The family of writer and poet Varavara Rao has complained that the octogenarian, who has been jailed since October 2018 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for his alleged role in the Bhima-Koregaon case, faces a threat to his life from fast deteriorating health.
It’s for the courts to go into the merits of the case and pronounce judgments; the family has been categorical that it asks not for bail but for hospitalisation which can save his life.
As the authorities of the Taloja jail in Mumbai, where he had been held as an undertrial, have not responded positively, nor the family’s representations to Union and state ministers have yielded results, it’s time for the courts to step in and ensure that the constitutional rights of the prisoner are protected.
Article 21 of the constitution, which mandates that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law, does not stop at the gates of the prison; it applies inside as well.
True, the recent record of the Supreme Court has not been all that encouraging given the way the habeas corpus writ petitions moved by Indian citizens from Kashmir were put off for months. However, democratic institutions can reflect fresh insights anytime; the judiciary, the invaluable guarantor of human rights, is the easiest organ of the state to take such an option.
The courts must intervene and stop Mr Rao from becoming a prisoner of conscience and order his immediate hospitalisation.
There are many illustrious jurists who have cast such a duty on their successors to be guardian angels of prisoner rights.
One of them, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, who initiated jail reforms through judicial intervention, had this to remind them: When a prisoner is traumatised, the constitution suffers a shock. An octogenarian prisoner is now in trauma.