Human rights activist Gautam Navlakha on Sunday said that while he had been released from custody in the Bhima Koregaon case, he is saddened that the fate of several fellow dissidents implicated in other cases still hangs in balance.

“Years of our life have been snatched from us as prisoners awaiting trial, which itself will take years to conclude,” he said in a letter written on his release.

The Supreme Court had granted him bail on May 14 in the Bhima Koregaon case subject to the payment of Rs 20 lakh towards the cost of his security during his house arrest. He was released from custody on Saturday evening.

“It proved to be a long wait but well worth it,” he wrote.

Navlakha, 70, is among 16 academicians, activists and lawyers who have been charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for their alleged role in instigating caste violence at Bhima Koregaon near Pune in January 2018.

He was arrested in August 2018 and placed under house arrest in November 2022 after the Supreme Court granted his request to be shifted from jail on the grounds of ill health and poor facilities in prison.

In December, the Bombay High Court granted Navlakha bail on grounds that there was no material to suggest that he had committed a terrorist act as defined by the country’s primary anti-terror law. However, the court had stayed the bail order to allow the National Investigation Agency to appeal against it before the Supreme Court.

“Families of UTPs [under trial prisoners] suffer as much, if not more, from this separation from their loved ones and their lives are greatly disrupted,” the human right activist said in his letter. “A reality seldom acknowledged and rarely remedied.”

He added: “What disturbs me, as a democratic rights activist, is that justice appears as a distant dream. An over-burdened judiciary finds itself unable to provide a speedy, fair trial. As a captive, I often hoped that the judiciary would deliver on its lofty pronouncement that ‘deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many’. Because UTPs cling to this as a promise.”

Navlakha added that while he is pleased to “breathe freer and finally get to meet my near and dear ones”, he is “aware that others still languish in a life of uncertainty”. “It hurts that Father Stan Swamy was denied bail while alive and will find redemption only posthumously,” he added.

Swamy, a tribal rights activist, died in July 2021 at the age of 84. He was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Mumbai while had been in jail for nine months in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

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