Plea by families of all accused for release of the detainees during COVID-19 pandemic
By family members of the 15 human rights activists who are currently undertrial detainees
The Honorable CM, Maharshtra
Mr. Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray,
CM Office, Mantralaya,
154, Madame Cama Road,
Maharashtra – 400020
Subject: Plea for release of the Bhima Koregaon (BK) detainees during COVID-19 pandemic
We represent the family members of the 15 human rights activists who are currently undertrial detainees lodged at Byculla District Mumbai Prison and Taloja Jail, in the NIA case: RC-01/2020/NIA/MUM.
At a time when the entire country is faced with unparalleled devastation due to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic it is particularly distressing times for us knowing that our loved ones are in jail with us having minimal knowledge of their health and wellbeing. Our anxieties have been further intensified recently learning about the death of a Taloja jail inmate due to COVID-19 due to delay in provision of medical attention. Another news report in recent times indicated that eight staff members at the Taloja Prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 and 40 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Byculla Prison.
As India reports over 20.2 million cases of COVID-19 in the beginning of the month, and as news is rife with the healthcare system being overwhelmed, we are increasingly worried about the medical assistance that would be available to the prison inmates should they contract the deadly disease. Many of the BK undertrial detainees are over 60 years, with co-morbidities and are susceptible to rapid deterioration of health in the event of COVID-19 infection. Although vaccination is believed to reduce the lethality of the COVID -19 infection, it is seen that only four BK undertrial detainee, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Shoma Sen have received a single dose of the vaccine as of last week of April.
We would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the ongoing health concerns with the BK undertrial detainees. Father Stan Swamy, 83 years old is a known case of Parkinson’s Disease. Dr. Anand Teltumbde, 72 years old is an asthmatic. These health conditions predispose them to worse health outcomes in the event of COVID-19 infection. Prof. Hany Babu is currently suffering from severe eye infection, which is adversely affecting his vision. Adv. Surendra Gadling has also informed his family of an eye affliction. Both Sudha Bharadwaj and Shoma Sen have a history of comorbidities which make them susceptible to COVID-19. Sudha Bhardwaj is currently undergoing treatment for health complaints. Jyoti Jagtap was tested positive for COVID-19 and has been quarantined with other cases from Byculla Prison.
We would also like to bring to your kind notice that amidst this raging pandemic, there has also been a disruption of usual communication channels. Although letters have been written by the BK detainees in Taloja Prison on several occasions in the past two months, we, the families, have not received most letters from them. The few letters that have reached the families, were posted and delivered after delays of over a month. We are also concerned that they may be receiving letters written to them by their family and friends with undue delays. As physical meetings with the detainees have also been stopped, we are only dependent on phone calls which are made once in 10 days for a period of 4-5 minutes. Letters have been a crucial means of communication for the undertrial detainees and their families, friends and lawyers, to cut this lifeline has been cruel and unjust.
The Supreme Court of India has empowered state governments to form High-Power committees which could then decide upon the release of prisoners in each state. We urge you to recommend to the committee to release the BK undertrials on interim-bail at least. They are all law abiding citizens who have families outside. We are all worried about their safety in these desperate circumstances where everyone is at risk.
Thus, we sincerely appeal to you to take timely and necessary measures for the release of our family members till the time this COVID crisis subsides and there is no danger to their health and life of our kin.
Hoping for a just and positive response,
The undersigned family members of the 15 Bhima-Koregaon undertrials.
Mr. Sagar Abraham-Gonsalves (Mr. Vernon Gonsalves); Mrs. Jennifer Cout (Adv. Arun Ferreira); Mrs. Minal Gadling (Adv. Surendra Gadling); Ms. Monali Raut (Mr. Mahesh Raut), Mr. Roy Wilson (Mr. Rona Wilson), Mrs. Shakuntalabai Prahlad Dhawale (Mr. Sudhir Dhawale); Ms. Anusuya Singh (Adv. Shudha Bharadwaj) Ms. Koel Sen (Prof. Shoma Sen); Mrs. Rama Teltumbde (Dr. Anand Teltumbde); Sahba Hussain (Mr. Gautam Navlakha); Dr. Jenny Rowena (Dr. Hany Babu); Fr. Joe Xavier (Fr. Stan Swamy); Surekha Gorakhe (Sagar Gorkhe); Pranali Parab (Ramesh Gaichor) Vimal Ragobha Jagtap (Jyoti Jagtap)
(Please note: This is an appeal on grounds of humanity, by individuals who are blood-relations of the under-trials; we have no affiliations to any political organisation whatsoever.)