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Bail: Too Late, Too Little

Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk were lucky enough to get transit bail from the Bombay High Court. Disha wasn’t so lucky. The Delhi Court granted her bail on February 23.

A small victory, literally a baby step, as a team of lawyers would have said, when on February 22, after eight months, bail on medical grounds was granted to the octogenarian activist Dr Varavara Rao. Yes, considering the serious charges slapped on him under UAPA, bail has given the ailing poet some relief. This is not really a battle won, which would be a very uphill task, to say the least. Firstly, the family has to find a place for him to keep Rao in Mumbai so that he can attend the NIA hearings. In a way, it is conditional bail without it being said so. The family also has to collect money to post the surety bond. Moreover, while bail on medical grounds was granted to Rao, it was rejected for others. It is evident, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, the NIA, and other investigating authorities are not going to give in easily. Searches are on in this case for other people connected to even the lawyers or relatives of those arrested. Their movement and communication are under surveillance, making it difficult for the team of lawyers or the families to celebrate.
This one year has been a long battle and the fact that the real perpetrators of the riots and violence at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, are roaming free. All those who had gone to observe the 200th anniversary were caught in this violence, which few officers and eyewitnesses have said in their affidavits was instigated by the Hindu right-wing leaders, president of Samasta Hindu Aghadi, Milind Ekbote, and Manohar Bhide, president of Shiv Pratishthan. Bhide was not named or even arrested. What happened to investigations against them?
The names of Sambhaji (Manohar) Bhide (left) and Milind Ekbote (right) had come up in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.
It has not been easy for the families of those arrested. Many did not meet their incarcerated kin for nearly a year. After the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and cases rising in Taloja jail, the relatives were concerned. Rao had tested positive in July and others too were tested for corona. Worse, the conditions inside Taloja too have deteriorated. Dusty and dingy, without any proper place for the lawyers to conduct interviews or private talks with the activists. In the limited time of two minutes, with a barely audible telephone conversation, the conversation is limited to work, medicines, and barely enough time to discuss the nuances of their case, if and when permitted to speak. Something as basic and simple as spectacles were denied by the jail authorities. Gautam Navlakha’s spectacles were stolen in jail and authorities refused to accept the new ones sent by his family through courier.
Most who disagree with the ideology of the Elgar Parishad and support this government have been made to believe that these arrests were justified. This is in itself is a false narrative, just like we have been seeing with the Greta Thunberg toolkit case, in which climate change activist Disha Ravi was arrested under sedition charges. Two others, advocate Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk were lucky enough to get transit bail from the Bombay High Court. Disha wasn’t so lucky.  The Delhi Court granted her bail on February 23. Additional Sessions Judge Dharmendra Rana of Patiala Court Complex noted, “Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence on record, I do not find any palpable reason to deny bail.’’ Interestingly, this is the same judge who ruled against giving bail to Safoora Zargar, 27, who is pregnant. She was arrested under the UAPA by the Special Cell on April 13, 2020. Judge Rana had then said, “When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and spread the fire.” She was arrested in the north-east Delhi riots case.
Disha Ravi, the 22-year-old climate activist, was granted bail after spending 9 days in custody. (Credit: BBC)
Now contrast this with the lies fed to the nation by Special Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam, who admitted to concocting the biryani story of Ajmal Kasab. All along, he made a majority of gullible ‘bhakt’ Indians believe that Ajmal Kasab, who unleashed terror attacks with his accomplice in Mumbai, on 26/11 2008, had demanded biryani inside the jail and it was served, allegedly. Finally, when Nikam did admit to making up the biryani story and said it wasn’t true, a majority of Indians refused to believe it was the truth. Just like they believed the biryani story, most refuse to believe the conditions in jail are pathetic.
Someone needs to ask Father Stan Swamy, 83, how easy it has been to get a sipper/straw for himself, considering he found it tough to drink water by holding a glass in his trembling hands. Jail authorities refused to provide these, causing people to purchase it from Amazon and other online platforms to deliver to the jail, obviously to be refused. Only after a month was Stan Swamy allowed a straw. Moreover, ask Dr Varavara Rao, if he can recollect, what it takes to get a catheter changed, as his wasn’t changed for 90 days. Not only did he lose his memory, but the authorities also ensured he lost his dignity.
In the case of the 16 scholars, activists, and others arrested in the Elgar Parishad and Bhima Koregaon case, from the beginning, they and their lawyers had pleaded there was no evidence against them and they had not communicated over email, as the police had claimed -conspiring to overthrow the PM and a more sinister plot – as the then Additional Director General of Police P B Singh flashed documents in the press conference, claiming this sinister plot had ‘Maoist’ links. On August 31, 2018, Maharashtra Police claimed they had seized from Rona Wilson’s house, a device and thousands of documents that showed this plot. The advocates had rubbished these claims and yet again, people were made to believe that the evidence was authentic and the plot was hatched by professors, intellectuals, Kabir Kala Manch singers, artists, and activists. It was only in February that we learned how Wilson’s computer was hacked at least 22 months before his arrest. Police planted the evidence. It is said the motive was “aggressive surveillance” and inserting fake documents, stated, Mark Spencer of US-based digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting.
Process tree of Rona Wilson’s laptop released by Arsenal Consulting. (Credit- Arsenal Consulting’s Twitter)
At that time, most anchors and channels screamed for jailing the activists and scholars calling them ‘Maoists’, ‘Urban Naxals’, and all sorts. Today, except one, all are SILENT. Why so?
I do hope people realize how chilling and sinister this entire campaign has been from the start, making these scholars look like people in connivance with Maoist ideology. In a democratic set-up, people coming together to overthrow a government is not only the BJP’s prerogative. They did the same with the UPA government, when the RSS and BJP took the help of Anna Hazare, made corruption the only social evil of this country, and citizens wanted PM Manmohan Singh to resign at the drop of a hat. After this Arsenal report, a team of lawyers will be moving the court to quash the charges.
What we have been seeing is that this BJP government has been thwarting attempts by any informed citizen, even youths, organizing protests against the government.
Rao has been granted bail for six months on medical grounds, but it has not been an easy fight and there still is a lot of fight ahead for all the Andolanjeevi people, ‘parasites’ as they have been termed by none other than our honorable Prime Minister. I do hope he has seen the Oscar award-winning Korean film Parasite, how eventually all end living a parasitic life, but then it is for later.

It is not going to be easy for those citizens who have a conscience and want to speak up against the wrong perpetrated by the state, authorities, or those who believe in the extreme-right ideology. This fight is only going to get tougher. As we are seeing the government and courts will deal with a selective measuring scale and not equally.

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