Crime & Justice

Octogenarian Indian activist gets bail 30 months after his arrest

New Delhi, Feb 22 (efe-epa).- A court on Monday granted bail to an ailing octogenarian activist on medical grounds two and a half years after India’s anti-terror probe agency arrested him on charges of inciting caste violence.

“Varavara Rao gets bail,” lawyer Indira Jaising tweeted, shortly after the decision by the Bombay High Court in the western state of Maharashtra.

The defense lawyer said the most important thing about the judgment was that it recognized the fundamental rights of all prisoners to healthy life and liberty.

“But many less fortunate languish in jail with no medical or legal help, spare a thought for them,” Jaising tweeted.

The court asked Rao, also known for his fiery poetry, to pay 50,000 rupees (nearly $700), and another two bonds of the same amount for his bail that will be valid for six months.

“We are of the opinion that this court, as a constitutional court, cannot be a mute spectator to the under-trial being sent to prison and then to government hospitals where his health deteriorates further,” the court said in its over 90-page order.

The activist was shifted to a hospital in Mumbai in November last year after his health deteriorated.

The court allowed his hospitalization after his lawyers argued that his health had deteriorated during the two years he spent in jail under a controversial anti-terror law.

The law has come under fire for its harsh provisions and granting extensive powers to authorities.

The court said that after six months of his bail period, Rao should either surrender or apply for an extension.

The activist has been barred from making any public statements and asked to remain within the jurisdiction of a Mumbai court, which means he cannot travel to his home city of Hyderabad in South India.

Rao, 82, along with nearly a dozen other prominent rights campaigners, were arrested following allegations of inciting violence during an event organized by Dalits, who figure at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy and have suffered centuries of discrimination.

Rights groups have denounced the charges against the rights defenders as an attempt to silence critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Police have accused Rao of links with the Communist Party of India-Maoist, which has waged half a century-long armed battle seeking to carry out a Maoist-agrarian revolution.

The allegation also includes a plot to kill Modi.

The activist is being probed for violent clashes between the formerly untouchable community and Hindu radicals on Dec 31, 2017, and Jan 1, 2018, in Bhima Koregaon town of Maharashtra.

The clashes left one dead and dozens wounded.

Dalits had gathered in large numbers to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, in which the formerly “untouchable” members of the Hindu society had fought and won as part of a British regiment against rulers of the Maratha caste, which enjoyed a higher social status.

Rao is not the only activist arrested amid a widespread probe by National Investigative Agency (NIA) into the Bhima Koregaon clashes.

An 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Stan Swamy, was arrested on Oct.10 last year on charges that critics allege were politically motivated and used as retaliation for his activism.

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