Those arrested in the Elgar Parishad case have been systematically denied medical treatment, their family members alleged on Saturday.
The allegation comes two days after activist Vernon Gonsalves, one of the accused in the case, contracted dengue in prison and is on oxygen support in Mumbai’s JJ Hospital. The 65-year-old undertrial is lodged in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.
The Elgar Parishad event took place in Pune on December 31, 2017, a day before violent clashes broke out between Maratha and Dalit groups near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra. Sixteen people were arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.
While Dalit groups and individuals have accused Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide of instigating the violence through hate speeches before the incident, the focus of the National Investigation Agency has been on the Elgar Parishad event being part of a larger Maoist conspiracy to stoke caste violence, destabilise the Central government and assassinate the prime minister.
The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020. The trial in the case is yet to begin.
Out of the 16 arrested persons, 84-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy died at a hospital in Mumbai while in custody. Two other accused persons, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao, are currently out on bail.
Apart from Gonsalves, the other accused persons in custody are Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Arun Ferreira, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Hany Babu, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap.
On Saturday, family members of the accused persons alleged that the case of Gonsalves was yet another act of criminal negligence by prison authorities.
“Gonsalves had fever on August 30, and even though his condition was steadily deteriorating, he was treated with just paracetamol and antibiotics in jail for almost a week,” the families said in a press note. “After much pleading, he was taken to JJ hospital on September 7 and was given oxygen support.”
They further alleged that Gonsalves was brought to jail where his condition worsened.
“It is only after his lawyer and wife, Susan Abraham, approached the court and obtained an order that the prison authorities finally admitted him in the emergency ward of JJ hospital, where he is still under treatment,” the families said.
They also cited the deaths of several undertrial prisoners, including Swamy’s, allegedly after being denied prompt medical attention and demanded immediate release of all ‘political prisoners’.
“If the state is incapable of guaranteeing their safety and security in prison, it would be better that the courts intervene to grant bail to these political prisoners so that their precious lives are saved,” they said.
‘Gonsalves should be given immediate bail’
Meanwhile, a group of over 40 civil society organisations under the aegis of Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy, demanded that Gonsalves be provided timely and proper medical care.
“We also demand that his family and advocates be kept regularly updated on his medical status and provide access to the medical professionals in the hospital to monitor his condition,” the group said in a statement. “We further demand that activist Vernon Gonsalves be granted immediate bail on medical grounds and be released.”
The group said that it was appalling that the activist was not given proper medical care even after it was found out that he was suffering from dengue. This led to his health deteriorating further, it said.
The group cited the example of Swamy’s death, which it said occurred “due to gross delay and neglect on the part of the prison authorities to provide medical care and treatment”.
It added, “Several others have fallen sick or were delayed medical help for an ongoing health condition. Two other accused persons, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao are currently out on bail. The latter, who is out on medical bail, similarly suffered medical neglect in jail and delayed treatment during the pandemic.”