It has been four years since intellectuals, human rights activists, politicians and cultural activists were arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon incident. Anand Teltumde, a prominent Dalit thinker, writer, human rights activist, management expert and teacher, was imprisoned in 2019 as part of a series of arrests. Today, he is confined to the ‘Anda cell’ of the Mumbai Taloja Jail where Fr. Stan Swamy was also imprisoned. Rema Teltumde, Anand’s wife and granddaughter of Dr. B.R Ambedkar speaks about Anand’s prison life and the current status of the case.
Could you talk to Anand Teltumde, who is imprisoned in Mumbai Taloja Jail? What’s the updated news about him?
It is learned that Anand is currently experiencing great resentment and frustration. The main reason for this is the torture they face in prison. A few days after being treated at the hospital, Anand along with his co-accused were shifted to the Anda cell where the criminals are being held. Being in an Anda cell itself is a severe torture. We led a typical middle class life. Despite retiring from corporate life, Anand worked as a professor at a business school. Anand told me that every moment he has to spend in jail is full of humiliation. Anand says it can take weeks to get medication and a doctor’s help. It is a situation that requires continuous request for treatment. He might get it a few days later. Anand suffers from asthma and has Spondylitis. He is over seventy-two years old. Anand has worked very hard and had to give up a lot to reach his present status in the society. But all of that is being destroyed inside the prison today.
Father Stan Swamy was in the same jail. The death of Father Stan Swamy is a case of institutional murder and that is very unfortunate. All the accused in this case are eligible for bail. Our priority is to get bail. June 6 marks the completion of four years since the arrests were held.
Arsenal Consulting had released a report saying that the main evidence in the case was the copying of some documents into the laptops of some of the accused. The case alleges that senior human rights activists and writers who work and fight for the oppressed communities and people from powerful communities conspired to assassinate the Prime Minister of India. The real culprits of the atrocities that took place on Bhima Koregaon Victory Day are not the people arrested and imprisoned today. The perpetrators are still free. Milind Ekbote, the main culprit in the riots, was arrested in a minor case only, while Sambhaji Bhide was not arrested. They are constantly working against Dalits and minorities. They have made all the preparations for the atrocities ahead of the day to commemorate the victory of Bhima Koregaon. On January 1, 2018, there was a planned attack on Dalits who came to pay their respects to Dalit martyrs. Many were fatally wounded. But it is disappointing that no action has been taken against those perpetrators so far.
The accused in this case were political activists from different walks of life. What do you think of this framing involving such socio-political activists and academicians in one case?
Yes. Today, the convicts are working in different streams and they are in jail. All of them are trying to improve society by working against the oppression of certain sections. Most of them work from their personal limitations. Dr. Anand Bhima did not go to Koregaon or attend the Elgar Parishad. The unnamed document, which was allegedly found on the laptop of one of the accused, contained only the name ‘Anand’, which could be anyone. How many people in India have the same name!
Dr. Anand used to write continuously. Anand wrote the column ‘Margin Speak’ in the Economic and Political Weekly. Anand had repeatedly written against the unjust policies of the government in many places. It is Anand’s constitutional right to criticize the injustices perpetrated by the state. Anand also has the right to be able to freely express his own views. I think that is the reason why they are targeting Anand. Another reason why they follow Anand is because of Anand’s connection with Dr. B R Ambedkar’s family. The arrest may be a message to Dalits in the country.
Our house was raided when no one was around. They opened the gates with duplicate keys, just before we arrived. All of this happened very quickly. That’s when we realize this is not a normal raid. We were terrified. Our concern was that these officers may have planted something during the raid to produce evidence. I came to know about the raid through television news. I immediately booked a ticket from Goa to Mumbai. The first charge sheet in this case is 10,000 pages long. The second charge sheet has seven volumes.
Is there the necessary support and solidarity from political parties and human rights organizations?
There is not enough response from political parties. In today’s Indian political context, even human rights groups such as Amnesty International have had to close their offices. So it is very difficult to get any kind of help. Today there is an atmosphere of fear all over the country.
How did you deal with the arrest of Anand Teltumde?
I can not explain how much we are hurt. No one talks about the mental health of political prisoners and their families. Not only the accused in sections like UAPA, but their entire family is being humiliated and tortured. We are only allowed ten minutes for prison meetings. The barrier between us is a glass wall and an iron grill. This is how Anand and I talk. It is utterly inhumane. The journey to jail and the waiting for this meeting will take four or five hours. After all this, it takes only ten minutes to see Anand. There is no waiting area at Taloja Jail till this time. I have to sit on a rock or something similar. I am 66 years old. Going to jail every week is hard. I almost forgot what our normal life was like. No matter how much I think, I do not understand why the anti-democratic UAPA law should be imposed on Anand.
The BJP, which has been in power at the Center for eight years, has repeatedly used the possibility of amending the constitution. The UAPA law was similarly amended and strengthened. As a granddaughter of Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the constitution, how do you view such amendments?
The BJP and the RSS do not want the constitution drafted by Dr. B.R Ambedkar. We must uphold this Constitution at all costs and it is the responsibility of every citizen. The annual victory celebration in Bhima Koroga is a reminder of how brave our ancestors were. Baba Saheb Ambedkar has shown us how brave we should be. The Manuvadis cannot tolerate the Dalits celebrating the energy of that struggle. They have decided to silence the Dalits. Such a case would not have been possible if the perpetrators of the violence against Dalits during the Bhima Koregaon victory celebrations had been brought to justice. It is the responsibility of the Dalit and Bahujan people to confront such atrocities through legal action.
How much does this indefinite imprisonment bother Anand and you?
Anand has severe Spondylitis. If the condition worsens and if the required physiotherapy and orthopedic chair or bed are not available, there is a risk of paralysis. We have a terrible fear of what will happen to Anand. The humiliation he faces every day in jail has made Anand very angry. Recently, the prison authorities deliberately removed the mosquito nets from the cells. Anand told us that, Kabir Kala Manch activist Sagar Gorkhe has been on a hunger strike since May 23 demanding mosquito nets. Only young people in good health can protest. Malaria and dengue are prevalent in Mumbai during monsoons. It is well known that these diseases take the lives of human beings. How can I not be afraid?