New Delhi: Activist Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Elgar Parishad case, has highlighted the “inhuman conditions” of a school turned into a quarantine facility in Maharashtra where he is currently lodged.
Navlakha described the situation during a phone conversation with his partner Sahba Husain last week.
He was shifted from the Tihar jail in New Delhi to the school in Maharashtra’s Raigad district last month as part of an exercise to quarantine the set of prisoners before they are shifted to the Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai.
Husain, in a letter to filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, said she was speaking to Navlakha after a gap of 15 days. The letter, in which she details her conversation with Navlakha, was posted by Patwardhan on Facebook Sunday (21 June).
“He said that there are 350 inmates crowded into six classrooms in the building with Gautam having to share the room with 35 other inmates, many others sleeping in the corridors and passages,” Hussain wrote.
She added, “There are only 3 toilets, 7 urinals and a common bathing space without a bucket or a mug. He said that the congestion is such that apart from the fear of Covid-19, inmates are prone to skin infections too.”
Speaking to ThePrint, Kaustubh Kurlekar, the superintendent of Taloja Jail, however, said it’s only “a temporary prison”.
“We have taken the ground floor of the school building that has six-seven classes and six-seven latrines as well as toilets. In one class, there are 20-25 people. In the entire school, there are 305 prisoners,” he said.
Kurlekar added, “That is a temporary prison, it’s not a permanent solution. We have used the school structure as it is, so we can’t change that.”
Navlakha had also told Husain that there was no fresh air nor any place to walk or exercise. “He said he has lost 2 kg in these three weeks of prolonged quarantine and was wondering how long the authorities would keep him and the other inmates in such inhuman conditions,” Husain’s letter said.
She also wrote how Taloja jail “does not seem to have space for new prisoners” and expressed concern that staying under such conditions could put Navlakha’s health at extreme risk.
“His lawyers and I are trying to see what can be done, although I do believe that it is important for us outside to raise our voice against this kind of inhuman treatment of a political prisoner like Gautam,” Husain added.
Kurlekar said there are over 3,000 people in Taloja jail currently and hence a temporary prison was set up in the school where Navlakha is lodged.
“No new prisoners are being sent to the jails in Arthur Road, Thane or Byculla. All of them are sent to the Taloja jail. We are admitting them only if they have tested negative for coronavirus,” he added.
Letter also talks about Varavara Rao’s ‘deteriorating health’
Maharashtra has been one of the worst coronavirus-hit states in the country, with 60,161 active cases and 6,170 deaths.
In her letter, Husain also pointed out the deteriorating health of 81-year-old Telugu poet Varavara Rao, another accused in the Elgar Parishad case. Rao was admitted to Mumbai’s JJ Hospital on 29 May after he complained of dizziness.
Eleven people, including Navlakha and Rao, were arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, one of two ongoing investigations in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence of January 2018.
An FIR was filed in Pune “alleging that banned Naxalite groups had organised the Elgar Parishad, an evening programme held in the city on 31 December 2017, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon”.
Speeches made at the event were allegedly responsible for the violence that followed.