Listen to this article:
Mumbai: On July 5, last year, 84-year-old Jharkhand-based tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy died in judicial custody in Mumbai.
Swamy was the 16th and last person to be arrested in the highly controversial Elgar Parishad case. He, like his co-accused in the case, suffered from prolonged and serious health complications while in custody. Swamy passed away after testing positive for COVID-19. His co-prisoners and lawyers have blamed the state for not allowing adequate medical help to reach him on time.
A year later, protesting against alleged state apathy and lack of accountability, 11 of his co-prisoners have decided to observe a day-long fast on the day of Swamy’s passing.
One accused person, Sudhir Dhawale, a well known political activist and editor of the bi-monthly Vidrohi magazine has written a letter to his lawyers explaining the grounds for their protest-fast.
“A year ago, this day, the state had Father Stan Swamy killed…The situation continues to be the same in jail,” Dhawale writes.
The letter, accessed by The Wire through his lawyer Nihalsing Rathod, further says, “The prison authorities continue to handle the premise with same brazenness and the prisoners continue to face their wrath.”
Rathod confirmed that other accused in the Elgar Parishad case are observing the same day-long protest fast on similar grounds.
Among those incarcerated and fasting with Dhawale, Rathod said, are lawyers Surendra Gadling and Arun Ferreira; rights activists Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Vernon Gonsalves, Sagar Gorkhe, and Ramesh Gaichor; academics Hany Babu and Anand Teltumbde, and journalist Gautam Navalakha.
Dhawale, who was one of the first persons to be arrested in the case on June 6, 2018, has written several letters from jail – some describing the poor prison conditions and others detailing the ill-treatment meted out to those incarcerated.
Recalling the final days spent by Swamy in Taloja Central Prison in the outskirts of Mumbai, Dhawale writes, “Father Swamy had to struggle for smallest of things while imprisoned. Accessing a sipper or a simple walking stick, he had to file petitions for everything.”
When Swamy fell seriously ill, Dhawale alleges, “Instead of making medical care available, the prison authorities kept him confined in jail.”
Swamy was sent to a private hospital only following a petition by his lawyer Mihir Desai. There, he spent many weeks unconscious and passed away on July 5.
Desai, a senior advocate in Bombay high court had pointed out to the court that Swamy’s condition had deteriorated only because of the inhuman treatment meted out to him in jail. The then Taloja jail superintendent Kaustubh Kurlekar and prison doctor Sunil Kale were accused of not providing timely medical aide to Swamy.
Similar complaints have been made by many other prisoners against Kurlekar.
In August last year, prisoners booked in the Elgar Parishad case had accused Kurlekar of “censoring” their letters and scanning and saving their letters before handing them over to their family members and lawyers.
Following Swamy’s death, the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province (JJP) had moved a petition before the high court seeking his name be cleared and state accountability – for Swamy’s death in prison. Desai, appearing on behalf of the JJP told The Wire that while there has not been any substantial development in the petition so far, but that he and Swamy’s friends are determined to pursue the case in the court till the end.
The featured image is an illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty. To view more such illustrations, click here.