Sagar Gorkhe, accused in the Bhima Koregaon caste violence of 2018, has been on an indefinite hunger strike citing harassment by Taloja Central Jail authorities.
Mr. Gorkhe was arrested on September 7, 2020, from Kondhwa by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). While he has been on a hunger strike since May 20, jail superintendent U.T. Pawar told The Hindu that Mr. Gorkhe informed him orally only on Monday morning when he was on his rounds. “I have told him that he needs to give me a written application citing reasons and demands for going on strike. It is illegal to go on a hunger strike. We are going to address all his issues.”
A letter Mr. Gorkhe sent to Maharashtra Home Minister on Tuesday says all letters that are received and sent from jail to lawyers and families are scrutinised and scanned by jail authorities and the anti-naxal cell, and some are also sent to NIA.
“That is a procedure that we follow for all prisoners,” said Mr. Pawar. “It is mentioned in the Prison Manual. All the letters that go out and come in are checked and scanned in all prisons across the country.”
Mr. Gorkhe mentions that despite a direction from the Bombay High Court, he and the other co-accused in the case are not allowed to make phone calls to their family members. Mr. Pawar said there was a circular issued by the prison department that states that gangsters and those charged with terrorism and naxalism, irrespective of whether he was an under-trial or a convict, would not be given this facility. “I am following the circular.”
The letter says he is given only a bucket of water to drink, to bathe and also use in the toilet. However, Mr. Pawar refuted the claim. “Gorkhe is kept in a high security cell, which is attached to a tanker which provides him water 24/7. He has access to more water than any other prisoner, as others are given two bottles of water to drink and there is a tap provided to fill their bucket for the toilet and bathing. If Gorkhe still needs more water, we have a canteen, from where he can buy water.”
The 35-year-old says he back problems and other health issues, but was not treated at the jail hospital or taken to State-run JJ Hospital. “Our jail hospital is well equipped,” said Mr. Pawar. “If he has any issues, he can come and see the doctor. We never deny medical facilities to any inmate.”
Mr. Gorkhe, along with two other artistes from Pune, Jyoti Jagtap (lodged in Byculla jail) and Ramesh Gaichor (at Taloja jail), is part of a cultural troupe called Kabir Kala Manch made up of Dalit and working-class musicians and poets who came together after the 2002 violence in Gujarat.