The Jesuit priest, Stan Swamy who died after having dedicated his entire life to impart knowledge to and empower the poor and needy tribals, died - or rather was subjected to death sentence without a court verdict - on July 5 this year. He was 84. All the voices raised about the rights of the unjustly detained and about unending trial procedures in the wake of Fr Swamy's death, have by now thinned down. At the same time, atrocities and torture by the ruling establishment have correspondingly thickened too. Prof Shoma Sen (61) and Adv Sudha Bharadwaj (59), both in jail on charges in the same Bhima-Koregaon case in which Fr Stan Swamy was booked, are suffering from poor health with different ailments. In the meantime, Covid cases also increased in the jail. But when Prof Shoma Sen requested interim bail citing ill-health, the special NIA court refused saying that Covid cannot be accepted as a ground for granting bail.
The bail pleas of Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonzales all facing criminal charges and spending their detention period in jail and all above 60 years of age, also met with the same fate. Another accused in the case, the 81-year old Prof Varavara Rao had the good luck to obtain interim bail and come out of prison premises at least for some days, only thanks to the intervention of the judiciary when he fell seriously ill. But in Stan Swamy's case, he was liberated by death. Courts have on several occasions made it clear that being old is no ground for being released or exonerated. But then isn't incarcerating people for crimes they did not commit or torturing them without giving adequate treatment against principles of justice? Doesn't such detention become violation of the right to live guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution?
In a way, all the individuals mentioned above, who had spent their lifetime to uphold causes of the oppressed or to bring muzzled news to the public attention or raise their voice against injustices, do not deserve to be subjected to such an iniquity at the fag end of their lives. Not only have they been denied bail or parole in spite of the lapse of three years since arrest, the authorities are not prepared to even initiate trial. The accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case are mentioned here only because that case was much debated and easily recognised. But it is not only they, there are many other elderly persons who are in jail awaiting trial. If the objective is administration of justice, the effort should be to expedite trial, identify and punish the guilty and release the innocent. But the rulers are more interested in delaying trials indefinitely in cases built on fabricated evidence, and keeping in jail those who fall out of governments' good books. An examination of the nature of unduly delayed cases will make this clear. The accused may be either political detainees or will be from weaker-backward sections.
In the context of Fr Stan Swamy's custodial death, Kerala had debated the human rights violations in the case of a detainee, the 67-year old Ibrahim, hailing from Meppadi, Wayanad district; he was alleged to have Maoist links, was slapped UAPA charges and now is in Viyyur Central Jail awaiting trial for the past six years. Having suffered heart attack twice and being a chronic diabetic, Ibrahim's health deteriorated so much for want of proper treatment that all his teeth had to be removed. He was acquitted in one case he was booked in. Now in another case, that of threatening a policeman, he is the eightth accused. Even if he is found guilty and sentenced in this case, the period he has already spent in jail will be close to the punishment period of that crime. His family has long been moving from one government office to another with medical documents, pleading for interim bail or parole. A team of prominent figures including Prof K Satchidanandan and BRP Bhaskar have also approached the chief minister seeking intervention for humanitarian consideration. This International Day of Older Persons would be an appropriate time to remind the state government of this case once again.