hospital around 7:30 pm on May 13, she was informed by nurses about the viral infection. Rowena, concerned about Babu’s health condition, travelled from Delhi to Mumbai last night.

Babu, who was arrested on July 28, has been lodged at the Taloja Central Prison, which is one of the most crowded. This prison, meant to accommodate 2,124 prisoners, is overcrowded and houses over 3,500 (at 166% occupancy) prisoners. There has been a severe outbreak of the infection in the prison, and at least one person has died in the second wave since March this year. The jail, along with being overly congested, also lacks medical facilities. The Bombay high court has repeatedly pulled the state up recently for not appointing adequate qualified doctors in the state’s prisons.

In March this year, as cases of the coronavirus began to rise once again, the prison department stopped physical jail visits. Prisoners have since been allowed to talk to their families and lawyers only through a phone call. These calls have been erratic and families of those incarcerated are completely dependent on the prison authorities for any information.

Also Read: Maharashtra’s Prisons Are Feeling the Brunt of a Crisis That Could Have Been Averted

Babu’s left eye began to swell on May 3. He was, however, taken to the Vashi government hospital only on May 7, following several calls and stern emails from his lawyers to the prison officials. The doctors had asked him to visit the hospital again in two days, but that did not happen. The prison officials claimed due to the paucity of jail escorts, they were unable to take Babu to the hospital. It was only after Babu’s suffering was made public and reported widely by the media that the prison department was forced to act. Finally on May 12, he was taken to the JJ Hospital.

The family, in a joint statement, has said that they have been racked by anxiety over the past few days. “The thought of Hany having to beg for something as basic as essential health services is heart-wrenching. It is abject injustice that Hany should have to suffer repeatedly due to the negligence of state officials. We are dealing with an opaque and callous system which is deaf to our cries and blind to our pain,” the statement reads.

The family has appealed to the state government to shift Babu to a multispecialty hospital. “The second wave of COVID-19 that is currently ravaging India is extremely virulent with a much higher fatality rate. Persons with a high inflammation index, secondary infections, low immunity and co-morbidities are at much higher risk of death. An ordinary COVID hospital without a specialist ophthalmology department will be sorely ill-equipped to treat Hany in this precarious condition,” the statement adds.

Babu, a vocal anti-caste crusader, is one of 16 persons – all activists, academics and lawyers – arrested in the NIA’s ongoing Elgar Parishad investigation. Among them, 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao was released on bail after his health deteriorated in custody.

The NIA chargesheet has claimed that Babu and the others arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and had helped organise the ‘Elgar Parishad’ of December 31, 2017, under the banner of the ‘Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan’ in Pune. They have been booked under several sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code for allegedly “harming the democratic fabric of the country”. The activists have denied the allegations and have accused the Centre of targeting dissenters and proponents of human rights.