Four of the five activists and lawyers arrested by Pune City Police in June over their alleged links to the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist have gone on a hunger strike in prison, according to lawyers providing legal aid to them.
The four — Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling and Mahesh Raut — are currently lodged in the Yerwada Central Prison. Arrested in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case, they have been charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The fifth accused, Shoma Sen, is lodged in the women’s prison in Yerwada.
Elgaar Parishad was organised in Pune on December 31 last year to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon. Police had accused the five of having channelled money from CPI-Maoist for the organisation of Elgaar Parishad.
Activists of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) in Pune and Republican Panthers (RP) in Mumbai also circulated messages to mediapersons, claiming that the four had gone on a hunger strike on the death anniversary of revolutionary freedom fighter Jatin Das. Das had died in Lahore Jail on September 13, 1929, after a hunger strike that went on for over 60 days.
Prison authorities, however, said the accused had not informed them about any such strike.
Nihalsingh Rathod, one of the lawyers providing legal aid to those arrested in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case, said lawyer Vikrant Narnaware, a junior of advocate Surendra Gadling, had visited Yerwada Central Prison on Wednesday. He met with Gadling, Wilson, Raut and Dhawale. All four told Narnaware that they are going on a hunger strike from Thursday, said Rathod.
“We don’t know if it is a day-long hunger strike or an indefinite one. We do not know whether Shoma Sen, who is lodged in the women’s prison, is also on a hunger strike….We hope to get further information about the hunger strike on Friday, when a hearing of their case is scheduled in the Pune court,” said Rathod.
He said the four had gone on strike over “various demands, including scrapping of the draconian UAPA, and seeking proper human treatment for all prisoners across India, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion.”
In the message circulated by the Kabir Kala Manch, artistes from the outfit said the accused were not being provided any books or literature inside prison, and this was akin to “mental torture”. The message also alleged that jail authorities had shifted the accused to five different locations within the jail premises in the last three months.
A senior prison officer said, “The accused have made no complaints to jail authorities about this. There has been no communication from them regarding a hunger strike. The allegations of mental torture are false. Facilities are being provided to them as per the law”.
The arrests were made on the basis of an FIR, lodged at Vishrambag police station by Pune resident Tushar Damgude, which had named Harshali Potdar, Sudhir Dhawale of Republican Panthers, Mumbai, and Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap, Deepak Dhengle of the Pune-based KKM.
During investigation, police conducted searches at the residences of six suspects on April 17. They also searched the residences of Rona Wilson in Delhi and Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling.
On June 6, police arrested Wilson, Dhawale and Gadling, along with Nagpur University professor Shoma Sen and former Prime Minister Rural Development fellow Mahesh Raut in this case. Four alleged underground Maoist operatives — Milind Teltumbde, Prakash alias Ritupam Goswami, Manglu and Deepu — were also named as accused.
After further investigation, police arrested five rights activists — P Varavara Rao from Hyderabad, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira from Mumbai, and Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha from Delhi — on August 28, alleging that they were active members of the banned CPI-Maoist. The arrests were widely condemned, and the five activists are now under house arrest, as per the orders of the Supreme Court. The next hearing of the case is on September 17.