Gautam Navlakha
Gautam Navlakha

[Bhima Koregaon] "Disappointed that Supreme Court order had no reference to COVID-19", Gautam Navlakha in open letter before surrender

Navlakha's letter also criticises the UAPA as "draconian", stating that under such an Act, "jail becomes the norm, and bail an exception." He adds, "In this Kafkaesque domain, process itself becomes punishment."

Shruti Mahajan

Prior to surrendering before the National Investigating Agency (NIA) in relation to the Bhima Koregaon case, activist and scholar Gautam Navlakha has expressed his disappointment that the Supreme Court's order directing his surrender did not factor in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court on April 8 had extended the interim protection from arrest for Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde by a week and directed the two activists to surrender by this time. The Court was unambiguous in clarifying that the extension granted should not to be seen as a precedent and that the same was given as a last chance. The one week's time specified in this order lapsed today.

Before surrendering before the NIA in Delhi, Navlakha penned an open letter, stating that he is disappointed that the Apex Court made no reference to the pandemic that has gripped India and the rest of the world alike, while directing the two accused to surrender.

I am affected by the fear that my near and dear ones harbour about my captivity amidst Covid19. I cannot help but feel disappointed that the terse order of the Supreme Court on 8th April had no reference to the Covid19 pandemic, which has overtaken the world, including all of us in India.
Gautam Navlakha writes in his letter

Navlakha points out that while the Government of India has likened the challenges posed by COVID-19 to a state of national emergency and the Supreme Court itself has also stepped in to address the possibility of spread of the contagion in the prison, the order for his surrender did not factor the same in.

On March 23, the Apex Court had directed all the States and Union Territories to constitute High Powered Committees to consider the class of prisoners that can be released on bail or parole in order to decongest the jails amid the pandemic. This step was taken to address the threat of spreading the virus amidst overcrowding prisons, given the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus.

Teltumbde and Navlakha had, therefore, approached the Apex Court seeking an extension of the interim protection granted to them citing the pandemic as a reason, coupled with submissions concerning the ailments that both the senior citizens suffered from making them vulnerable to the virus.

Their plea for this extension was opposed by the Government on grounds that the two are accused of grave offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee ultimately extended the interim protection, albeit as a last chance, directing the two to surrender after a week.

Terming the provisions of the UAPA as "draconian", Navlakha says that such Acts turn the normal jurisprudence upside down and that when such legislations are invoked, "jail becomes the norm, and bail an exception. In this Kafkaesque domain, process itself becomes punishment."

Navlakha says that under Acts like the UAPA, an accused is guilty unless proven innocent and while the punishments prescribed under the Act are strict and stringent, the procedures for evidence are "elastic".

I can now begin to face the actual legal process, which accompanies cases where provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are invoked.
Gautam Navlakha

In his letter, Navlakha also thanks Justices Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee who passed the order of April 8 for granting him one more week of liberty which helped him "resolve his predicament." Navlakha points out that he was required to surrender before the NIA in Mumbai by April 6 and the lockdown and restrictions on domestic travel had long been in place by this date. The order of April 8 clarifies for Navlakha that the surrender is required to be made before NIA in Delhi, his letter says.

Navlakha says he now hopes for speedy and fair trial for himself and the co-accused in the case, which include activists like Sudha Bhardwaj, Shoma Sen, Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde, to name a few.

My hope rests on a speedy and fair trial for myself and all my fellow co-accused. This alone will enable me to clear my name, and walk free, having also used the time in jail to rid myself of acquired habits.
Gautam Navlakha

The letter ends with Navlakha quoting a few lines from the famous "Redemption Song" by singer, Bob Marley.

One day of his arrest, Anand Teltumbde had also penned an open letter to the people of India outlining his thoughts on the arrest, the alleged evidence against him and also the series of events that preceding his arrest.

Read Gautam Navlakha's letter:

Gautam Navlakha's open letter written before surrendering.pdf
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