The National Investigation Agency’s statement in court on Thursday that it would not be able to provide a sipper and straw to jailed activist Stan Swamy has prompted social media users around the country to take matters into their own hands and send these items to him themselves.
On November 6, 83-year-old Swamy, who is currently lodged in Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai, had made a request for sipper and straw because he has Parkinson’s disease and is unable to hold a tumbler. He had been arrested on October 8, for allegedly being part of a conspiracy that resulted in caste violence in the Bhima Koregaon case.
When he was arrested in Ranchi, Jharkhand, he carried a small bag that contained a few belongings, including a straw and a sipper, said his lawyer Sharif Sheikh. However, the contents were not handed to him when he entered jail, Sheikh said.
Three weeks after the request was placed, the National Investigation Agency told court that it did not have Swamy’s belongings. It said it would need another 20 days to respond to a petition asking for permission to grant Swamy access to a sipper and winter clothes. The court set the hearing for December 4.
The NIA’s response alarmed many people across the country. Among them was Mumbai resident Deepak Venkateshan, who posted a social media message urging followers to courier a sipper and straw to Taloja Jail, since the authorities were unable to do provide them.
“Let’s flood the jail with straws and sippers” he wrote on Facebook. “Let the world know that we are still humane as a nation. Maybe we chose the wrong leaders, but there is still humanity left in us. An 83-year-old man not getting a straw cannot be the nation we live in.”
He also added the address of the prison in his post. “Amazon ships to the address as well and you can either send it from Amazon or do it yourself,” he noted. “The whole thing will cost less than a meal we usually order and this is the least we can do as citizens.”
Speaking to Scroll.in, Vekateshan said that he had thought of sending the items to Taloja Jail even before the court hearing too but waited till the NIA provided an explanation for its inaction in the court. “I had thought that they will eventually be shamed into providing Swamy with a sipper and straw, but that did not happen,” he said.
As it turns out many social media users also had the same idea and began to post screenshots of orders from Amazon to Taloja jail.
The campaign to send sippers and straws to Swamy in prison is reminiscent of the popular “Pink Chaddi campaign”, Facebook user Venkateshan said. In 2009, women from across the country launched a ampaign to send pink underwear to Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik to register their protest against moral policing and right-wing violence.
Muthalik had threatened to marry off couples if they were spotted together on Valentine’s Day. The right-wing leader’s followers had also allegedly attacked a group of women in a pub in Mangaluru, Karnataka in 2009 for “violating traditional Indian values”. In March 2018, a Karnataka court acquitted Sri Ram Sene chief Muthalik and all other accused in the case.
Swamy has filed a bail application, contending that he is not a flight risk. He said that he has almost lost his hearing ability in both his ears, fallen in jail multiple times, has been operated on for a hernia twice and still has pain in his lower abdomen.
He is not the only undertrial in the Bhima Koregaon case with an acute medical condition. On November 18, the Bombay High Court directed the authorities to shift 80-year-old Telugu poet Varavara Rao from Taloja jail to Nanavati Hospital for 15 days. The court noted that Rao was almost on his deathbed.
Senior lawyer Indira Jaising, appearing for Rao, said that he was completely bedridden and without a medical attendant, NDTV reported. “He is in diapers and has a catheter,” she said. “The catheter was not changed for three months, as there was no one to change it.”
Sudha Bharadwaj, who is also accused in the case, has developed a heart condition “triggered by the stress”, the Indian Express reported.