The tragic death of Father Stan Swamy, a 84-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist, marked the lowest point in the judicial process of the Bhima Koregaon case. Denied bail under medical grounds several times, Father Stan Swamy died on July 5, 2021, the day his bail hearing was scheduled.
The Bhima Koregaon case, also known as the Elgaar Parishad case, involves the persecution of several others too. Charged under the severe Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,1967, or UAPA, 15 eminent activists, lawyers, intellectuals, and academicians remain incarcerated for allegedly being involved in an “anti-national conspiracy”.
Apart from the poet Varavara Rao and the lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, who managed to secure bail, Surendra Gadling, Sudha Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Arun Ferriera, Vernon Gonsalves, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and Jyoti Jagtap remain in jail. Family members and associates of the victims have said court hearings are required even to give them a book or a blanket.
Unfortunately, the act has stringent provisions that make it extremely difficult to secure bail. Moreover, an opaque judicial process and stonewalling of the prisoners have ensured that the accused find it hard to prove their innocence.
In 2021, Arsenal Consulting, an internationally recognised digital forensics company, published two significant reports that showed that the computers of Rona Wilson and Surendra Gadling had been tampered with through sophisticated malware. Despite new evidence emerging, the courts have not made any move to grant bail or hear the cases.
It started on January 1, 2018, when Maratha activists reportedly attacked Dalits who had gathered to observe the 200-year anniversary of a war victory against the Peshwas of Pune. Investigation agencies claimed that the Elgaar Parishad, a conference of rights activists held a day before, was responsible for the violence.
Father Stan Swamy was in his 80s and terminally ill. Jail authorities denied him even a straw or sipper until activists raised an outcry. Despite his visibly deteriorating condition, he was denied bail. Finally, he had to be hospitalised and died there.
The case of Stan Swamy and the continuing plight of countless undertrial prisoners is a searing commentary on the judicial process.