“I would rather suffer and possibly die shortly than go to that hospital,” Father Stan Swamy tells Bombay High Court

Published : May 21, 2021 22:51 IST

Father Stan Swamy Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

In what is seen as a tragic turn of events, on May 21 Father Stan Swamy, during the hearing of his case for bail, refused to go to the government-run J.J. Hospital in Mumbai for treatment saying he had been there three times and nothing had come of it. Through a video conference hearing from Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai, he told a division bench led by Justice S.J. Kathawalla that he would rather suffer and possibly die shortly than go to that hospital. “It is a very difficult moment for me,” he told the court. Father Stan said his only request was for interim bail so that he could spend his remaining days in his village in Ranchi.

Father Xavier, who has known and worked with the activist-priest for more than two decades, said he felt that Father Stan was losing hope. “He is normally a fighter and looks at the positive side. But at today’s hearing we could make out he was deteriorating very fast. It looks very grim.”

The health condition of three imprisoned activists who are victims of the Bhima Koregaon case seems to be deteriorating rapidly. The 55-year-old Professor Hany Babu’s wife Jenny Rowena said her husband was suffering from a life-threatening complication that came from a severe eye infection which was not treated in time in spite of several appeals to the jail authorities. Activist Sudha Bharadwaj is suffering from a heart condition along with diabetes and hypertension. Each of them has applied for bail on medical terms but continue to wait for the Bombay High Court to deliver a decision.

Close associates and lawyers of the 84-year-old Father Stan said he could barely walk due to numerous issues and believed that he had lost the will to live. Father Stan is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and has a host of other health issues.

Father Xavier said the imprisoned priest told the court: “Eight months ago, I would eat by myself, do some writing, walk, I could take bath by myself, but all these are disappearing one after another. So Taloja Jail has brought me to a situation where I can neither write nor go for a walk by myself. Someone has to feed me. In other words, I am requesting you to consider why and how this deterioration of myself happened. Yesterday I was taken to J.J. Hospital, so I got an opportunity to explain what I should be given. My deterioration is more powerful than the small tablets that they give.”

Hany Babu in private hospital

Hany Babu is in Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital, a private health care facility, after his family pleaded with the court to allow him proper treatment when the eye infection began affecting brain function. He tested COVID-19 positive and the government hospital refused to treat him, said Rowena. It was only after we pleaded via our lawyers that the court allowed him to go to a private centre at our cost. “He is now being treated properly,” she told Frontline.

In a statement released to the media on May 11, Hani Babu’s family said he had little or no vision in his left eye due to the swelling, which had spread to the cheek, ear and forehead, compromising other vital organs as well, and “posing a significant risk to his life if it spreads to the brain”. The statement said that in jail he did not have access to clean water to even bathe his eye and was forced to dress his eye with soiled towels.

Hany Babu had requested for consultation and treatment with a specialist doctor but he was not taken because an escort officer was not available, the statement said. It was only after his lawyers sent an email on May 6 to the Superintendent, Taloja Jail, that he was taken to a Government Hospital in Vashi the next day. At the hospital, Hany Babu was examined by an Ophthalmologist, prescribed anti-bacterial medication and advised to return for follow-up treatment in two days, the statement said. But he was not taken back to the hospital after two days, once again because of lack of escort officers, the prison claimed, the statement said.

On May 10, Hany Babu's lawyer, Payoshi Roy, made over eight calls to the prison in order to speak with the Superintendent, who refused to come on the line. At 8:30 p.m., the Jailor informed Roy that he was aware of Hany Babu's condition and was making arrangements to take him to the hospital the next day. As follow-up, Hany Babu's lawyers also sent another email to the Superintendent requesting that there be no further delay in taking him to the hospital. The email emphasised the gravity of the situation and that even a day’s delay may lead to an irreversible deterioration, leading to partial or complete loss of sight as well as a life-threatening complication if it affects the brain. However, he was not taken to the hospital even on May 11, the statement by the family said.

Sudha Bharadwaj’s deteriorating health

Family and friends of Sudha Bharadwaj, are pleading with the court to take cognisance of her deteriorating health. In a press statement on May 1, they said: “In phone calls to her daughter last month, Sudha revealed that she had been continuously unwell since the time of her covid vaccination on April 7, 2021. At first it was dismissed as an after effect of vaccination only they went on for too long. She had severe diarrhoea and intense fatigue and body ache, and strange kind of tastelessness, and the symptoms didn't get better even after several courses of antibiotics that she received from the jail doctor over the three weeks.

“She had become so frail that she was even unable to wash her own clothes and needed the help of other inmates to do her personal chores. For an activist who has spent her entire life living in very tough conditions, this is the biggest indicator of her failing health and rundown condition. She had repeatedly petitioned the jail administration for a check-up at the hospital but they didn't lift a finger till journalists called them up with this news.

“The jail superintendent's first response to a journalist was callous, inhuman and dismissive— ‘Sudha Bharadwaj is a big complainer!’ This disregard to serious health issues is a hallmark of this jail administration’s neglect! Those of us who know Sudha know that the one thing she is not is a ‘complainer’. This sheer neglect of a vulnerable prisoner's condition, and then this kind of belittling of their health needs, is criminal and life-threatening.”

Smita Gupta, an activist and close friend who is part of Bharadwaj’s defence team, told Frontline that Bharadwaj has a series of comorbidities which include diabetes and hypertension. Due to the poor jail conditions, she has developed rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic skin infection and suffered many rounds of urinary tract infections. Gupta says Bhardwaj has a painful dental condition which makes it difficult to eat and has lost a lot of weight and hair. Last year, we learned that she has developed Ischemic disease, a serious heart condition, in jail.

Fifteen activists, lawyers, academics and intellectuals are currently languishing in jail due to their alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon caste violence case. The lockdown and pandemic have been a major setback to the trial, which is showing no signs of starting. Meanwhile, other than Telugu poet Varavara Rao, none of the others has been able to secure bail, as the arrests have been made under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which does not permit bail.