Elgar Parishad Case: More Than A Year After Their Arrest, Bail Hearing Of Six Activists Due Today. TOI Meets Their Family Members To Hear Their Story


What P Hemlata finds frustrating is that she cannot write a letter in Telugu to her husband Varavara Rao who has been in Pune’s Yerawada jail for more than 14 months now. Rao has been allowed letters in Hindi and English only, his family said.

“Language restrictions have also meant that he has been denied access to all Telugu letters, books or literature,” Varavara Rao’s son-in-law Satyanarayana, who works in English and Foreign Languages University, told TOI.

The writer is among nine activists and lawyers arrested in 2018 — on June 6 and August 28 — by Pune police in the Elgar Parishad case for their suspected Maoist links. Elgar Parishad was a public meeting held in Pune on December 31, 2017. Police later accused some of them of plotting to assassinate the PM.

Special UAPA judge S R Navandar has posted for November 6 the order on bail applications of Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Rao. The bail pleas of the rest — Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira — were rejected by the Bombay high court on October 24.

Sagar Gonsalves, 25, son of Mumbai lawyer Vernon Gonsalves, says he has not let his spirits flag though his father’s long-drawn detention has worn him. “It was a shock from day one. When dad was arrested it was helplessness, now it’s anger and frustration. The bail rejection was disheartening. The whole process is a punishment by itself,” he said.

He turns to his parents for motivation. “My dad’s very inspiring and his sense of humour has seen him through tough times in prison. It’s commendable that he stands by his beliefs. That’s why he can bear what’s happening with a smile. But I wish the case won’t get drawn out to cause more pain. My mother (Susan is a lawyer) has immense strength, too, always running around on the case. It’s demanding — physically, emotionally, mentally.”

Back in Delhi, Maaysha, in Class 12, is distraught that her mother Sudha Bharadwaj, a human rights activistlawyer, is still behind bars. She said, “It’s been long and they haven’t found anything against her. On what basis are they keeping her?” Maaysha said the year of separation has been “the most difficult thing” in her life. “Mumma would make me study. She’d encourage me when I got stressed at exam time. I can’t wait to have her back. Our family and friends have stood behind us like a rock. I’m trying to be strong and positive — it wouldn’t have been possible without them.”

At his modest home in Nagpur’s Bharat Nagar, 64-year-old Tushar Kanti Bhattacharya is reclined on a sofa. “It is Independence Day and the second year of my unfreedom begins. Last year on 14th August I was shifted into the separate cell, my compact little world,” Bhattacharya reads out from a letter written by wife Shoma Sen from Yerawada on August 15. “Life is not comfortable, Shoma has lost seven kilos. The world she talks of is her solitary cell,” said Bhattacharya, adding she suffers from glaucoma and arthritis. Pune police arrested Sen, a professor of English in Nagpur University, last June. She was 59 then, and retired from service while in jail. “Her pension has been withheld and PF account blocked,” said daughter Koel Sen, a Mumbai-based film-maker.

Meanwhile in Kollam, Roy Wilson shares what his younger brother, activist-academic Rona, arrested from Delhi’s Munirka, had to say on his arrest: “Be strong and carry on with your lives’’. The family is clueless when he’ll reunite with them. Yet, they try to live by his wish, putting on a brave face. His 83-year-old father Wilson Jacob goes out every evening in a bus to Kollam city, meeting old friends. His mother Merlyn, 72, keeps herself busy in household chores.

Roy supported Rona every month since he was mostly engaged in social welfare activities. Rona writes letters from prison, mostly on family matters. Rona’s parents said the initial days following his arrest were the toughest. Local BJP and Sangh Parivar members came looking for them as Rona was accused of conspiring to assassinate the PM. “But they returned without trouble once they learned the person in question was my son,’’ said Wilson Jacob, popular in the neighbourhood as an RSP worker. Their biggest concern is Rona was held at a time he was trying to move to Europe for postdoctoral research.

In Mahesh Raut’s family home, Diwali’s always been a time of reunion at Wadsa in Gadchiroli district. Like every year, the lights went up this time, too, though an eerie silence prevailed. “We’re a joint family of 13 but things aren’t the same without Mahesh bhaiya. However, we haven’t stopped celebrating because we haven’t lost hope,” said Monali Raut, sister of Mahesh, the forest rights activist arrested in the Elgar Parishad case.

“As a family we believe he never did anything wrong, so what if neighbours have boycotted us. We took pictures to send to bhaiya along with our letters to him in prison,” she said. With an ailing mother and a pregnant sister in Gadchiroli, 20 hours from Pune, it is Monali, 28, living in Mumbai who has been a constant support for Raut, visiting him in Yerawada frequently. Of the 15 months in prison, the moment that haunts Monali is when her brother was produced in court with his face masked in a black cloth. The family wasn’t allowed to hand him Ayurvedic medicines.

“My brother was in third stage of ulcerative colitis with chances of it turning cancerous. He was in Nagpur for treatment when police arrested him. They refused the medicines,” said Monali.

It took six months of emergency hospitalisation before Raut was allowed his pills. “His health is better now… he’s translating some of Gulzar’s Hindi poetry into Marathi,” Monali said.

With inputs from Rejith Balakrishnan, Shishir Arya, Mohua Das, Swati Deshpande, Srinath Vudali, Sandeep Moudgal

Wilson (top left) and Merlyn (top right), activist-academic Rona Wilson’s parents, in Kollam. (Left) Forest activist Mahesh Raut’s family in Gadchiroli