On Tuesday, family members of Hany Babu, a Delhi University professor and an under trial prisoner in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case under draconian UAPA, have issued an appeal for his release from prison, saying that the National Investigation Agency has arrested an innocent man.
The worst mistake is to persist with the mistake, and that seems to be the case with the BK-16. The Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case, with 16 arrested so far, started off with an alleged assassination conspiracy, but soon dwindled down to some unsigned and unverified correspondence remotely planted in personal computers. Yet, the state persists in obfuscating and obstructing justice.
Hany Babu M.T., an associate professor in the University of Delhi, is the 12th to be arrested of the BK- 16. For those still unfamiliar with him, Hany Babu is a scholar of linguistics (with a PhD from EFLU, Hyderabad and the University of Konstanz, Germany). He is a sincere educator and a social activist who identifies himself as an Ambedkarite and has dedicated his life and work to the cause of anti-caste struggles for social justice. No wonder then that he is widely loved and respected by students and scholars, across the board, as one of the most democratic, enlightened and friendly intellectuals, who always goes out of the way to meet others’ concerns.
Hence, the injustice involved in the entire 2018 Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case and what was meted out to Hany Babu as a suspect is deeply disturbing. Hany Babu was unjustly arrested in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case on 28 July 2020, after being summoned to Mumbai by the NIA for five days of pointless interrogation. The arrest was preceded by the first police raid at his home in September 2019 (the second was in August 2020; both intimidating and prolonged) and the confiscation of books, documents & electronic devices, without a proper search warrant or due process and flouting basic procedures of collecting evidence, presumably under UAPA. He was not immediately provided with a proper inventory or hash value of the seized electronic items, thereby compromising their evidentiary value, and providing further scope for manipulation. Indeed, the illegal nature of the entire search and seizure process, and the subsequent summons and arrest during the first peak of the pandemic, was a gross injustice towards someone like Hany Babu, who ardently believes in the rule of law and seeks to resolve issues through democratic processes every time.
By now an innocent Hany Babu has spent nine months in an overcrowded jail in Mumbai, filled with undertrials like him. During the five-day long pre-arrest interrogation, he had informed us that the NIA officers were coercing him to be a witness and give evidence against some or any of those already arrested. The last call from his own mobile before the arrest indicated that the NIA officers were not happy that he refused to falsely implicate others. Given Hany Babu’s exemplary honesty, the NIA seems to have decided to teach him a lesson, as if the accusation alone is sufficient ‘evidence’ to label him a ‘Maoist’ and incarcerate him for an indefinite period. Moreover, all the 16 arrests seem to have been planned in such a way as to delay the filing of the charge sheet, on the excuse that the newly arrested has to be interrogated and the new evidence examined. NIA still seems intent on proving that the whole case was not and is not a mistake, even if none could implicate others, being equally innocent, for the BK-16 are from across the country and most often without any acquaintance with each other.
We, the family members of Hany Babu, therefore make this appeal to share our anguish and pain, and also to express our anxieties during these terrible times, when even the Bombay High Court has initiated a suo motu PIL on the rapid rise of Covid-19 cases in the prisons of Maharashtra.
We can say without any iota of doubt that the only ‘crime’ that Hany Babu committed was an unwavering commitment to the Ambedkarite cause of anti-caste struggle and social justice, for he was one among the early few to relentlessly struggle to implement OBC reservations and to end SC/ST discrimination in the Delhi University. He was also actively involved in the Committee for the Defence and Release of GN Sai Baba—someone he knew as a fellow student and later as a colleague—who, with 90% physical disability, is still languishing in prison. Indeed, it is surprising and shocking that legitimate activity, such as taking up the cause for implementation of reservations or defending the right of a citizen for a free and fair trial, is interpreted as criminal and as proof of Maoist connections. While the fact of the matter is that it was Hany Babu’s involvement in the above causes that enabled him to perceive the skewed and onerous nature of meting out justice, if not of Justice itself. It prompted him to acquire an LLB in 2015 and continue to advocate egalitarian struggles through legal measures, which underscores the fallacy in the allegation that he was a Maoist sympathiser thereof! His dedication to improve the lot of others continues even during imprisonment, as we understand that he keeps himself busy by teaching language skills to others, learning new languages from others as well as imparting legal advice to his fellow prisoners.
The violations of Hany Babu’s civil and legal rights continue as the NIA has not yet shared any substantial evidence. Most importantly, Hany Babu’s request for clone copies of the confiscated electronic devices is being indefinitely delayed, thereby paralysing the defence of his innocence. Such a delay, tantamount to a denial, is even more significant with the recent findings by the Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting, which identified that a malicious software used by a hacker had planted a set of files on Rona Wilson’s (one of BK-16) computer, which spread to his friends’ laptops, thereby questioning the so-called Maoist-correspondence, which was NIA’s sole proof in the whole case.
We are amazed that the Courts have not yet taken suo motu cognizance of several published findings, even after a year, and ordered an immediate independent enquiry and forensic analysis of all the data that have been submitted as ‘evidence’ in the case. Such a process, which would have been immediately available in any democratic country, has been replaced by delay tactics that are meant only to hamper justice. Moreover, at a time when many countries are releasing their political prisoners owing to the pandemic disaster, repeated bail applications from the BK-16 have been summarily rejected, despite their age and ill-health. Hence, we are deeply worried about the prison conditions, with daily reports of Covid positive cases and even deaths in various prisons.
This is nothing but a gross violation of basic human rights. In fact, all of this is compounded by the fact that in the guise of the pandemic, Hany Babu has been denied in-person visits from the beginning. To our dismay, he has been periodically denied parcels which contained books, and even sending/receiving letters and making phone calls seem to be governed by the whims of the authorities concerned.
There may not be a single person or home or institution (including the Court) currently unaffected by the ongoing pandemic. The particularly double trauma of the family members of undertrial prisoners, who are subjected to endless travails, even travesty, of justice, just for believing in and upholding the democratic rights guaranteed by our Constitution, as in Hany Babu’s case, cannot be put into words. The trauma of those endlessly awaiting trial is of course manifold, with severe restrictions on communication, cash and commodities. Hany Babu noted in one of his infrequent letters that what we consider as insignificant outside is most precious inside jail, thereby intimating that he cannot write letters as often as he wants because postal stamps, paper and pen are beyond expensive when available. His letters from the prison still register the heartening hope and unfailing faith in our judicial system to give him back his rightful life. Any further delay in commencing the trial would take his personal, academic and intellectual life further away from Hany Babu. As the recent Supreme Court observation categorically states, a speedy trial is a fundamental right even for those arrested under UAPA. Let the process not be the punishment any longer!
We, the family members of Hany Babu, appeal that: i) all the evidence, including clone copies, be immediately made available to the accused so that defence can also pursue independent investigations in order to commence the trial at the earliest; and ii) that bail be immediately granted to all the accused till the trial commences as per prevalent rules and regulations. Otherwise, the judicial system itself may well be open, if not already, to the charge of fostering a circuitous and vicious circle.
By Jenny (wife), Farzana (daughter), Fathima (mother) and Harish & Ansari (brothers)