PCCL salutes Sudha Bharadwaj and her fight for justice on her 60th birthday, fourth behind bars

PUCL on Monday released the following media statement reiterating its commitment to work for release of all those in jail in Bhima Koregaon case, as well as other ‘prisoners of conscience’

Human rights activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj (File photo)
Human rights activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj (File photo)

NH Web Desk

Sudha Bharadwaj marked her fourth birthday in prison today, November 1, 2021, when she completed 60 years. She has been in jail along with the other 16 co-accused in Bhima Koregaon case as an undertrial, with the State neither commencing the trial nor releasing her on bail.

Sudha’s life is a testament to a passionate concern to redressing injustice and redressing injustice is nothing if not the mandate of the Constitution. This continued detention of someone who has dedicated her life to bringing the ‘Constitution to life’ for the Adivasis of central India and the working class and other marginalised sections is a continuing affront to all those believe in a plural, democratic and inclusive India.

The PUCL believes that Sudha Bharadwaj and her other co-accused persons, as well as thousands of others, are being detained and prosecuted because their viewpoints are at odds with the ideology of the current political dispensation.

Their continued detention is nothing other than an attempt by the Central government to send out a message that dissent will not be tolerated and democratic voices will be silenced.

What is the dissent which the central government is so afraid of?

· The Dalit activism of Sudhir Dhawale and the Kabir Kala Manch trio of Gaichor, Gorkhe and Jagtap which proclaims Ambedkar’s view that ‘Hindu Raj’ will be ‘the greatest calamity for this country’.

· The trade unionism and legal activism of Sudha Bharadwaj as well as Vernon Gonsalves, Surendra Gadling and Arun Ferreira seeks to make the State accountable to the Constitution.

· The Adivasi activism of Father Stan Swamy (who is no more with us) and Mahesh Raut which seeks to implement the constitutional promises to the Adivasi people.

· The civil liberties activism of Gautam Navalakha and Rona Wilson seeks to make the ‘Deep State’ consisting of the Army, police and intelligence agencies accountable to the rule of law.

· The intellectual activism of Hany Babu, Shoma Sen, Anand Teltumbde and Varavara Rao which asserts that universities too are spaces of activism and that the writer’s ‘imagination cannot be imprisoned’.

Remembering Sudha Bharadwaj and the other co-accused in the case for various forms of activism is to remind ourselves again of a continuing injustice.

It is to remember that the injustice can take particularly cruel forms.

Gautam Navalakha’s partner Sahba Husain recently wrote that the seventy-year-old Navalakha was being denied simple facilities like ‘phone access to his lawyers and family and some fresh air to walk in once or twice a day.’

As she poignantly put it, ‘It is not too much to ask for these simple facilities’.

The PUCL demands that the government accede to these basic demands and ensure that all prisoners are able to live a life of dignity as mandated by the Supreme Court and the Constitution of India.

The right to dignity which consists of access to reading and writing material, letters to family, clean air and safe water cannot be denied to prisoners, whatever be the nature of the charges against them.

Even as we feel the pain of family members denied what should be basic rights, we know that the love for justice cannot be extinguished.

The forms of activism which all the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case represent are very much alive and the tribute we can pay to them is to continue to take forward their vision of a plural, inclusive and democratic India in our own lives.

We mark Sudha Bharadwaj’s fourth birthday in detention today by rededicating ourselves to fighting for her release. We also reiterate our commitment to work for the release of all those in jail in the case, as well as the release of the thousands of other political prisoners – the prisoners of conscience - who are in jail merely because they chose to exercise their constitutional right to the freedom of speech and association.

It may be recalled that Sudha Bharadwaj was arrested on August 28, 2018 in connection with the so-called Bhima Koregaon/Elgar Parishad case. The Pune police filed a chargesheet against the accused including Bharadwaj claiming that some documents were recovered from her co-accused which mention her activities and prove that she is an ‘active member’ of banned organisation CPI (Maoist).

While the NIA is yet to file a supplementary chargesheet in the case, the Pune police, while opposing her bail on merits, claimed there were six documents allegedly recovered from her co-accused which pertain to her.

During the bail hearing, the Bombay High Court had said that one of the documents — that of minutes of a Special Women’s Meeting held on January 2, 2018 allegedly attended by Bharadwaj and Sen — cannot be treated as incriminating evidence as it had discrepancies as Call Data Records of the two showed them to be in different locations at the time.

The other five documents include alleged discussions of activities of CPI (Maoists) in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, meetings of Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers, of which Bharadwaj is a vice-president, a seminar in Delhi on Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and documents claiming discussions about funds in the banned organisation.

The Bombay High Court denied her bail in October 2019, saying these documents show a prima-facie case in respect of the allegations against her.

Bharadwaj’s lawyers had said that nothing “objectionable” was recovered from her, there are no witness statements and the documents claiming to be evidence were not admissible — their authorship was not established, they were typed not handwritten, did not bear any date and they were not created on computers and other devices that were recovered from.

Her lawyers also state that while the Pune police made the claim while opposing her bail that Indian Association of People’s Lawyers was a front of the CPI (Maoists), it had nothing to do with the banned organisation and has eminent jurists as its members.

Members of the IAPL founded in 2004 as the Indian chapter of the International Association of People’s Lawyer had then issued a statement stating that these claims were an “attempt to silence rights lawyers, activists and organisations involved in human rights work.”

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