A special National Investigation Agency court has allowed lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who is in custody for her alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon case, to access five books a month in Mumbai’s Byculla prison, Bar and Bench reported on Thursday.
Special judge DE Kothalikar, however, has directed the Byculla district prison’s superintendent to “carefully examine the books” for “objectionable content” before handing them to her. This would include literature that propagates Maoist ideology, the court said.
“The superintendent shall carefully examine the books and if they contain objectionable material, which preaches violence, vulgar, obscene, pornographic or the material propagating the banned organisation namely Revolutionary Democratic Front or CPI (Maoist), in that case he shall not allow the applicant [Bharadwaj] to accept such books,” the court said, according to The Hindu.
Bharadwaj and other activists and academics arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case have been accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
On November 11, a clerk from the office of Bharadwaj’s lawyer had gone to the prison to deliver a parcel consisting of two kurtas and one book. However, the prison authorities removed the book, The Empire of Cotton by Sten Backert from the package. The following month, Bharadwaj’s lawyer along with co-accused – Hany Babu and Gautam Navlakha – approached the special NIA court seeking access to books and newspapers in prison.
Navlakha sought two books, The World Of Jeeves and Wooster by PG Wodehouse and Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C Scott. Babu asked for A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh and Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin, according to The Hindu.
The neglect of jail authorities toward undertrials in the Bhima Koregaon case has evoked public outrage. In December, the Maharashtra government had ordered an inquiry into Taloja jail authorities’ refusal to accept a package containing Navlakha’s spectacles.
Activist Stan Swamy, who has been arrested in the same case, had also struggled to get a straw and sipper in jail. The 83-year-old tribal rights activist suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
Telugu poet Varavara Rao is another accused in the case, who suffers from an acute medical condition. On November 18, the Bombay High Court had directed Taloja Jail authorities to shift him to Nanavati Hospital for 15 days, saying that he was almost on his deathbed.
At least 16 activists and intellectuals have been arrested since June 2018 for allegedly participating in a Maoist conspiracy to overthrow the government and assassinate the prime minister. The police claims the accused made inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad, a conclave organised by Dalit and human rights organisations in Pune, leading to the eruption of caste-based violence between Maratha and Dalit groups near Bhima Koregaon village on January 1, 2018.
Notably, no major action has been taken against two right-wing Hindutva leaders – Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote – who have also been accused of making provocative speeches before the violence.