Lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who is among those arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, has developed a heart ailment “triggered by the stress” in jail, said her daughter in a press note issued on Tuesday. Bharadwaj was taken into custody on October 27, 2018, after “nearly two months of house arrest”.

The activist’s daughter, Maaysha Bharadwaj, cited a medical report from the jail dated July 23 in which it has been stated that her mother is suffering from “Ischemic Heart Disease, a heart problem caused by narrowing of arteries that causes reduced blood flow to the heart muscle and can lead to heart attack”. She added that her mother never had any heart-related complaints before she was jailed.

“Doctors consulted explained such condition…as serious that could lead to a heart attack,” said Maaysha Bharadwaj. “The medical report obtained from the jail does not clarify when this condition was diagnosed, nor does it explain the basis for this diagnosis. This uncertainty and the lack of disclosure of full medical history has caused deep concern to all her extended family and close colleagues.”

Bharadwaj already suffers from diabetes, blood pressure and has a history of pulmonary tuberculosis, said her daughter. “Such health condition makes Sudha Bharadwaj extremely vulnerable and susceptible to infections of Covid 19,” she added. “At a time of such a pandemic, each day spent in an unsafe, crowded place is exposing a person with co-morbidities to unnecessary health risk. Such delays in the judicial process are thus unconscionable.”

Maaysha Bharadwaj along with other family members, friends and colleagues have demanded “for an early, decisive hearing for Sudha Bharadwaj’s release”. They have also asked for full access to her medical history in jail with all diagnostic notes. “Keeping under trials in prison for two years deliberately stalling bail opportunities, with no effort for beginning the trial instead exposing them to serious health condition is a gross violation of rights of prisoners. This is further heightened in times of a pandemic given the crowded situation in prisons,” read the press note.

The lawyer-activist’s daughter also highlighted the unsafe jail conditions. She said the inmates have only been given masks as a measure of safeguard. “Mandatory social distancing is impossible to achieve in the overcrowded barrack,” she added. Mumbai’s Byculla jail, where Bharadwaj has been lodged, has a capacity of 175 inmates. However, jail authorities informed the Bombay High Court that it has 257 prisoners as of July 28. Bharadwaj’s family urged the “jail authorities to decongest the prisons, test all the inmates and make appropriate provisions to avoid a Covid outbreak”.

On Tuesday, the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to give copies of the latest medical reports of Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde and Vernon Gonsalves to their families, lawyers and the National Investigating Agency, reported The Indian Express. The next hearing is on August 28.

Human rights organisation calls for Bharadwaj’s release

CIVICUS, a global collective of civil society organisations, expressed concern over Bharadwaj’s health in prison and urged the Centre to order her immediate release.

“August 28, 2020, marks two years since the arrest and detention of Indian activist and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj,” the organisation said in statement. “Ahead of this second anniversary, global civil society organisation CIVICUS calls on the Indian government to immediately release Bharadwaj and drop all charges against her.

“Sudha Bharadwaj was initially held under house arrest until October 2018, when she was then moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai,” the organisation added. “There are concerns that the 59 year old, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, will be susceptible to COVID-19 in the cramped prison, where an inmate has already tested positive for the virus. A July medical report found that she is also now suffering from Ischemic heart disease.”

The Bhima Koregaon case

Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This came a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 in which the Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.

The investigating agency named 11 of the 23 accused in the FIR, including activists Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, P Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. Except Teltumbde and Navlakha, the others were arrested by Pune Police in June and August 2018 in connection with the violence. They were accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and are still in prison.

On April 14, following the Supreme Court’s orders, activists Navlakha and Teltumbde surrendered before the NIA.

The case was initially investigated by the Pune Police but was transferred to the NIA on February 14, after the state government said it had no objection to the investigation agency’s plea for a transfer.

Weeks after the Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in Maharashtra in 2019, the Centre took away the case from Pune Police in January and handed it over to the NIA. This initially upset the new Maharashtra government, which opposed the NIA’s application for a transfer on February 7. However, the state government made a U-turn after state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh claimed that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had overruled him. Thackeray is the chief of Shiv Sena, while Deshmukh is from the Nationalist Congress Party.