The Bombay High Court Wednesday granted bail to lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, after four years of imprisonment for allegedly attempting to wage war against the government of India and the government of Maharashtra.
The case concerns allegedly provocative comments delivered at the Elgaar Parishad conclave in December 2017 which was celebrating the victory of the Mahar Dalits in the Battle of Koregaon between the East India Company and the upper caste Peshwas of the Maratha empire. Officials claimed these statements sparked the violence and rioting witnessed at the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day. Between June to August 2018, the authorities arrested sixteen activists and academicians involved with the conclave, alleging that they had links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
According to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), their primary goal was to establish a “Janata Sarkar (people’s government) through revolution and armed struggle to seize power from the State.” It also alleged that the accused intended to instil fear in the minds of people by using explosive substances.
They were charged under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code including conspiracy, abetment of offence, waging war against the State, sedition, arms in procession and statements promoting mischief. They were also charged under various sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, such as terrorist activities, being part of terrorist organisations etc.
Bharadwaj applied for bail, as stipulated under the Code of Criminal Procedure, after the 90-day period between her arrest and appearance before the magistrate had expired. However, the judge extended the detention period by 90 days and once the charge sheet was filed in February 2019, he took issued procedures against Bharadwaj. In her plea before the Bombay High Court, Bharadwaj’s lawyers argued that a designated special judge under the NIA Act lacks authority to extend the detention by 90 days and take cognizance of the offences.
Bharadwaj is currently detained at a women’s prison in Byculla, Mumbai. On 8 December, she will be brought before the special NIA court at Mumbai which will decide on her bail conditions and release date. Among the 16 activists and academicians arrested, Bharadwaj is the first to be granted default bail. The bail applications of her co-accused were rejected by the Bombay high court. In July, Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest, died in a private hospital while awaiting medical bail by the court.