Romila Thapar, four intellectuals write to CM Uddhav Thackeray on health concern of Bhima Koregaon activistsRomila Thapar. Photo: BCCLNoted historian Romila Thapar and four intellectuals have appealed to the Maharashtra Government to shift 11 activists in state prisons in connection to the Bhima Koregaon case and put them under house arrest on health grounds. In a letter written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on June 25, Thapar has expressed concern about the health of the activists amid the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

In the letter, Thapar said, “At present, all eleven of the accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case are lodged in prisons in Maharashtra. All of them are either senior citizens or have serious comorbidities, or both, that would place them at severe risk if they were infected by COVID-19. One of the detained persons, the poet Varavara Rao, who is 81 years of age, suffered a collapse recently and was placed in the ICU. He continues to be in precarious health.”

Thapar further added, “We are deeply concerned about the undue level of risk they are being exposed to which may easily prove fatal. The conditions under which they are lodged are extremely poor and provide no guarantee of their continued well-being. As the highest official of the state government you have absolute authority about where these prisoners can be lodged while awaiting trial.”

Requesting the state government to move them to a safer place, the letter stated, “We appeal to you therefore to remove the eleven accused — who are all well-known intellectuals and human rights advocates — from the overcrowded facilities in which they are currently being held and place them in safer environments. We urge that they be placed under house arrest, where they will continue to remain available to the justice system. Meanwhile, their friends and families could take on the task of looking after them and ensuring their well-being as best as possible. The COVID-19 contagion is spreading across Maharashtra. Prisons, with their overcrowding and sub-optimal conditions, coupled with the age and co-morbidities of these prisoners may prove to be a death sentence.”

The letter was signed by Thapar on behalf of Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Maja Daruwala and Satish Deshpande, who had approached the Supreme Court regarding the Bhima- Koregaon case in September 2018 requesting that if the charges against the accused were persisted with, then there should be a Court-monitored probe into the matter (Romila Thapar & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors, Writ Petition 32319 of 2018). However, the petition was rejected by the Court through a majority 2-1 verdict.

Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Soma Sen and Sudha Bhardwaj are charged for involvement in Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017 at Shaniwarwada in Pune, which the police allege that it led to Bhima Koregaon violence the next day. Navlakha, Sen and Bhardwaj are in Byculla women’s jail while other activists are in Taloja jail.