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Monday, April 12, 2021

Corona’s bitter reality: How’s Amit Shah’s health different from these activists?

A sheer shock to the bhakts. Union Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah tested Covid-19 positive. As per reports, Shah was admitted to Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon (Gurugram, as the RSS-dictated Centre mandated). Shah’s condition is believed to be stable. Shah tweeted that he is “fine” but got hospitalised as advised by doctors.

Right from ministers to celebs to political party leaders to of course the bhakts, all have been spamming almost all social media outlets with their prayers and good wishes, seeking speedy recovery of the BJP’s No. 2 man (or maybe No.1). Within minutes following Shah’s tweet, #GetWellSoon soared as a top trend on Twitter. Even those who don’t share Shah’s political ideology or his clear political rival also wished him “get well soon”. Such is Indian culture of “kindness and humility” that reminds us of Gandhigiri.

But is it so? Just like Shah, some of India’s top scholars and activists fought or are still fighting the deadly virus. Much before Shah’s Covid-19 positive news made headlines, these individuals got infected while staying in overcrowded jails. They were put behind bars as they spoke against the Centre, questioned their policies. But do we care about them? In this article, we shall talk about those scholars and activists and about their Covid-19 experience. While Shah is being treated by top doctors in a private cabin on the 15th floor of a super specialty Haryana hospital, these people are being neglected or denied basic healthcare facilities.  Why can’t we be equal and just to all and not just toward Amit Shah or Amitabh Bachchan?

Why aren’t we talking about the right to health, freedom and dignity to these five individuals?

1. Varavara Rao

The Bombay High Court recently directed Nanavati Super-Specialty Hospital to submit a health report of poet and activist Varavara Rao, who was accused in the Elgar Parishad case, within three days since the hospital received communication on the court order.

The court also directed the hospital to declare the line of treatment given to Rao who had tested Covid-19 positive last month. Now the court jumped into action only after Rao’s family pleaded for his healthcare and activists from across the nation and even abroad sought the elderly scholar’s release. Rao’s only “offense” was to speak his mind without fear.

2. Sharjeel Imam

JNU PhD student Sharjeel Imam, lodged in Guwahati Central Jail for his alleged inflammatory address at an anti-CAA agitation rally last year, tested positive for the virus on July 22. According to reports, of total 1,000 inmates of the Guwahati Central Jail, 435 have tested positive. Imam was denied to come to Delhi for treatment and was kept under the jail’s care.

Imam was arrested after he allegedly demanded Assam to be “cut off” from the rest of the country during a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act. He was accused of delivering “inflammatory and instigating speeches” against the Centre and therefore, was booked under sedition charges. However, there was a massive debate on whether his speech content was misconstrued. While Imam himself claimed that he had explained as a call for “chakka jam” by saying “cut off” Assam from India, even former judge of the Supreme Court of India, Markandey Katju, advocated for the constitutional guarantee of free speech and criticised police charges against the JNU student.

3. Akhil Gogoi

Akhil Gogoi, also arrested during his anti-CAA campaign, is another inmate of the Guwahati Central Jail. Gogoi was also infected with Covid-19 last month. However, he had to face much harassment over his illness. According to reports, until ordered by an NIA court, the Guwahati jail authorities refused to test Gogoi for Covid-19 even though he had shown symptoms for days. Gogoi’s wife wrote in Facebook that she came to know about her husband’s illness from the media. She also said how the prison authorities remained tight-lipped about sharing Gogoi’s health details with his family. Gogoi was tested for corona only after his advocates pleaded to the NIA court seeking his health checkup. Following the test, a lot of conflicting reports surfaced about Gogoi’s health.

Amit Shah health
An anti-CAA protest in New Delhi in December last year. Photo: Twitter

4. Sudha Bhardwaj

Sudha Bhardwaj is a 58-year-old activist who was booked for various offenses under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and has been accused of instigating the Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018. Bhardwaj was arrested at the same time Rao was held in the same case. Though she didn’t contract Covid-19 in prison, but Bombay High Court had to intervene to ensure her proper healthcare behind bars. Bhardwaj is diabetic and has ischemic heart disease. She is lodged in Byculla jail in Mumbai. Last month, the court had asked the jail authorities to file a report on Bhardwaj’s health conditions again after noting that the earlier one was “illegible”. This proves how lackadaisical the prison authorities are in providing basic healthcare to the inmates.

5. Anand Teltumbde

This is another instance of denying basic rights to prisoners by the Centre. Anand Teltumbde, another accused of the Elgar Parishad case, also tested Covid-19 positive while staying in Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai. However, his family was not informed about his health conditions. Therefore, the Bombay High Court had to direct the state government to inform the family of Teltumbde about his health. Teltumbde’s lawyer told the court that the activist’s family was anxious as they were unaware of the status of his Covid-19 test and that he had not spoken to the family as well. Bombay High Court even had to direct the state to allow Teltumbde to speak to his family.

Our Constitution’s Article 21 imposes an obligation on the state to provide medical assistance to injured persons as the preservation of human life is of paramount importance. Also, the right to medical treatment is a basic human right, be it a free person or a prisoner. Any failure to ensure treatment is a violation of Article 21, under which the state has the duty to preserve life. However, all of these above-mentioned individuals were denied their basic human rights.

Why is Shah being treated differently

Such a story of rights denial is never new in a country like India, but it’s important to talk about the discrimination since a political leader like Amit Shah too has now contracted the virus. If allegations are there against these activists, there are allegations against Shah as well.

The Delhi Minorities Commission has accused Shah of “fanning communal sentiments” through incendiary speeches before the February riots in Delhi. It has also alleged that “police were complicit and abetted the attacks” during the riots, which killed 53 people and arrested victims rather than the people they accused. All these show how differently the rulers and the ruled are treated. And equality is nothing but a myth.


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