As of 6 June this year, five of the 16 persons accused in the Bhima Koregaon case have spent over three years in jail without trial. These 16 individuals include lawyers, academics, a poet, a priest and activists. They are among scores of political prisoners in the country who have been arrested under the Narendra Modi government. Seven of the 16 have tested positive for COVID-19, and many of the others suffer from serious conditions, including comorbidities. Despite a rampaging second wave and increasing reports about worsening health conditions in jails, India appears intent on keeping its political prisoners behind bars.
Mahesh Raut, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor—three of the 16 individuals accused of a conspiracy to foment violence at Bhima Koregaon, near Pune, on 1 January 2018—are among those who tested positive for the coronavirus. All three tested positive in Mumbai’s Taloja jail on 2 June. “They haven’t been given any COVID medicines yet—not even vitamin tablets,” their lawyer, Nihalsingh Rathod, told me the next day.
Rathod added that they were not provided nutritious food prescribed to COVID-19 patients, and were still given the regular prison food that lacked nutrition. “They are being kept in a small congested room of 15x8 size along with a few others inside the Taloja jail,” he said. “The jail authorities claim to be providing everything, but the patients are not even given hot water. The toilet facilities, sanitation and other COVID precautions are not in place.” Kaustubh Kurlekar, the superintendent of Taloja jail, did not respond to emailed queries.