Bhima Koregaon Accused | 1 Dead, 1 on House Arrest, 3 on Bail: What of the Rest?
The remaining 11 continue to languish in jail -- Who are they and what is the status of the case against them?
The Quint DAILY
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Anti-caste writer Anand Teltumbde, who walked out of jail on Saturday, 26 November, after he was granted bail on merits in connection with the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case said:
“I am definitely happy. It has been 30 months that I have been in prison. The sad part, however, is that we had to spend time in jail after being booked in a fake case.”
In the same case, two others, poet Varavara Rao and lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj – were granted bail earlier due to different reasons, while academic Gautam Navlakha was allowed house arrest on health grounds by a 19 November Supreme Court order.
Another accused, Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist, passed away in July 2021, while awaiting bail on medical grounds.
And the remaining eleven continue to languish in jail. Who are they and what is the status of the case against them?
The Eleven Still in Jail
The five mentioned above along with the remaining 11 -- a group of lawyers, activists, professors, and artists including Vernon Gonsalves, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Arun Ferreira and Hany Babu among others-- were arrested under the stringent, widely decried Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
The reason? Alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claim triggered violence the next day (1 January 2018) near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial.
The police have also added that they were plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The NIA later took over in 2020. The case is yet to go to trial.
As former Madras High Court Judge Justice K Chandru, whose work inspired the movie Jai Bhim, put it, in conversation with The Quint:
"More than a crime, it [the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case] is an ideological battle."
Explaining his point further, Justice Chandru pointed out that the accused in the case have consistently, over the years, "challenged" the BJP’s attempt to establish a "one-dimensional" history of the country, and arresting them was a response to that.
Arrested in June 2018: Wilson, Dhawale, Gadling, Raut & Sen
Who they are:
Rona Wilson: Activist, researcher and member of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners which has campaigned against the UAPA and other repressive laws
Sudhir Dhawale: Dalit rights activist and editor of the Marathi magazine ‘Vidrohi’
Surendra Gadling: A human rights lawyer known to handle cases of alleged illegal killings, police brutality, and atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis
Mahesh Raut: A forest rights activist, who worked with gram sabhas in the mining areas of Gadhchiroli
Shoma Sen: Former Head of Department of English at Nagpur University, and a Dalit and women’s rights activist
Date of arrest: 6 June 2018
> Between 2019 to November 2021, lower courts (special NIA court, Pune Sessions court) rejected their bail applications
> However, In September 2021 a Special NIA court granted Wilson 14 days’ interim bail to complete his father’s last rites
> In the same month, Sen sought interim bail on medical grounds but her request was turned down by an NIA court
Planted evidence? In February and April 2021, Arsenal Consulting, a U.S.-based forensic investigation firm, confirmed that Wilson’s phone was attacked multiple times by the Pegasus spyware.
Consequently, Wilson moved the Bombay High Court, challenging his prosecution under the UAPA.
On 21 July forensic analysis of Gadling’s computer revealed that it was hacked into for planting controversial documents that have been used as evidence to arrest him and several of his co-accused in the Bhima Koregaon case
> In December 2021 the Bombay High Court rejected all their bail pleas too
> In May 2022: The Bombay HC rejected a petition seeking a review of its December 2021 order
> While Shoma Sen continues to be lodged in the Byculla jail, the other four await trial at Tahoja Central jail
Arrested in August 2018: Gonsalves & Ferreira
Who they are: Vernon Gonsalves is an academic and writer who has dealt extensively with Dalit, Adivasi and prisoners' rights, while Arun Ferreira is a human rights lawyer and activist
Date of Arrest: 28 August 2018
> In December 2021: the Bombay High Court rejected both their bail application
> In May 2022, the Bombay HC dismissed the petition that sought a review of its earlier December 2021 order
> In August 2022, Ferreira filed a bail petition before the Bombay High Court once again
>In September this year, 65-year-old Gonsalves was taken to a hospital for dengue treatment on court orders, after his family alleged medical neglect by prison authorities. In hospital, he had to be put on oxygen
> Both are currently in Taloja Central jail, awaiting trial
Why Are Some Out on Bail & Some Still Imprisoned?
While the courts' positive orders can serve as a good precedent when it comes to the cases of the remaining accused, each case will "still have to be decided on its own merits," Justice Chandru told The Quint.
"Each case will have to be seen on its own merits especially when a lot of them are based on the supposition of evidence, I wouldn't go overboard to say that everyone will get bail," Senior Supreme Court Advocate Sanjay Hegde added.
For instance, in Anand Teltumbde's case, he had claimed that he wasn't even there at the event. His bail hearing then, proceeded on those lines.
Other accused in the case have stuck to different lines of arguments (because the 'evidence' collected against each of them is different) in their bail petitions, which is why each case will be and has been heard separately.
Arrested in 2020: Babu, Jagtap, Gorkhe & Gaichor
Who they are:
> Hany Babu is an associate professor at the English Department of Delhi University and an anti-caste activist
> Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe & Ramesh Gaichor are musical performers, anti-caste activists and members of the cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch.
Date of arrest - Babu: 28 July 2020, Jagtap: 8 September 2020, Gorkhe & Gaichor: 7 September 2020
> In May 2021, after Babu’s wife, Jenny Rowena, claimed that Babu was denied treatment for his acute eye infection, the Bombay High Court on 3 June 2021 allowed him to continue medical treatment at a hospital in Mumbai for post-COVID complications
> On 14 February 2022, a special NIA court denied them bail
> In September this year, the Bombay High Court too denied bail to Jagtap & Babu
> In a letter dated 20 May 2022, Gorkhe wrote to Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil announcing a hunger strike in protest against the conditions at Taloja jail
> While Jagtap is currently lodged in Mumbai’s Byculla jail, the others are in Taloja Central jail awaiting triall
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