Gorkhe’s letter to Maharashtra Home Minister, Dilip Walse Patil, equates the conditions in Taloja jail to that of a “torture camp”.
SAGAR Gorkhe, an activist and performer with cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch, accused of inciting violence in the Bhima Koregaon (Elgar Parishad) case, has written to Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil announcing his hunger strike in protest against the conditions at Taloja jail.
Meanwhile, septuagenarian activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha, who is a co-accused lodged in the same prison, approached the National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’) seeking a mosquito net. Navlakha, in his plea, claimed that prison authorities took his net away.
In a letter dated May 20, Gorkhe said that his decision was prompted by the “extreme distress” caused to him and his co-accused at the prison, where the treatment meted out was like a “torture camp”.
Notably, the letter lists five key demands from the prisoners to the State and prison authorities, including provisions for adequate medical treatment, ending water shortage, ensuring privacy of the correspondence sent to and from prisoners, and allowing phone calls. The demands were:
Urgently provide mosquito nets and medical treatment for all the Elgaar Parishad case accused, and take action against all the jail officials who have been negligent in doing so.
Immediately stop the prison authorities’ practices of scanning and sending to the NIA of letters to and from the prisoners, and cease the violations on inmates’ right to privacy.
Put an immediate end to the artificial shortage of water to prisoners and to the “inhuman” practice of sale of water to prisoners. Provide the mandated 135 litres of water to all the prisoners instead of just one bucket (15 litres), and for action against the errant persons
Immediately build permanent sheds for visitors with sitting arrangement, drinking water, fans, toilets, and to start a token system for the visitors.
Restart phone facilities for prisoners as exists in Gujarat and Telangana.
A relative of one of the accused in the case informed The Leaflet that all the accused in the jail had gone on hunger strike on Saturday, May 21, after a “full contingent” of jail officers and staff entered the cell a day earlier with what the accused dubbed as “Operation Mosquito Nets”. The officials allegedly seized all the mosquito nets from them, despite their pleas not to do so.
Navlakha’s partner Sahba Hussain said that Navlakha was advised by a doctor to use the mosquito net, and they were apprehensive of this being taken away with the monsoon season set to arrive in Mumbai.
Indian Express has reported that considering his age and the issues faced at the prison, Navlakha has an apprehension of contracting malaria and dengue. An NIA court has reportedly sought a reply from the prison in the regard.
Prison officials have reportedly claimed that a security check was conducted by its officials and nets were seized as they pose a security risk. “The mosquito nets have a long string and need to be fixed through nails in the wall. Both the string and the nails are a security risk, which can be used by prisoners to harm themselves by suicide or harm others. Mosquito repellent ointments and coils are available at the prison canteen, which many are using. The nets were seized as there are no court orders permitting them,”Indian Express has quoted a prison official as stating. The official has reportedly claimed that even in cases where permission is granted, the security risk posed by the mosquito nets is being considered.
Gorkhe and other prisoners have, however, decided to continue the hunger strike with their demands not being fulfilled by the prison authorities.