Eleven activists accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case are observing a day-long fast on Tuesday at the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai in protest against the death of co-accused Jesuit priest Stan Swamy on July 5 last year.
The protesting activists alleged that the death of Stan Swamy (83) was a “brutal assassination by the prison administration, the NIA, and the government.”
Swamy’s co-accused and activist Sudhir Dhawale, in a letter written to the Taloja prison superintendent and the case lawyers, claimed there has been no change in the jail condition, including a general lack of apathy among the prison administration and lack of medical facilities, which were among the several causes that led to Swamy’s death.
“A year ago, this day, the state had Father Stan Swamy killed,” the letter alleged, adding the situation continues to be the same in jail. “The prison authorities continue to handle the premise with same brazenness and prisoners continue to face their wrath,” the letter said.
Apart from Dhawale, those observing the fast are activists Surendra Gadling, Arun Ferreira, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Vernon Gonsalves, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Hany Babu, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha.
The letter claimed that while in prison, Swamy had to struggle for access to basic facilities, including a sipper or a simple walking stick. “He had to file petitions in court for everything,” the letter said. It further alleged that when Swamy fell seriously ill, instead of making medical care available, the prison authorities kept him confined in jail.
“His medical bail plea was opposed in court by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which said that Swamy was making excuses and (giving) false pretences,” the letter claimed.
Swamy, a well-known tribal rights activist, suffered from several medical ailments, including Parkinson’s disease. He died in a private hospital in Mumbai on July 5, 2021 while waiting for medical bail.
In June last year, Swamy had appeared before a vacation bench of the Bombay High Court headed by now retired Justice S.J. Kathawala, via video conferencing. He had appeared dazed and could barely speak at the time.
He had told the vacation bench that he wanted medical bail as his health condition worsened while in prison. “If things continue this way, then I might die soon. Please grant me medical bail so that I can be with my people, the adivasis in Ranchi, during my last days,” he told the HC at that time.
The vacation bench had remarked that Swamy was either a “very intelligent man” or someone “tutored” him and hence, he was asking for bail.
A few weeks later, as his health condition deteriorated, a regular HC bench led by Justice S.S. Shinde, who now heads the Rajasthan High Court, shifted him urgently from the prison to the Holy Family Hospital in Bandra area of Mumbai for treatment.
Swamy died in the hospital following a massive heart attack some hours before his medical bail plea was taken up for hearing by Justice Shinde. His lawyer Mihir Desai and the hospital authorities had informed the HC of his death during the hearing.
Justice Shinde then ordered a magisterial inquiry into Swamy’s death, since he was in custody of the state and an undertrial at the time of his demise. There is no word from the state government on the status of the inquiry.
A plea filed by some of Swamy’s associates to declare them as his next of kin and make them privy to the inquiry remains pending before the HC. Advocate Desai said the prison and the state authorities were yet to inform him or his team about the status of the inquiry.
The Elgar case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches delivered at the ‘Elgar Parishad’ conclave, held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the city’s outskirts.
The Pune Police claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists. The NIA later took over the probe into the case.