Stan Swamy’s “institutional murder”: Political prisoners observe hunger strike in Maharashtra and Kerala

Protesting the “custodial death” of the Jesuit priest and human rights activist Father Stan Swamy, the Bhima Koregaon accused prisoners who were lodged in Taloja jail in Maharashtra have announced to sit on a one-day hunger strike on Wednesday. Meanwhile, alleged Maoist leader Roopesh, an undertrial prisoner in Viyyur jail in Kerala, have observed a day-long hunger strike on Wednesday protesting the same.

The decision was collectively taken by human rights defenders Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Ramesh Gaichor Sagar Gorkhe and Arun Ferreira, Sharad Gaikwad, president of Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement told Maktoob. Republican Panthers was founded by Sudhir Dhawale, a Dalit activist and publisher of the bi-monthly Marathi magazine Vidrohi, who was arrested on June 6 2018 under the draconian UAPA and lodged in Taloja jail in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Sharad Dharma Gaikwad, who talked to Sudhir Dhawale on phone on Tuesday, told Maktoob that prisoners met each other on Tuesday and observed one-minute silence for Father Swamy, the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India.

“Sudhir was shaken by Stan’s death. He told me that it’s not a natural death but an institutional murder. Though all the prisoners were lodged in different barracks, they met each other on Tuesday and shared their memories about Father Swamy and recollected his contribution to the struggle for the marginalised section of the country. The program lasted for at least two hours. The new superintendent of Taloja prison also joined them in the meeting,” Sharad Gaikwad said.

During the meeting, they took a collective decision that they will observe hunger strike on Wednesday and will draft a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhav Thackerey demanding a fair judicial enquiry into the death of the people’s priest, Gaikwad added. The prisoners demanded that the NIA officials and Taloja jail superintendent Kaustubh Kurlekar should be tried under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code as they are sole responsible for the “institutional murder.”

According to Gaikwad, the prisoners have blamed the National Investigation Agency and the former Superintendent of Taloja prison, Kaustubh Kurlekar for Swamy’s death. “All the Bhima Koregaon prisoners have told their family members and friends that the NIA and Kaustubh Kurlekar never missed a single opportunity to harass Father Stan Swamy, whether it is the ghastly treatment inside the jail, the haste to transfer him back from the hospital to the jail, or even denying basic demands such as providing straw sipper for Swamy who suffers from Parkinson disease,” Harshali Potdar, a Republican Panthers activist said to Maktoob.

Meanwhile,  political prisoner Roopesh had observed a day long hunger strike in Viyyur jail in Thrissur district in Kerala protesting Father Swamy’s “institutional murder”, according to his wife P A Shyna.

The NIA Special Court in Ernakulam has dismissed the plea of Roopesh, submitted through the Viyyur jail superindentent, to allow him a minute to pay homage to deceased Stan Swamy before starting the trial of his case, via video conference on Tuesday.

Roopesh and others are undergoing trial in a case registered at Vellamunda police station on 28 July 2015 in connection with a case of a civil police officer’s motorcycle being set ablaze in Wayanad.

In his petition, Roopesh said that the unpleasant demise of Father Stan Swamy who had inspired him “for the commitment for the poor and downtrodden masses has caused serious anxiety and serious concern.”

“During our conversation on Monday via phone, Roopesh told me that he is planning to observe a hunger strike on Tuesday protesting Father Swamy’s institutional murder. He also said that he will submit a petition to the NIA court to allow him to observe a  one-minute silence to pay homage to Father Swamy,” Shyna told Maktoob

“But the court dismissed his plea stating that the court never had a tradition of entertaining such pleas. I remember reading somewhere that a court had allowed thNaxalitete prisoners to pay homage to Charu Majumdar,” Shyna added.

“However Roopesh had observed a hunger strike on Tuesday.     Another co-accused Ibrahim also planned to observe a hunger strike. But Roopesh told me not to as Ibrahim’s health condition is deteriorating.  Ibrahim is the next Stan Swamy in making. He is suffering from a severe case of diabetes and cardiac issues. Even if he takes 22 tablets every day, the diabetes is still not under control. All of his teeth got removed as a side effect of diabetes, he is surviving on chapattis dipped in mildly hot water/ tea. He couldn’t even attend his trial,” Shyna said.

67-year old Ibrahim has been imprisoned in Viyyur central jail for alleged Maoist links for the past six years.