Lodged in Bhopal’s Central Prison, awaiting trial in the Sunil Joshi murder case, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur is still far from breathing the air of freedom. “Though she has been exonerated in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, she is yet to face trial in the Sunil Joshi murder case,” advocate Ganesh Sovani told The Sunday Guardian. Last year, the Dewas court in Madhya Pradesh framed charges against her in the case of murder of RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi in December 2007. Sadhvi will be able to walk free only when she is granted bail in that matter.
Over the past eight years in imprisonment, she has made numerous bail applications, faced rejections, has been shuffled between Mumbai and Dewas for two trials and faced many health woes. Her constant health complaints made the courts appoint members to look into the matter. At one point, a team of doctors from Mumbai’s J.J. Hospital also found her suffering from depression and mental disorder. This was in March 2011. She had also complained of lumber spondylosis, irritable bowel syndrome, for which she was undergoing treatment.
However, her claims of cancer had fallen flat. “She first complained of suffering from cancer in 2009. This is 2016. If she had been really suffering from cancer, imagine what would have happened till now?” asked an official closely associated with the case. In 2014, she herself retracted the cancer claim before the Bombay High Court.
Sadhvi was arrested in 2008 for her alleged role in the 2008 Malegaon blasts. The blasts killed six persons and left over 100 injured. The Anti Terror Squad (ATS), then headed by martyred IPS officer Hemant Karkare, believed that she was involved in the blast conspiracy. The agency said that the bike used for the blasts belonged to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. She had, in turn, said that she had sold the bike to another co-accused two years before the blast.
In a voluminous charge-sheet filed in 2009 by the Maharashtra ATS, it had accused 11 persons, including Sadhvi, of entering into “criminal conspiracy”. “The ideology of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ was the driving force behind the blast,” the 4,500-page charge-sheet had stated. It had listed 389 accused.
A few days after the arrest, Sadhvi made an application seeking bail. The plea was denied. In June 2010, her bail application was rejected for the second time. “I think we had made four bail applications in all. One was by default, the other was on merit, and two were on health grounds. All of them were rejected by the courts,” said Rameshwar Gite, who had once represented Sadhvi. The number of bail applications made in the Sunil Joshi murder case is not known.
The evidence which made courts consistently deny bail to her, has now been dubbed “insufficient” by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). At many junctures in her legal battles, she was represented by legal luminaries like Mahesh Jethmalani and U.R. Lalit.
In February 2011, during her imprisonment in Mumbai for the Malegaon case, she was formally arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police for her alleged involvement in the murder of an RSS co-pracharak Sunil Joshi. Police had then said that Sunil Joshi was killed because the conspirators of the Malegaon blasts believed he would squeal on them.
In April 2011, she again moved a bail application seeking bail for three months for treatment of her ailments. She said that she wanted to take treatment for lumber spinal stenosis and paraplegia. This application was rejected too.
The same year, she complained of harsh treatment by the police after her demand to be taken to Dewas by air was struck down. She said that she was suffering from back problems and other ailments and that she should be flown to Dewas for the Sunil Joshi murder case. But the authorities maintained that she was hale and hearty.
In November 2011, during her stay at the Byculla prison, she sought protection against some African inmates, claiming that she and some other inmates were verbally abused and intimidated by some foreigner inmates. Even then, the jail authorities had denied that Sadhvi was involved in any verbal altercation.
In the same month, she moved a bail application “on merit”. She argued that in the 2008 Malegaon case, no specific role had been attributed to her. “No incriminating evidence has been recovered from me. In October 2008, the ATS only interrogated me on the point of my once-owned LML Freedom two-wheeler,” she had argued.
She has made numerous bail applications, faced rejections, has been shuffled between Mumbai and Dewas for two trials and faced many health woes. Her constant health complaints made the courts appoint members to look into the matter. At one point, a team of doctors from Mumbai’s J.J. Hospital also found her suffering from depression and mental disorder.
She had further claimed that she was arrested only on the basis of the statements of two witnesses recorded on 22 October 2008. “But the same witnesses had lodged a private complaint against Hemant Karkare on 26 November 2008, claiming that they were assaulted, beaten up, threatened and intimidated.” Karkare was killed in terrorist firing during a terror attack in Mumbai on the same date.
She had also argued that the sole piece of evidence, the bike, was not in her possession for more than two years. Again emphasising on health conditions, she sought parity with some other accused in the case like Shivnarayan Gopalsingh Kalsangra, Ajay Rahirkar and Shyam Sahu who had got bail from the Bombay High Court.
In January 2012, the NIA opposed her bail plea. It had then said that there was serious incriminating evidence against her. “There are reasonable grounds to believe prima facie that she is guilty of the offences which are levelled against her as contemplated under section 21(4) of MCOCA [Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime] Act,” the NIA had said in its reply filed before the special MCOC court.
In line with the ATS stand, it had said that it was Sadhvi, a prime accused in the case, who arranged the meetings in which the other accused decided the strategy of the blasts. Citing incriminating evidence against her, the NIA also said that she took the responsibility of providing men for planting the bombs.
The detailed 74-page reply of the NIA has relied on the statements of at least 47 witnesses, confession statements of some of the accused, transcripts of SMSes, intercepted conversations of the accused, among other things.
In February 2011, during her imprisonment in Mumbai for the Malegaon case, she was formally arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police for her alleged involvement in the murder of an Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh co-pracharak Sunil Joshi, who was killed because the conspirators of the Malegaon blasts believed he would squeal on them, according to the police.
The reply refuted the claim made by Sadhvi in her bail plea filed in November 2011 that there was no concrete evidence against her except the two-wheeler used for the blast, which she had sold in 2004. The reply said that the statements given by various witnesses revealed Sadhvi’s complicity in the crime. It said that no case of parity is made out in the case. The court thus denied her bail that year too.
In 2012, her relatives again claimed that she was suffering from cancer. But various tests conducted by the Maharashtra government at different points in time found that she was not suffering from any other major illness, except back ache. The administration had informed this to the courts of law at different points.
Last year too, her bail plea was rejected by the court. Charges were framed against her for her alleged involvement in the Sunil Joshi murder case. “It is sad to see her suffer like this. Our family is a family of patriots, we have grown up hearing stories of revolutionaries. Our lives are dedicated to the well-being of the nation,” said Bhagwan Jha, brother-in-law of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur.