No Spectacles for Gautam Navlakha, After Stan Swamy Was Denied Straw. Don’t Political Prisoners Have Human Rights?

Social Commentary

No Spectacles for Gautam Navlakha, After Stan Swamy Was Denied Straw. Don’t Political Prisoners Have Human Rights?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The treatment of political prisoners in Indian jails has left a lot to be desired this year. Gautam Navlakha, a civil rights activist who is currently being held at Taloja Jail in Maharashtra, is the latest example. Navlakha’s lawyers and family have claimed that prison authorities have refused to accept a package containing replacement spectacles after his were stolen in the jail on November 27. They have said that Navlakha, who will turn 69 years old this month, is “almost blind” without his glasses, and that being deprived of them while imprisoned is causing him “acute distress”.

A statement by Navlakha’s lawyers, signed by his partner Sabha Hussain, said, “The jail authorities were informed that Gautam was almost blind without the spectacles and that they would be arriving any day and to ensure that the parcel is accepted and not returned. In spite of this, the jail refused to accept the parcel when it arrived by post.” They also claimed that even though Navlakha’s spectacles were inexplicably stolen on November 27, it took three days for jail authorities to even allow him to make a call to his partner requesting a replacement. This treatment seems unfair, given that Navlakha had voluntarily surrendered himself to the National Investigation Agency earlier this year.

Navlakha is one of several activists being held at Taloja in connection to an alleged conspiracy linked to the Elgar Parishad conclave on December 31, which was followed by violence at Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra. Many of these political prisoners are non-violent offenders who, like Navlakha, surrendered themselves to authorities and went to prison without resisting arrest. Yet, their rights continue to be trampled upon in the jail.

Last month, 83-year-old activist Stan Swamy, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, endured weeks of legal petitions simply to acquire a straw and sipper to enable him to drink fluids. Taloja Jail authorities were also criticised last month for allowing 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao’s health to deteriorate to the point that the Bombay High Court had to step in and direct them to shift him to Nanavati Hospital.

It took a long legal struggle and a massive social media campaign before Swamy could finally get his straw. Let’s hope that Navlakha’s rights are recognised faster.