A request for access to his own and familiar straw and sipper cup by Father Stan Swamy, the 83-year-old Jesuit priest and activist from Jharkhand who was arrested under the stringent UAPA by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), has become a textbook case of how insensitive legal procedure can be.
From his arrest on October 7 in the Elgar Parishad case to the latest court hearing Thursday, the two items have been tossed from one desk to another.
The Maharashtra government and authorities in Mumbai’s Taloja central jail say Swamy, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, has been provided with all basic facilities, including a straw and sipper cup, since he was taken to the hospital ward within weeks of his arrival in prison.
But Swamy’s defence team says his wait for the two items, which have been in his possession as “an integral part of his basic necessities” for the past few years, continues.
Consider the sequence of events.
At the time of his arrest, Swamy carried a bag with a few belongings, including clothes and a sipper glass given to him by colleagues at Bagaicha, a Jesuit social research and training centre in Ranchi. Produced before a Special Court in Mumbai on October 8, he was sent to judicial custody in Taloja the same day.
According to his defence team, they learnt on November 6 that Swamy had not been permitted to carry the sipper cup inside. On the same day, they submitted an application in court seeking directions to the NIA to return the sipper.
“If the jail authorities did not allow him to carry it during his transfer to prison, we thought that the NIA officers, who escorted him, should have the objects. Hence, we made an application seeking it to be returned hoping it would not take much time,” said Swamy’s lawyer, Sharif Shaikh.
The court, however, directed the NIA to file a reply and posted the matter on November 26, after the Diwali vacations. On Thursday, the NIA submitted that it had conducted a personal search of Swamy on his arrest in the presence of independent witnesses and “no such straw and sipper were found”.
The court ruled: “In view of this contention, the application being devoid of substance deserves to be rejected.”
The defence team then made another application seeking directions for the jail to allow Swamy to receive winter wear and a straw and sipper that would be sent to him at his own cost. The court sought a report from the jail and posted the hearing for December 4.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Maharashtra MoS for Home Satej D Patil said necessary care was being provided to Swamy, including a straw and sipper cup. “He is provided with proper medical care and other necessities as per the prison rules,” Patil said.
In its response dated November 25 to the State Human Rights Commission, on a complaint, Taloja jail authorities stated that Swamy is provided regular medicines, tablets, a high-protein diet, hot water for bathing, and a bedsheet, mattress and pillow. It stated that due to Parkinson’s, he is assisted by two attendants who are co-inmates.
The response stated that Swamy is provided with a “wheelchair, walking stick, walker, commode chair, sipper mug, sipper bottle, straws, battery cells for his hearing machine”. It stated that he is examined by a psychiatrist at regular intervals and that his vitals are monitored on a daily basis.
However, Father Cedric Prakash S J, a rights activist who is part of Swamy’s defence team, said that as per communication received this week from the 83-year-old, he has not been provided with the sipper.
An excerpt from a purported letter sent by Swamy this week stated that he had asked for a full-sleeved sweater, a thin blanket and two pairs of socks. “I am sorry to hear that these materials were not accepted at the prison gate and the one who brought them had to take them back not once but three times,” the letter, shared by Prakash, stated.
It said that prison authorities have assured Swamy that if the items are sent again, they will be permitted.
The NIA has accused Swamy of involvement in activities of the banned CPI (Maoist). In his defence, Swamy has said that he is being targeted due to his writings and work for adivasis and on caste and land struggles. Last month, the Special Court rejected a bail application filed on medical grounds by Swamy. Another plea filed on Thursday will be heard next week.
On Friday, with outrage mounting over reports that it had kept Swamy’s straw and sipper cup, the NIA issued a statement reiterating its submission in court.
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