Journalist Venugopalʹ s conversation with VV in Pune
Friends, Monday was the date for Bhima Koregaon case in Pune Special Judgeʹs court. Sahaja, Anala, Pavana, three daughters of Varavara Rao and I went to meet him.
We were waiting in the court since 12 noon and around 2.30 we came to know that Varavara Rao and others were brought into the court premises. We heard that they would be kept in a lock-up room within the court premises till their case is called. We hoped to see them there itself. Usually in Hyderabad or anywhere else the under-trial prisoners would be brought in police vans to the court premises and the vans will be stationed in the open ground. Though the vans have meshed windows, one can stand at a distance to put in a word, gesticulate or at least to see their near and dear. We had such experiences with Varavara Rao hundreds of times since 1973.
However, Pune court premises had a smaller enclosure inside with police offices. The vans from the jail are stationed inside that enclosure, the gates of which are heavily guarded. Ragini Ahuja, advocate for Sudha Bharadwaj tried to go near the van and we tried to follow her. But all of us, including the lawyer were shooed away. The thick mesh on the windows did not allow us to recognize the faces inside the vans but we saw some hands waving at us.
Finally around 2.45 all of them were brought into the court building. Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferriera and Varavara Rao were in one van and they were brought first. Then came Sudha Bharadwaj from another van. Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawle, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut were brought later. Thus except Shoma Sen, everybody was there. All of them are old friends except Mahesh whom I never met earlier. Seeing all of them together was a joy. Seeing all of them in good health and high spirits was more joy. Despite police admonitions and pushes, hugging each of them even for a few seconds was actually bliss.
Since another case was going on in the court all our friends were made to sit on a bench in the corridor. Besides us who went from Hyderabad there were about 15 others who came from Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore to see our friends. Though the police cordoned off our friends sitting on the bench all of us could squeeze 10 or 15 minutes peeping in between and tiptoeing on the shoulders of the constables standing around.
Then VV said his throat was getting dry and we offered our water bottle to him. Even before he took in a gulp, policemen objected and tried to snatch it. Prisoners are not supposed to eat or drink anything from others! We protested and asked why a daughterʹs water offering to her father was objected. Then the policemen said we may bring a sealed water bottle! I ran down from this third floor and within five minutes back with new sealed bottles and by that time they were brought out and made to sit in a larger porch area of stair case and lifts as the earlier corridor was too narrow. There we could converse for another 10 or 15 minutes.
Then they were taken into the court hall. There were arguments for about an hour and a half on three issues. Initially Surendra Gadling continued arguments on his bail application and he was as eloquent as I mentioned in an earlier post. This time round he made his arguments mostly in Marathi and I could not make out much, but at least on three occasions the entire court hall reverberated with laughter as he cracked jokes. Even the judge, who usually presents a stoic, unexpressive (or police-friendly) face, could not but laugh at the jokes. Later I gathered from Marathi friends that Surendra ridiculed the public prosecutorʹs objection to him having hand gloves and commented that she may object him wearing socks also. He also said the PP was giving a completely different answer to any question as if the surgeon who was supposed to operate on the left eye did surgery on the right eye. In between he also switched on to English and said ʹmy arguments are based on law and her arguments are in the airʹ.
Then arguments were made on the bail applications of Mahesh and others as well as the prosecution not providing the relevant papers and documents to the accused or their lawyers. The advocates brought a glaring inconsistency to the notice of the judge: ʹIn the charge sheet submitted to the Supreme Court, the prosecution said the examination of the electronic devises seized from the accused is not yet complete. But in this court, they are reeling out many details of the material from those devices and pleading to reject the bail. Which one is true, whether it is the statement before the apex court or here?ʹ The judge has nothing to say to this exposure!
Then Sudhir Dhawle wanted to know why a letter he wrote to his family was refused to be sent by the jail authorities. He asked the judge to find out the objectionable matter in the letter. The PP asked for a copy of the letter. Sudhir gave a copy immediately and the PP read it at least twice from top to bottom. Maybe she could not get anything and asked for an adjournment! The judge readily accepted and posted it to December 20!
Strangely, the jail authorities are asking us to get a direction from the court for any book to be given to the prisoners. Varavara Rao asked for English-English as well as Eglish-Telugu dictionaries and some books for reading. We took the dictionaries, Pablo Nerudaʹs poetry, Jack Londonʹs novels and short stories and Amitav Ghoshʹs novel. We had to file a petition and even on that petition, the verdict was posted to a later hearing!
When Varavara Rao asked ʹmy family members have come all the way from Hyderabad, give me some time to spend with them,ʹ the judge said ʹonly blood relativesʹ and the PP said ʹonly in the presence of policeʹ in one voice! Even before five minutes, police brought Vernon and Arun and asked us to leave. We protested and then they said you can use the time to walk till the van to converse! That was another five minutes. But even before that, the escorting jamedar said, ʹbahut baat hogaya, peth nahin bhare (talked a lot, are you not satisfied?). I retorted, ʹare you ever satisfied talking to your family in two minutesʹ. But by that time we almost reached the gate and we were stopped. When Varavara Rao left us and entered the premises, I could not control crying and flood of tears.
Varavara Rao usually cannot bear chill and Pune is always five-six degrees lesser than Hyderabad. At this age of 78 he is being made to sleep on the floor in that cold Yerawada prison. But he doesnʹt have any complaint. He is as positive and courageous as ever. He was speaking as evocatively as ever. Though every prisoner is sent to solitary cell during night, in the day time he and Vernon are together with a couple of Muslim prisoners who are awaiting death sentence. He said the Muslim prisoners are very helpful and cooperative. He said he was able to write and just finished a longish essay in Telugu recollecting his first and last acquaintance with Bhoomaiah and Kishta Goud in Musheerabad jail just before they were hanged on December 1, 1975. But this essay cannot be sent out as the jail authorities will not allow it on the pretext that they do not have a Telugu-knowing censor.
He enquired about a number of friends and asked us to convey his regards. He asked about various social and political developments in which he is unable to participate and respond.
- N. Venugopal,Keywords : varavara rao, bima koregoan, case, pune police, accused, court
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