On Thursday, the Supreme Court turned down activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s application for interim bail. The court said that since the plea was on medical grounds, it will not be able to entertain it as the medical report did not back her claims. It, however, said Bharadwaj has a “good case on merits”.
What is the case in which Sudha Bharadwaj and 14 others are arrested?
Bharadwaj was arrested on August 28, 2018 in connection with the Bhima Koregaon/Elgar Parishad case.
On January 1, 2018, lakhs of Dalits had gathered near Pune to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, won by the British army — largely comprising soldiers from the Dalit community — against the Peshwas in 1818.
Violence was reported on the day and following an eyewitness account, an FIR was registered at Pimpri police station on January 2, naming Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, for alleged incitement. On January 8, however, another FIR was filed by Pune police claiming that the violence took place due to an event held on December 31, 2017 called Elgar Parishad at Shaniwar Wada in Pune.
Six members of cultural group Kabir Kala Manch were named in the FIR for organising the event. Three months later, searches were conducted on ten persons with the police seizing their electronic devices. The police claimed they were then led to other persons, including Bharadwaj, a resident of Faridabad. In January this year, the National Investigation Agency took over the probe from the Pune police and, apart from the nine arrested initially, arrested six more in connection with the case. All 15 accused in the case are currently in jail.
What are the allegations against Sudha Bharadwaj?
The Pune police filed a chargesheet against the accused including 59-year old Bharadwaj in 2018 claiming that some documents were recovered from her co-accused which mention her activities and prove that she is an ‘active member’ of banned organisation CPI (Maoist).
Elgaar Parishad case: Family members of accused, lawyers hold virtual meet
While the NIA is yet to file a supplementary chargesheet in the case, the Pune police, while opposing her bail last year on merits, claimed there were six documents allegedly recovered from her co-accused which pertain to her.
During the bail hearing, the Bombay High Court had said that one of the documents — that of minutes of a Special Women’s Meeting held on January 2, 2018 allegedly attended by Bharadwaj and Sen — cannot be treated as incriminating evidence as it had discrepancies as Call Data Records of the two showed them to be in different locations at the time.
The other five documents include alleged discussions of activities of CPI (Maoists) in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, meetings of Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers, of which Bharadwaj is a vice-president, a seminar in Delhi on Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and documents claiming discussions about funds in the banned organisation. The Bombay High Court denied her bail in October 2019, saying these documents show a prima-facie case in respect of the allegations against her.
What is Bharadwaj’s defence?
Bharadwaj’s lawyers had said that nothing “objectionable” was recovered from her, there are no witness statements and the documents claiming to be evidence were not admissible — their authorship was not established, they were typed not handwritten, did not bear any date and they were not created on computers and other devices that were recovered from. Her lawyers also state that while the Pune police made the claim while opposing her bail that Indian Association of People’s Lawyers was a front of the CPI (Maoists), it had nothing to do with the banned organisation and has eminent jurists as its members.
Members of the IAPL founded in 2004 as the Indian chapter of the International Association of People’s Lawyer had then issued a statement stating that these claims were an “attempt to silence rights lawyers, activists and organisations involved in human rights work.”
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Bharadwaj’s lawyers also state that she is a visiting faculty at the National Law University, has no criminal antecedents and has been working with marginalised communities in Chhattisgarh for many years. In 2010, she founded Janhit in Chhattisgarh to provide legal aid to the communities which was selected by a court to receive funds to continue with her legal work.
The Chhattisgarh government had nominated her to serve as a Member of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority from 2015 to 2017. In a petition filed by two co-accused of Bharadwaj-senior lawyer Gadling and poet-publisher, Sudhir Dhawale-before the Bombay High Court, they have said that the Hindutva leaders booked for the Bhima Koregaon violence received ‘state shelter’ and those who had been criticising activities of the ruling party were targeted through this FIR.
Bharadwaj’s health and interim bail applications
Bharadwaj along with Sen and Kabir Kala Manch member Jyoti Jagtap is lodged in Byculla women’s jail. After the Covid-19 outbreak, she had filed an interim bail plea before the special court on medical grounds that she has co-morbidities including diabetes, high blood pressure and that she has suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis.
Her daughter, Maaysha, had said that Bharadwaj has developed a heart ailment, “clearly triggered by the stress” she is facing in jail, as she did not have any such complaints before her incarceration since 2018. The NIA had opposed the pleas stating that the prison authorities are taking care of the inmates and she is being provided with medical care. The special court and the Bombay High Court rejected her interim bail pleas following which she had filed a plea in the Supreme Court which was withdrawn on Thursday.
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