The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission has asked the state government and the superintendent of the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai to pay compensation of Rs 2 lakh to activist Arun Ferreira for failing to send to his mother a letter he had written to her.

Ferreira is among the 16 activists, academics and lawyers who were charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for their alleged role in instigating caste violence at Bhima Koregaon near Pune in January 2018. He spent about five years in jail and was released on bail in August.

The police claim that the accused persons were involved in organising an Elgar Parishad event on December 31, 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. Provocative speeches at this event led to large-scale violence the next day, according to the police.

Justice KK Tated, the chairperson of the commission, said that withholding Ferreira’s letter violated his fundamental rights of equality, freedom of speech and personal liberty.

“I recommend respondent [the superintendent and the home department] to pay a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the complainant [Ferreira],” the order read.

Tated also remarked that the Taloja prison superintendent had committed a “great mistake” by not forwarding Ferreira’s letter to his mother in July 2021.

Ferreira’s letter described his relationship with his co-accused and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy.

Swamy died in custody at a Mumbai hospital on July 5, 2021, nearly nine months after he was arrested. The 84-year-old suffered from multiple ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, and contracted the coronavirus infection at the Taloja prison.

In the letter dated July 14, 2021, Ferreira wrote that Swamy had the “remarkable ability of leaving a lasting impression on everyone he met” and that he “seldom spoke nonsense”.

The prison superintendent, however, did not forward the letter to Ferreira’s mother and instead said the accused wanted to “publish objectionable material and should be warned as per Maharashtra Prison Manual”.

The activist told the panel that the move was based on Rule 20 of the Maharashtra Prisons (Facilities to the Prisoners) Rules 1962, which had been struck down.

The state human rights commission, in its order on April 4, directed the Maharashtra home department and the prison superintendent to conduct workshops to educate prison officials on how to censor inmates’ letters so that there should not be “any injustice” in any more such cases.

Ferreira was granted bail by the Supreme Court in July. In August, he along with co-accused Vernon Gonsalves walked out of prison.

Earlier this month, former Nagpur University professor Shoma Sen was released from jail after being granted bail in the Bhima Koregaon case. She was the sixth person accused in the Bhima Koregaon case to have been granted bail.

Trade union activist and lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj was granted default bail in 2021 after the National Investigation Agency failed to complete its investigation and file a chargesheet as per the anti-terrorism law’s stipulated time frame. Writer and caste scholar Anand Teltumbe received bail in 2022. Poet Varavara Rao was granted bail on medical grounds in 2022.