Activist Sagar Gorkhe, who is awaiting trial in the Bhima Koregaon case, has gone on an indefinite hunger strike in protest against alleged harassment from Taloja Central Jail authorities in Mumbai. He wrote a letter to the Maharashtra home minister to convey his decision to protest.
The case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. Sixteen people were arrested for allegedly plotting the violence and were later accused of conspiring to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a written complaint to the Kharghar Police Station, Gorkhe alleged that two prison officials entered his cell for a regular security check and seized a mosquito net used by him, The Indian Express reported.
The Taloja prison has faced mosquito infestation problems for a long time, according to the newspaper. Several inmates have sought mosquito nets after complaining to the courts about contracting malaria and dengue.
On Monday, Gautam Navlakha, one of Gorkhe’s co-accused in the case, also moved a plea before a special National Investigation Agency court seeking permission to use a mosquito net.
Navlakha’s partner, Sahba Hussain, said that the 70-year-old human rights activist was given a mosquito net on the recommendations of his doctors.
“However, suddenly the prison officials took it, citing certain rules,” Hussain said, according to the Hindustan Times. “The area has a lot of mosquitoes and our biggest worry is that monsoon is approaching soon.”
Prison officials said that the nets were seized as they pose a security risk.
“The mosquito nets have a long string and need to be fixed through nails in the wall,” an unidentified prison official said, according to The Indian Express. “Both the string and the nails are a security risk, which can be used by prisoners to harm themselves by suicide or others.”
The official added that prisoners can buy mosquito repellent ointments and coils from the jail canteen. However, several undertrials have previously said that they cannot afford the repellents, The Indian Express reported.
Letter to home minister
On Tuesday, Gorkhe in a letter to Maharashtra home minister wrote that he and his co-accused were “deliberately denied” medical treatment in the prison.
“Even today our basic human rights are being trampled over every day in the prison,” Gorkhe added. “The prison superintendent in alliance with the medical officials are obstructing access to medical care.”
He also flagged shortage of water in prison and said that they were not allowed to make phone calls to their family members despite a court order.
“The prison administrators have been literally creating a water shortage and selling the water,” Gorkhe said. “The prisoners are forced to survive with only 15 litres of water resulting in a reign of insanitation.”
Jail superintendent UT Pawar said Gorkhe informed him about his hunger strike on Monday morning.
“I have told him that he needs to give me a written application citing reasons and demands for going on strike,” Pawar told The Hindu. “It is illegal to go on a hunger strike. We are going to address all his issues.”
On the points raised by Gorkhe, Pawar said that there was a circular issued by the prison department stating that those charged with terrorism and Maoist links would not be allowed to make phone calls to their families. “I am following the circular,” he added.
He also refuted Gorkhe’s claim of water shortage in the prison.
“Gorkhe is kept in a high-security cell, which is attached to a tanker which provides him water 24/7,” Pawar said. “He has access to more water than any other prisoner.”