One year later: process has become punishment, say activists’ family members

‘Police must prove whatever they claim and then punish; government has hatched a conspiracy against them’

Published - August 29, 2019 01:38 am IST - Mumbai

Vernon Gonsalves

Vernon Gonsalves

It has been a year since poet Varavara Rao, unionist and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira have been arrested and charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for their alleged links with the CPI (Maoist) and for their alleged role in the Bhima-Koregaon violence.

Their family members, who spoke to The Hindu on Wednesday , said, “The process has become the punishment”, and it is extremely disheartening that it has become very difficult for them to even get bail.

Varavara Rao

Varavara Rao

Mr. Gonsalves’s son Sagar Abraham Gonsalves (24), who works for an NGO, said, “It is really disheartening and heartbreaking to see the pace of the matter. There are 10 people languishing in jail without anything against them. The police even refuse to share the material they have against them. The process is becoming the punishment.”

He said, “The police must prove whatever they claim and then punish. They have just put them behind bars. Even if they are proven innocent, who is going to compensate for the lost time? It is just unfair.”

Sudha Bharadwaj

Sudha Bharadwaj

About being able to meet his father at Yerwada Central Jail, he said, “Since I am the blood relation there is no problem. But whoever comes to meet Ms. Bharadwaj, they are given a tough time.”

Ms. Bharadwaj’s daughter Maaysha (22) said she cannot wait to be with her mother. “I miss my mother’s physical presence. I am a single child to a single mother. We started staying together only three years ago in Faridabad. Since childhood, I had been staying with union workers,” she said.

Similar sentiments are echoed by Mr. Rao’s 70-year-old wife, Hemlata. She and her daughters still wonder how their lives changed on the same date one year ago. “All of them have been booked under the UAPA. But all the raids, searches, and arrests happened unlawfully. There was no arrest warrant, and the police got panchnamas from Maharashtra,” she said.

“The police are not providing any material they have against them. This is unlawful. The government has hatched a conspiracy against them. No one will be punished because they have no evidence but the process is the punishment,” Ms. Rao said.

She said she worries about her husband’s health as he is 79, and that the barrack that has all the accused in the jail didn’t even have a fan until they moved court seeking the facility.

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