Swamy was 84 years old, suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and had told the Bombay High Court, weeks before his death, that all he wanted was to go home.
Swamy had shared that his “body functions” had undergone steady regression in jail, but he would still prefer dying in jail, to being admitted to a government hospital in Mumbai — something he had done multiple times before only to see no improvement.
He breathed his last in Mumbai’s Holy Family hospital, on 5 July, a day before his bail hearing. But this wasn’t his first application. His bail pleas had been rejected multiple times before that.
But Swamy was not the only activist stuck in a seemingly ceaseless wait for either bail, or trial. There are 15 others, all of them charged under the UAPA, with no trial in sight, and other than for one ailing, octogenarian poet Varavara Rao, no interim relief in reach either.
Many of them, including 61-year-old human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj and 64-year-old professor Shoma Sen, have been denied bail on medical grounds, as well. This, when both Bharadwaj and Sen, are reported to suffer from a ‘cocktail of co-morbidities’ that render them vulnerable to COVID-19.
A Ceaseless Quest for Bail
Meanwhile, Surendra Gadling’s wife has shared that he was denied bail, by a special NIA court, even for his mother’s funeral. Sudhir Dhawale, likewise, was refused bail after his brother died.
Fifty five-year-old Hany Babu is presently being treated in a Mumbai hospital for an acute eye infection that he developed in Taloja jail. His wife Jenny Rowena hopes to secure a medical bail for her husband. In an interview given to Outlook in June, she said she had been staying with her teenage daughter in a hotel in Mumbai, so that she could attend to her husband.
Eighty one-year-old Varavara Rao is the only Bhima Koregaon accused, so far, to have been granted relief on medical grounds. But his bail came only after over two years of incarceration.
During his incarceration, he was reported to have been suffering from dementia, and subjected to horrifying levels of neglect at a government hospital amid crumbling health.
There are six senior citizens awaiting trial in the case: Varavara Rao (81), Anand Teltumbde (70), Vernon Gonsalves (68), Gautam Navlakha (70), Shoma Sen (63) and Sudha Bharadwaj (61). All of them have been denied bail at some point or the other.
(When) Will There Be a Trial?
On Tuesday, 6 July, an American forensic agency released a report claiming that incriminating evidence had been planted in Surendra Gadling's computer using a malware. The malware that targeted Gadling's computer via emails allegedly copied several other Bhima Koregaon accused, including Swamy and Sudha Bharadwaj, on the emails.
"This is the third such report," Senior Advocate Mihir Desai, who is counsel for multiple accused in the case, confirmed to The Quint.
Meanwhile, all 16 accused (including the deceased Father Swamy) have repeatedly asserted that they are innocent, and the charges against them fabricated. On being asked if the reports will help their defence, Desai said "it would destroy the prosecution's case."
So, will the now BK-15 get a chance to prove their innocence anytime soon?
Even as the stringent conditions of the UAPA make it incredibly difficult for the undertrial to get bail, a trial has not been fixed yet. Mihir Desai tells The Quint a charge sheet has been filed, but charges are yet to be framed in the case.
“A trial cannot begin until charges are framed,” Desai informs.
When the charges are framed, they will be framed collectively for all.
As pointed out by LiveLaw, most of the accused in the case were neither named in the FIR over the Bhima Koregaon violence nor present during the 2017 event.
So, What's Next?
The Bombay High Court is presently hearing a default bail plea filed by Bharadwaj.
Her counsel Yug Choudhry, on Tuesday, as per PTI, told the Bombay High Court that the judge who remanded her to custody in 2018, KD Vadane, had "pretended" to be a designated special judge. The orders issued by Vadane were responsible for a longer stay in jail for Bharadwaj and other co-accused, the lawyer further claimed.
The other activists, affected by Vadane's orders, are Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, and Surendra Gadling.
A petition filed by activist Arun Ferreira and Professor Anand Teltumbde, two other accused in the case, is also reportedly slated to be heard along with Bharadwaj’s on Thursday.