Delhi University Professor Hany Babu, an undertrial prisoner in the Bhima Koregaon case, is being denied medical treatment at Mumbai’s Taloja Jail for an acute eye infection, his family alleged on Tuesday. They added that the infection could pose a significant risk to his life if it spreads to his brain.
In a press statement, the family demanded immediate access to proper medical care and transparency in case of such a serious illness, saying they feared that “an opaque system will do irreparable damage”.
Babu, 54, a professor of language and linguistics at the Department of English at the university, was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on July 28, and has been in prison ever since. The investigating agency has claimed that Babu was a co-conspirator in the Bhima Koregaon case and had been “propagating” Maoist activities and ideology.
According to Babu’s family, he started experiencing pain and swelling in the left eye on May 3, which soon developed into double vision and severe pain. By May 11, he had little or no vision in his left eye due to the swelling, which has spread to the cheek, ear and forehead, compromising other vital organs as well, they said.
“He is in agonising pain and is unable to sleep or perform daily chores,” the statement added. “Due to an acute water shortage in the prison, he does not have access to clean water to even bathe his eye and is forced to dress his eye with soiled towels.”
The family said that when the academic first showed signs of infection, he immediately requested for consultation and treatment with a specialised doctor. But he was not taken to a doctor, because an escort officer was not available, according to the family.
It was only after his lawyers sent an email on May 6 to the superintendent of Taloja Jail that he was taken to a government hospital in Vashi the next day, Babu’s family said.
At the Vashi Government Hospital, Babu was examined by an ophthalmologist, prescribed certain anti-bacterial medication and advised to return for follow-up treatment in two days. But authorities did not take him back to the doctor, not even when his condition “deteriorated alarmingly” two days later, the family has alleged.
This time, too, the prison authorities cited a lack of escort officers, according to Babu’s family.
They added that on May 10 Babu’s lawyer, Payoshi Roy, made over eight phone calls to the prison, but the superintendent refused to come on the line. Later in the day, the jailer informed the lawyer that they were making arrangements to take Babu to the hospital the next day.
However, he was not taken to the hospital again, Babu’s family alleged.
This was despite Babu’s lawyers sending the prison superintendent an email, emphasising the gravity of the situation and that “even a day’s delay may lead to an irreversible deterioration leading to partial or complete loss of sight as well as a life-threatening complication if it affects the brain”, they said.
“Even today, we were unable to get a response from the prison, despite repeated calls by Ms. Roy,” the family added. “The thought of Hany Babu having to beg for something as basic as essential health services is heart wrenching.”