Jailed human rights activist Stan Swamy wrote to his friends about fellow inmates who help him with his chores and said that despite all odds, “humanity is bubbling in prison”. Excerpts from the letter were shared on social media by Swamy’s friend, human rights activist John Dayal.
Swamy said in the letter that he was being held in a small cell in Taloja Central Jail near Mumbai along with two other inmates, while activists Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were in another cell. They are all in prison in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence case. “During the day, when cells and barracks are opened, we meet with each other,” Swamy wrote. “From 5.30 pm to 06.00 am and 12 noon to 03.00 pm, I am locked up in my cell, with two inmates.”
Swamy, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, said that Ferreira helps him eat his meals. The 83-year-old Jesuit priest last week filed an application in court saying that he cannot hold a glass and asked for permission to use a straw and sipper. The court scheduled hearing of the application on November 28, as the prosecution sought 20 days to respond.
Swamy’s medical plea stated that he has almost lost his hearing ability in both his ears, fallen in jail multiple times and has been operated on for hernia twice and still has pain in his lower abdomen. His lawyer told a special court in Mumbai that he has been finding it difficult to hold a cup due to Parkinson’s disease.
In his letter, Swamy said that Gonsalves helps him bathe. “My two inmates help out during supper, in washing my clothes and give massage to my knee joints,” he wrote. “They are from very poor families. Please remember my inmates and my colleagues in your prayers. Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison.”
On October 23, a special National Investigation Agency court had denied Swamy’s interim bail plea on health grounds.
Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in Ranchi on October 8 and was brought to Mumbai the next day. The had alleged that Swamy is a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and was involved in a conspiracy to instigate caste violence in the Bhima Koregaon village near Pune in 2018. He has been in judicial custody since October 9.
In an article for Scroll.in a few days after Swamy was arrested, his friend John Dayal described the priest’s efforts to protect Adivasi rights in great detail. Read it here.
Meanwhile, 81-year-old Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao, who has been arrested in the same case, is also suffering from neurological problems and the after-effects of the coronavirus, and has applied for bail. However, the Bombay High Court had on Thursday only allowed a medical examination through video conferencing, even as his counsel argued that he should be shifted from Taloja Jail to Nanavati Hospital.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising told the court that his “condition is deteriorating day by day”, adding that conditions of his detention are “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.
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The NIA took over the investigation from the Pune Police in January. All the accused in the case are booked for allegedly delivering inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which triggered violence at the Bhima Koregaon war memorial on January 1, 2018.
Several organisations and citizens have called for Swamy’s release. This includes the All India Catholic Union and the North East Catholic Research Forum. In a statement, the All India Catholic Union said Swamy’s arrest seems to be an attempt to stifle dissent in India. The North East Catholic Research Forum said that it was “shocked and saddened” by his arrest. It called Swamy’s arrest “selective targeting”.