Delhi University assistant professor Hany Babu, an undertrial prisoner in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, is suffering from acute eye infection and has been deprived of proper medical care, his family claimed on Tuesday and sought appropriate medical treatment for him.
Babu was arrested in July 2020 in the Elgar Parishad case and is currently lodged in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai. The Elgar Parishad case is related to alleged inflammatory speeches delivered at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, a day ahead of the Bhima Koregaon event, which later turned violent. The police claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists and it incited the violence.
Babu has been in custody for almost a year without trial. Recently, he developed an acute eye infection on May 3 and has little or no vision in his left eye due to swelling, his family including wife Jenny Rowena and two brothers said in a statement. The infection has spread to Babu’s cheek, ear and forehead, and it will pose a significant risk to his life if it spreads to the brain, the family said, adding that he has double vision now.
“He is in agonising pain and is unable to sleep or perform daily chores. Due to an acute water shortage in the prison, he does not have access to clean water to even bathe his eye and is forced to dress his eye with soiled towels,” Babu’s family said.
In absence of the treatment facility at the prison, Hany Babu had requested consultation and treatment by a specialised doctor. But he was not taken for consultation due to the unavailability of an escort officer, the family informed. However, after his lawyers sent an email to the prison superintendent on May 6, he was finally taken to a government hospital in Vashi the next day. He was examined by an Ophthalmologist and prescribed anti-bacterial medication. The doctor advised him to return for follow-up treatment in two days, which the prison did not facilitate again due to the lack of escort personnel, according to the jailed professor’s family.
Even after being contacted by Babu’s lawyers several times regarding his follow up treatment and concerns about further deterioration of the infection causing permanent damage to his eyesight, Babu was not taken to the hospital till May 11.
“Through the last few days, we have been beside ourselves with anxiety. The thought of Hany Babu having to beg for something as basic as essential health services is heart wrenching. Even today, we were unable to get a response from the prison, despite repeated calls by Ms. Roy (Babu’s lawyer),” Babu’s family said. They have publicly requested immediate access to proper medical care to the undertrial prisoner and transparency in the process to ensure Babu’s constitutional rights.
Besides human rights and international conventions directing healthcare rights of prisoners, the Model Prison Manual released by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2016 also lists health under ‘right to basic minimum needs’. It states that prisoners have “Right to fulfillment of basic minimum needs such as adequate diet, health, medical care and treatment, access to clean and adequate drinking water, access to clean and hygienic conditions of living accommodation, sanitation and personal hygiene, adequate clothing, bedding and other equipment.” Yet, there is a infringement on these rights within custodial institutions, as has been seen in several cases in recent times including in the case of Varavara Rao, who was also lodged in Taloja jail in the Elgar Parishad case. After a long fight, the ailing jailed poet was finally granted bail in February on medical grounds.
It is just a week back that the Supreme Court had to reaffirm the prisoner’s right to medical care. It ruled that an undertrial prisoner’s right to life does not diminish when in jail as an accused for an offence and said such a person’s health concerns have to be taken care of by the state and, if not done so, then by the judiciary. A three-judge bench including Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and A S Bopanna gave the ruling while imparting direction to the Uttar Pradesh government to shift arrested journalist Siddique Kappan to a government hospital in Delhi.