Gautam Navlakha denied the use of his phone and access to fresh air, says his partner Sahba Husain

Published : October 25, 2021 16:39 IST

Gautam Navlakha being arrested by the Pune police at his residence on August 28, 2018. Photo: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

The 70-year-old writer and activist Gautam Navlakha’s health has been deteriorating ever since he was shifted to the Taloja jail’s high security “Anda” cell in early October. As one of the oldest imprisoned in the Bhima Koregaon case, Navlakha suffers from comorbities and is unable to withstand the harsh jail conditions of the “Anda” cell, which does not allow inmates to access the outdoors at all. Additionally, jail authorities have recently denied him the use of the telephone since they say that physical “mulaquat” (meeting) has resumed.

Sahba Husain, Navlakha’s partner, said since they were based in New Delhi, she was unable to visit him regularly and that it was a major expense to reach Mumbai for a 10-minute meeting. In a statement sent to the media, she said: “Gautam’s only contact with me is through the two calls he was allowed every week to me that enabled me to send him articles of need, including medicines, books etc. With discontinuance of phone calls, all this will now depend on letters that take a minimum of two weeks to reach me. Apart from the calls to me, regular access to lawyers through phone calls is an essential facility for undertrial prisoners. To deprive any undertrial prisoner of this effective and efficient mode of securing legal advice and help, or access to family, is the height of unfairness.”

Navlakha had written to her about his health, saying: “…confinement in Anda Circle means denial of fresh air/oxygen as there is not a single tree or plant in the open space of the Circle. And we are forbidden to step outside of the Anda Circle…. In other words, we spend 16 hours out of 24 cooped inside our cell and the 8 hours we are let out we are confined to a corridor 71/2’ x 72’ for our daily walk on cemented floor surrounded by high walls all around.”

Sahba Husain expressed the fear that Navlakha’s health would deteriorate the way the late Father Stan Swamy’s did, given the severity of jail conditions. She said: “These are prisoners of conscience, who have had to face indignities and humiliation for the smallest needs, and wage court battles for basic dignities in prison. It is not too much to ask for these simple facilities, phone access to his lawyers and family, and some fresh air to walk in once or twice a day.”

Gautam Navlakha is facing his unjustified incarceration with courage and spirit. How much longer is he going to be persecuted for his views and to what extent will the authorities go to break his spirit?