Tehelka Magazine- 2013-06-15; Issue 24, Volume 10
Denied bail again, Sheetal Sathe may give birth behind bars. Is this the human face of justice?
ON 2 JUNE, eight months pregnant, Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) activist Sheetal Sathe was denied bail by the
Mumbai Sessions Court. Sheetal, along
with her husband Sachin
and other members of the cultural group, had come overground in full media
glare in April this year after being accused by the Anti- Terror Squad of the
Mumbai police of being Naxalites. Mali
They had courted arrest voluntarily, and had chosen to face the due process of law. But clearly, this system is faulty. Bail is usually denied when there is a possibility of the accused running away, but in this particular case, since the accused gave themselves up there are no grounds to suggest that they are going to run away.
Denying bail to somebody who is eight months pregnant is inhuman. It looks increasingly certain that Sheetal and Sachin’s child will be born in jail. We all know what conditions in jail are like. The food is extremely poor at the best of times. Hygiene is non-existent. Though Sheetal is getting medical checkups, her nutrition remains a major cause for concern.
There is not much to prove that these people — youths who use music and poetry, not guns, to protest the institutionalised inequalities rampant in our country — are Naxalites. Even if you assume that they were in some way attracted to the ideology, the Supreme Court has established that mere membership of a banned organisation is not something punishable by itself, in that there is a distinction between active and passive membership of a banned outfit. In fact, the Bombay High Court granted bail to Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle, two other members of the KKM who were arrested in 2011 in the same case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, saying that sympathy for an ideology does not incriminate someone. It was that decision that gave Sheetal and Sachin hope for a fair hearing.
These people have not committed a violent crime. Even the State does not accuse them of having committed one. They are being victimised for what they think, or to put it more accurately, what the State assumes they think. By restricting people from singing songs, performing plays or speaking out against injustice, it is reducing the space for dissent a democracy naturally allows. If people are not allowed to voice their grievances publicly, they will be pushed underground. So, in effect, the State is forcing people like them to go against the law.
The Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh has also negatively impacted the general atmosphere. If anyone is accused of being a Naxalite in these volatile times, it becomes a very hard thing to overcome in court or in society.
We are trying to go to the High Court as soon as possible, hopefully before the baby is born. In Sheetal’s case, of course, bail is urgent, but it is important to remember that this is not just an injustice to her. It is an injustice to all the accused who were expecting a chance to have their side of the story heard. In a country where people accused of masterminding the fixing of lucrative cricket matches are given bail in no time, why are radical musicians and performers, one of whom is pregnant, being denied bail? Does justice in this country depend on one’s bank balance?
Anand Patwardhan is a founding member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee.
(As told to Nupur Sonar)