NCW speaks up for Sadhvi Pragya
by Sandhya Jain on 17 Dec 2008 2 Comments

Since 20 November 2008 when the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act was invoked against Sadhvi Pragya, Lt. Col. Shrikant Purohit and others for alleged involvement in the 29 September Malegaon blast that killed six persons, the elaborately conceived ‘Hindu terrorist’ plot has been falling apart. Yesterday [16 December] the special MCOCA court remanded Lt. Col. Purohit to judicial custody till 18 December. Previously, Sadhvi Pragya and eight other accused got judicial remand till 29 December, a move seen as a serious indictment of the Anti Terror Squad’s failure to produce even prima facie credible evidence against the accused. 

The National Commission for Women has also taken its constitutional mandate seriously, and following a joint representation by over 60 persons to Chairperson Dr. Girija Vyas on 21 November 2008, issued notices to Maharashtra Chief Secretary Johny Joseph [D.O. No. 8/CO502314/MK/NK/NCW/2008/5371] and Director General of Police A.N. Roy [D.O. No. 8/CO502314/MK/NK/NCW/2008/5370] seeking factual information regarding the alleged illegal detention and torture of Sadhvi Pragya.

The notices were issued by Member Secretary S. Chatterjee on 25 November 2008, though strangely, the Commission did not issue any press release nor inform the petitioners, who included such august personalities as Ms. Jaya Jaitly. However, the Commission appears serious about getting the desired information, and as a separate representation has also been made by Dr. Poornima Advani, former chairperson, NCW, matters will be pursued with the necessary vigour.

Dr. Vyas wrote a personal letter to the new Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on 8 December 2008, pointing out that neither the Chief Secretary nor the Director General of Police had replied to the Commission’s queries, a situation that was unchanged till 16 December 2008, when some petitioners met her for a follow-up. As the petitioners had taken up the issue of gross abuse of Sadhvi Pragya’s human rights, dignity, civil liberties, and reputation by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, after her sworn affidavit was submitted in the Nashik court on 17 November, it would be relevant to revisit the charges made therein.

Sadhvi Pragya, a young 38-year-old sannyasin, was residing at a Jabalpur ashram in Madhya Pradesh after taking sanyas on 30 January 2007. Here her life was confined to prayers, meditation, yoga and reading spiritual texts, with no television and hardly any newspapers. However, she also used to travel around north India for religious discourses and sermons.

On 7 October, the Sadhvi was at the Jabalpur Ashram when an officer, Mr. Sawant, of the Maharashtra ATS called to know the whereabouts of her LML Freedom vehicle, which she had sold some years ago. On his insistence that she come to Surat to discuss matters, she duly arrived in the city on 10 October; disciple Bhimbhai Pascricha received her at the railway station.

In Surat, Mr. Sawant informed her that the two-wheeler owned by her was involved in the 29 September Malegaon blast. Acknowledging original ownership of the scooter, Sadhvi Pragya told the officer that she had sold the scooter to one Sunil Joshi of Madhya Pradesh in October 2004 for Rs 24,000/-. This gentleman was murdered in 2007, which made it difficult for the police to trace its subsequent whereabouts; so they tried to pin the crime on the sadhvi.

Officer Sawant asked Sadhvi Pragya to accompany him and his ATS team to Mumbai for further interrogation, but did not formally arrest her on 10 October. In good faith, Sadhvi accompanied by disciple Bhimbhai Pasricha proceeded to Mumbai and arrived in the city on the night of 10 October itself, where she was whisked away to the ATS office at Kalachowkie.

She was subjected to two days of repetitive and sustained interrogation, but stuck to her testimony. On 12 October, the officers lost patience and became aggressive. Initially, Bhimbhai Pasricha was asked to beat her on her palms, forehead, soles of feet, etc with sticks and belts, and beaten severely upon his refusal. When he succumbed to the pressure and beat her, he could not bring himself to seriously inflict pain upon her, so he was thrust aside and the Sadhvi beaten by policeman Khanwilkar, receiving bruises, swelling and contusions.

This torture continued for several days; often she would be woken up at night or early morning, repeatedly questioned, abused, beaten; even her Guru was abused and her chastity questioned. Thus traumatised physically and mentally, she told the court that she even wanted to commit suicide. 

For reasons that remain unclear, on 15 October, Sadhvi Pragya and Bhimbhai Pasricha were lodged in Hotel Rajdoot in Nagpada locality of Mumbai [Room Nos. 315 and 314 respectively]. She was made to make telephone calls from mobile 94066 00004 and another mobile phone not belonging to her, and to speak to some persons, including one female disciple, and say she was residing at a Mumbai hotel and was well. Sadhvi Pragya has offered to reveal the name of her female disciple at an appropriate time.

So stressful was the custodial violence and the resultant mental stress, that Sadhvi Pragya developed acute abdominal and kidney pains, and became nauseous, giddy, and prone to bouts of unconsciousness. This necessitated removal from the hotel and transfer to the Shusrusha Hospital, where she was kept in the ICU. This is a very major development in the case, and it is truly surprising that the media has not tried to interrogate the hospital management in this matter.

After 3-4 days of treatment failed to give results, Sadhvi Pragya was moved to another hospital whose name she could not recall, and was treated here for another 2-3 days.

Throughout this period of illicit custody, torture, transfer to a hotel, and then to two consecutive hospitals, NO female police constable was ever by her side. It is pertinent that after Sadhvi Pragya submitted her sworn affidavit in court on 17 November 2008, the ATS never officially or unofficially denied her charge that female police officers were never present during the custody of the Sadhvi. ATS chief, late Hemant Karkare, was regularly in touch with the media in this period.

It was only on 23 October that Sadhvi Pragya was finally arrested. The Nashik Chief Judicial Magistrate remanded her to police custody till 3 November, an unheard of 10-day police remand for any woman, more particularly a sadhvi

Till 24 October, she had been denied access to a lawyer or any member of her family. During the course of her illegal detention, two polygraph tests and a narco analysis was conducted on her without her consent.

Despite these strenuous attempts to incriminate her, all these investigative tests failed to achieve this objective, and in fairness she should have been let off.

But her ordeal continued and it was only on 2 November that she was permitted to meet her sister, Mrs. Parthibha Bhagwan Jha, who had engaged Advocate Ganesh Sovani on her behalf, and was carrying the vakalatnama to be signed. As this meeting was neither private nor long enough for a meaningful conversation, she maintained silence on the matter of illegal custody and the treatment meted out to her therein.

Hence it was over brief meetings on 12, 13, and 14 November that she could convey her experiences to her lawyer at length, and submit her affidavit in court.

Sadhvi Pragya has alleged custodial abuse and violence, mental and physical torture and prolonged illegal detention. Her charge that ATS held her in custody despite awareness of her innocence due to a mandate from political superiors to implicate Hindu religious extremists in cases of terrorism, have merit.

Despite sustained interrogation of a simple sannyasin from 10 October to 2 November, her complete isolation from family and friends and legal aid, sustained torture and abuse, the ATS was unable to incriminate her in the case. This, she alleged, caused the agency to “subtly reassign” the role of Malegaon blast “mastermind” to Lt. Col. Purohit! That case also now seems to be going nowhere.

Sadhvi Pragya has demanded that the ATS officers who interrogated and tortured her be subjected to the same polygraph and narco tests conducted on her to arrive at the truth of her incarceration, abuse, violation of human rights, and irreparable damage to her fair name and reputation. She has specifically requested that details of her medical treatment at two hospitals (Shusrusha and another) be put on record, and there is need to expedite this request to prevent the tampering of vital records.

Similar records should be procured from the Hotel Rajdoot at Mumbai, and the whereabouts of her disciple, Bhimbhai Pasricha, ascertained and his testimony recorded. Any delay in this regard will be viewed as complicity. The court that is overseeing the prosecution of this case would do well to know that far more than Sadhvi Pragya, Lt Col Purohit and others, it is Justice that is on trial in the court of public opinion. And the ATS’ failure to reply to notices sent by the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women is akin to an admission of guilt.

The author is Editor.

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top