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Shameful India is still silent about violation of Sadhvi Pragya's human rights

Devanik Saha
Devanik SahaMay 18, 2016 | 17:43

Shameful India is still silent about violation of Sadhvi Pragya's human rights

Last month, I read an interesting story about Anders Behring Breivik, the man responsible for the mass killing of 69 people in Norway, who won a case against the State for denying him human rights. Breivik argued that he was subjected to solitary confinement which breached the European convention on human rights. Furthermore, he listed the quality of the prison food - including microwaved meals that he described as "worse than water-boarding" - and having to eat with plastic cutlery.

I had completely forgotten about the incident, but my memory was refreshed last week when, in a reversal from its earlier stand, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) gave a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, an accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case.

In its defence, NIA DG Sharad Kumar said, "There was insufficient evidence against Sadhvi Pragya." Of course, the U-turn in the NIA's decision has worried many as they suspect that the ruling BJP is going soft on saffron terror suspects - Malegaon as well as Samjhauta blasts accused, which was confirmed by Rohini Salian, a public prosecutor who was taken off the cases last year.

The bigger worry for me, however, is the silence of human rights groups, civil society members and activists on the alleged human rights violations and torture which Thakur was subjected to, during her detention in jail.

In 2014, Thakur recorded a video with the National Human Rights Commission, in which she mentioned that the Maharashtra police beat her up with leather belts through the night, starved her for 24 days straight, gave her electric shocks, verbally abused her and made her listen to pornographic recordings in the company of male undertrials.

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"There were five to six policemen whose job was to abuse me. They would beat me round the clock, night and day, to keep me awake. The policemen who were given the job of beating me would change because they would get tired. But my beatings would not stop," Thakur had said.

She even accused the police of calling her a prostitute, drawing unfavourable links to a spiritual guru she considered a father-figure, with an objective to extract a confessional statement. Furthermore, she is said to be suffering from breast cancer and despite her repeated bail pleas for getting treatment, it wasn't granted.

Post Thakur's release recently, her sister had also raised similar concerns and requested for a probe.

Now compare Sadhvi Pragya to Yakub Memon, who was convicted for 1993 Mumbai blasts. His death sentence sparked outrage, with several prominent lawyers and activists holding candlelight marches, and even leading to a midnight hearing of the Supreme Court - which was ultimately granted - for a mercy appeal.

While Thakur may or may not be responsible for the blasts, and BJP may or may not be using their influence to exonerate Hindu terror convicts, the fact remains that every citizen, regardless of the crime he or she has committed, is entitled to basic human rights under Indian laws and the Constitution.

We should all be proud of the country which gave Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist who killed Hemant Karkare and many others during Mumbai 26/11 terror attack, a fair trial.  

No noted activist or lawyer has publicly condemned the torture. There weren't any op-eds or explainers either, arguing that Thakur should not have been subjected to torture. Ever since Thakur was arrested, there have been some small campaigns and events by right-wing activists and groups (mostly online), which advocated for her bail and spoke out against the torture, but failed to find support of any prominent voice.

Apart from Thakur, nine Muslim men who were arrested by the Maharashtra ATS post the blasts, were acquitted by the court as well. They spent more than five years in jail but got bail in 2011 when NIA took over the investigation.

Two years back, the NIA had declared that there was no evidence against them. Post their release, several journalists tweeted about the injustice meted out to them. Hindustan Times had an editorial titled "How Malegaon's innocent terrorists lost 10 years of their lives", which included stories on their torture. One narrated an ordeal of how someone's nails were pulled out and two lit cigarettes were stuffed into the nostrils. But there was no such editorial which highlighted and condemned Thakur's time in jail.

Last week, a report was released by the National Law University, Delhi which focused on death penalty convicts, their families, case experiences and their lives in jail. It highlighted revolting revelations of convicts who were reportedly tortured by officers - water boarding, tied to a table with a venomous snake left in the room, inserting bottles in anus, among others. The report's findings generated much outrage and debate among the left-liberal fraternity leading to conversations and admonition of our judicial system.

The ideological bias is evident.

In Thakur's case, many of them discussed and criticised the U-turn of the NIA in the case, but not a single one raised the issue of human rights violation in jail. Her case is a classic example of how we as a nation decide our stand on human rights based on ideology.

However, the right-wing is equally to blame here.

Recently, Kanchan Gupta, a right-leaning journalist tweeted as to how many prominent right-wing voices refused to support a march/campaign which advocated for Thakur's release/justice, fearing that their reputation may get hurt.

Why is Sadhvi Pragya any different from Yakub Memon? Does the religion and ideology of the accused decide our stand on human rights? Why did nobody fight for Sadhvi Pragya despite her repeated claims of being abused and tortured illegally?

Unfortunately, the BJP, which claims itself to be the saviour of Hindus, and time and again reminds us of our nationalism, hasn't pushed for a probe into the grave allegations, and has chosen to keep mum on the issue

PS I am not a "bhakt" or a right-winger as many would label me post reading this article. In term of ideology, I lean towards the left-of-centre. However, I strongly believe that human rights must not be based on ideology. Whether it's Ajmal Kasab, Ishrat Jahan, Dawood Ibrahim, Sadhvi Pragya or Yakub Memon, every accused has the right to basic human rights and appropriate legal help.

Last updated: May 18, 2016 | 18:14
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