The foundation of democracy should be shaken by the misbehavior of Stan Swamy in jail: fellow prisoner

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Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old tribal rights activist who was arrested under UAPA in October 2020 in the Elgar Parishad case, died in a hospital in July 2021 while awaiting bail on medical grounds. Swamy appealed in the High Court against the special court’s decision to dismiss the bail plea, which is being heard after his passing.

Father Stan Swami. (Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty/The Wire)

Mumbai: A prisoner who spent a year in Mumbai’s Taloja Central Jail with Jharkhand’s tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy says Swamy was battling ill health for a long time before he died in July last year.

Iqlakh Rahim Sheikh, who was in jail with Swamy for a year, was arrested in March 2019. Writing a 14-page letter, he accused the jail administration of ignoring Swamy’s deteriorating health and said that the administration had kept him (Swamy) deprived of treatment.

This letter was sent through one of his fellow prisoners in Taloja Jail. the wire in which full details of the difficulties raised by the owner have been given.

Sheikh’s name is mentioned with his consent as he wants the whole world to know how Swami and many other prisoners like him were treated inside the jail.

Sheikh said in the letter that when Swamy was brought to jail for the first time in October 2020, his health was stable despite being elderly.

He says in the letter, ‘However, after that he started having many problems related to heart and spinal cord. He needed immediate medical care but his plea was rejected by the then Superintendent of Police Kaustubh Kurlekar and jail doctor Sunil Kale.

The letter was sent to Maharashtra’s Additional Director General of Prisons Atul Chandra Kulkarni on November 11. the wire reached out to Kulkarni and shared a copy of the letter with him.

Kulkarni said that he has not received the letter officially yet, so he will not be able to comment on it. Kulkarni’s reply to Sheikh’s allegations will be added to the article.

Shaikh, who has spent almost 60 months in jail, says that he was lodged in an egg cell. This cell lacks ventilation and only ‘highly risky’ prisoners are kept here, but many prison evidences show that even those who defy jail authorities are kept here as punishment.

Swamy was arrested on 8 October 2020. They were sent directly to judicial custody and a day later, on October 9, the NIA filed a chargesheet accusing them and others of working as ‘Urban Naxals’ and active members of the banned CPI (Maoist) group.

After Swami was taken to jail, he requested to give sippers for drinking water. He was battling Parkinson’s disease, which made it difficult for him to lift a glass and drink water, but his request was ignored, and a month later, on 26 November, Swamy had to approach the Bombay High Court for something as basic as a sipper.

Sheikh says the situation in which Swamy was forced to live should “shake the foundations of democracy”.

Father Stan Swamy continued to struggle while influential people were sent to private hospitals for treatment and were provided with the best treatment. Despite several requests, not a single COVID-19 vaccine was given to Swamy. He eventually got corona infected and was taken to a private hospital in Bandra, where he died.

Senior advocate Mihir Desai, appearing for him in the High Court, accused the NIA and the jail administration of apathy, negligence and lack of medical facilities.

Their petition along with a petition in the Bombay High Court filed by Swami’s close friend Father Fraser Mascarenhas, former principal of St. Xavier’s College, the current Parish Priest of St. Peter’s Church, sought to remove Swamy’s name from the NIA charges.

The National Human Rights Commission is also probing Swamy’s allegations of human rights violations.

Sheikh has demanded an independent inquiry into Swamy’s death so that the rot in the jail system in the state can be proved.

Shaikh says that during his jail term, there were many VIP prisoners who were involved in multi-crore bank scams, who were ordered to be hospitalized by the court without any illness.

Sheikh claims that this is done only to ensure communication between these VIP prisoners, their family members and the outside world, while the other prisoners are kept out of it.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Maharashtra, like most states, banned inmates’ families from visiting them, allowing prisoners to stay in touch with their families only via phone.

These phone calls depended only on the wishes of the prison administration and usually those inmates were not allowed to talk arbitrarily with their families, which the jail administration had trouble with. Several petitions have been filed before the lower courts and the Bombay High Court demanding proper functioning of this communication system.

Shaikh alleges that the jail staff extort huge amount from them for providing basic facilities to the prisoners. He said that our right to life given in the constitution should be upheld even in jail but it is not so, we are not provided even basic facilities.

He said, “While the jail administration does not take most of the prisoners to court regularly citing lack of adequate number of security staff, rich prisoners never face this problem. The jail administration makes similar excuses for taking seriously ill prisoners to the hospital.

He said that when a prisoner appeals to the jail doctor or other official for help, he is told that the government hospitals are full of corona patients and there is a danger to his life. The prisoners succumb to such threats and keep on suffering silently.

Annual data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that around 1,800 prisoners die in jail. Most of them are pre-trial prisoners.

In 202 alone, 1,887 prisoners have died. Out of these, 102 deaths have occurred in 60 jails of Maharashtra. Due to lack of accountability, most of these deaths are termed as natural deaths.

In this letter, Sheikh has given the definition of these natural deaths and said that in fact, the death of people who do not get proper medical care on time and deprived of medical facilities cannot be called natural.

The NCRB, in its data, attributed these natural deaths to diarrhoea, schizophrenia, epileptic seizures, liver problems and cardiovascular diseases.

the wire In its detailed report in January 2020, it was told that at what level most of these deaths are due to lack of adequate medical care. At the same time, suicide is the most common in the category of unnatural deaths.

Shaikh has cited examples in the letter where prisoners were allegedly misbehaved by the jail staff, due to which the prisoners were forced to commit suicide.

The letter mentions the names of several prisoners who were kept in solitary confinement and one of them allegedly committed suicide in 2019.

In the letter, Shaikh has also accused the jail staff of regularly molesting and sexually harassing the prisoners. “I am a victim of such incidents,” he said in the letter.

He said that on the pretext of searching the prisoners, the policemen harass the prisoners and there is no solution for this.

He says in the letter, ‘When a prisoner is taken to another jail, he is beaten up and abused.’

“A prisoner from Adharwadi district jail in Kalyan was brought to Taloja jail, where he was allegedly brutally beaten up and stripped in public. When the prisoner protested and went on hunger strike for eight to ten days, he was beaten up again.

(Click here to read this report in English.)

Categories: India, Special, Society

Tagged as: Bhima Koregaon, Bombay HC, Bombay High Court, Elgar Parishad, Father Frazer Mascarenhas, Iklakh Rahim Shaikh, Ill-Treatment, Jail, judicial custody, Maharashtra, medical bail plea, National Investigation Agency, NIA, Stan Swamy, Taloja central prison, Undertrials

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