New Delhi: Five renowned public intellectuals – Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Maja Daruwala and Satish Deshpande – have written to the chief minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, asking that the 11 rights activists who have been arrested in the Elgar Parishad case be moved to house arrest in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 11 lawyers and rights activists – Varavara Rao, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde – have been accused of instigating violence against Dalits at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018.
Now, in their letter to Thackeray, the academics have argued that the rights activists should be moved to house arrest – rather than being kept in Maharashtra jails where the number of COVID-19 cases is riding rapidly – as they all either senior citizens or have serious co-morbidities that make them susceptible to the virus.
“We are deeply concerned about the undue level of risk they are being exposed to which may easily prove fatal. The conditions under which they are lodged are extremely poor and provide no guarantee of their continued well-being. As the highest official of the state government you have absolute authority about where these prisoners can be lodged while awaiting trial,” their letter says.
“The Covid-19 contagion is spreading across Maharashtra. Prisons, with their overcrowding and sub-optimal conditions, coupled with the age and co-morbidities of these prisoners may prove to be a death sentence. We appeal to you to take the humanitarian step of preventing the unnecessary exposure of elderly and well- respected public persons to such an avoidable hazard,” they continue.
These intellectuals are the same five who had petitioned the Supreme Court in August 2018, requesting an independent court-monitored inquiry into the case. The court had rejected their plea.
In April, the five had written to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde about the arrests of Navlakha and Teltumbde in the midst of the pandemic, call it “especially inhuman”.