Faculty, Research Scholars and Alumni of Central and State universities, IITs, IISc, IISER and other institutes across the country have come together to ask the Government of India, the Supreme Court of India and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to release the political prisoners arrested in Bhima Koregaon case and in Anti -CAA protests and repeal the draconian UAPA.
“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”
While the entire world fights the pandemic caused by COVID-19, many intellectuals and activists are still languishing in jails and many more are being arrested till the present day. On one hand, norms of “social distancing” are being propagated by the government and on the other hand, we find prisoners being cramped in twice or thrice of the capacity of the jails under inhuman conditions. Though the Supreme Court has directed to release some prisoners in view of the COVID-19 situation and empowered state governments to form high-power committees to decide upon this matter, political prisoners who were arrested on the false charges of inciting violence in the Bhima Koregaon celebrations in 2018 are still behind the bars. While the real perpetrators of violence (Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide) are roaming free, all the eleven arrestees (called BK11, the short description given at the end) on whom fabricated charges of planning to attack the Prime Minister and carrying out anti-national activities were filed under the pretext of being ‘urban Naxal’. They are actually those who have challenged and fought against the injustices of the State and have worked relentlessly to protect the rights of workers and peasants as well as the most marginalized people of the country, including Dalits and Adivasis. These activists are writers, poets, professors, lawyers, and students who chose not to live just for themselves and their families but for the cause of humanity by fighting against exploitation.
On top of that, to completely silence the voices of dissent, the present fascist government is using the “opportunity” of the pandemic to arrest many more political activists. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha were arrested on 14th April while others arrested during the lockdown are those who were active in the anti-CAA protests. These include Dr. Kafeel Khan, Pinjra Tod activists, Natasha and Devangana, students of Jamia Milia and AMU, Safoora Jargar, Sharjeel Usmani, Meeran Haidar and many others. Putting these activists behind bars when the country is facing the world’s third largest number of COVID-19 cases is same as putting their lives under threat!
With their crowded, unhygienic, and poor conditions, Indian prisons are easy prey to the spreading of COVID-19. Varavara Rao, the 80-year-old revolutionary poet and political activist who is one of the arrestees in the Bhima Koregaon case, and Akhil Gogoi and Sharjeel Imam, who were active in anti-CAA protests, have already been tested positive for COVID-19. Their testing itself has happened after a lot of pressure put by their family members and other democratic voices of the country. Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde who are in the same prison as Varavara, also runs the risk of contracting the virus too. While Varavara Rao was in Taloja jail, his condition was getting worse and after speaking to his family over the phone, Vernon Gonsalves, the co-accused helping him, told them that he was hallucinating, and could not carry out even basic functions like brushing his teeth on his own. On repeated demands and protests by the people, he was shifted to JJ Hospital. Here he was tested COVID positive so he was shifted to the state-run St. George hospital which has poor medical facilities. After facing public pressure, the authorities finally shifted him to Nanavati Hospital. He also received head injury and stitches on his head at JJ Hospital. All the information regarding his medical procedure is not being informed to the family and only known to them later by secondary sources. The attitude of ignorance by the authorities is a cause of extreme worry for people concerned for him.
In 2017, six activists Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Narote, Hem Mishra, Prashant Rahi (IIT-BHU alumni), Vijay Tirki and GN Saibaba were arrested on the fabricated charges of ‘waging war against the State’. G. N. Saibaba, professor at DU who has always worked for the rights of the oppressed, is 90% disabled and suffers from several life-threatening ailments. The continued negligence of his medical condition by the jail authorities, even in this time of pandemic, is extremely inhuman as well as unlawful (Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life to all citizens, including prisoners).
While the Bhima Koregaon arrestees are languishing in jail in extreme conditions as an undertrial under the UAPA (a draconian law which is in violation of civil and human rights and is used by the State to target activists working against the corporate loot and exploitation of marginalised) and most of them for more than two years, it is important to note that Article 14(3)(c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party, says that an accused person has the right to be tried without undue delay and those criminal proceedings should be started and completed within a reasonable time. Also, most of them are above the age of 60 and have fairly high chances of contracting the virus.
We can clearly see that the government is continuously attacking activists, writers, poets, lawyers, students, and professors who are critical of the anti-people agendas of the government and who are courageously fighting for the oppressed. The stifling of dissenting voices is an attack on the very democratic spirit of our country. As socially conscious citizens associated with some of the best institutions of our country, the duty to make our society more equitable and just rests on our shoulders. Hence, we must raise our voice in solidarity to demand the release of all political prisoners.
The Coordination of Science and Technology Institutes’ Student Associations (COSTISA) includes Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle, IIT Bombay, Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras, Concern, IISc, Confluence, IISER Mohali, Science Education Group, IIT Kharagpur, Students For Change, IIT BHU
COSTISA can be contacted at their Facebook page here
The COSTISA demands are as follows:
1) PROVIDE IMMEDIATE PROPER MEDICAL TREATMENT AND MEDICAL BAIL TO VARAVARA RAO AND G. N. SAIBABA.
2) RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS ARRESTED IN THE CASE OF BHIMA KOREGAON AND ANTI-CAA PROTESTS. RELEASE ALL OTHER POLITICAL PRISONERS IN VIEW OF THE COVID-19 SITUATION.
3) REPEAL THE DRACONIAN UNLAWFUL ACTIVITIES PREVENTION ACT (UAPA).
The petition can be signed here
Short description of BK11:
Surendra Gadling is a senior advocate in Nagpur, specializing in cases involving marginalised population and providing legal support to them.
Shoma Sen is an English professor in Nagpur University and a renowned scholar in women’s studies.
Rona Wilson is a research scholar from JNU and secretary of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP).
Sudhir Dhawale is the founder of Republican Panthers, a cultural activist and editor of the journal ‘Vidrohi’.
Mahesh Raut is a researcher in TISS and has been a Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow where he worked with Adivasis.
Vernon Gonsalves is a social activist and writer. Arun Ferreira is an advocate and writer, and a leading member of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers.
Sudha Bharadwaj, an IIT Kanpur alum is an advocate and activist working for Adivasis and workers; she was the general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
Gautam Navlakha is a journalist and human rights activist, specializing in Kashmir.
Anand Teltumbde is an ex-professor of IIT Kharagpur, professor at Goa Institute of Management, and working on human rights and Dalit rights.
Varavara Rao is an 80-year-old revolutionary poet, writer, and public intellectual.