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Maharashtra: Raising the bar from behind bars

Updated on: 08 May,2024 06:48 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Bhima-Koregaon accused Mahesh Raut and Sagar Gorkhe clear law exam even as their own controversial case drags on

Maharashtra: Raising the bar from behind bars

Mahesh Raut and Sagar Gorkhe

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Maharashtra: Raising the bar from behind bars

Two of the 16 activists charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the Bhima-Koregaon case cleared their Common Entrance Test (CET) for law college admission while in jail, clinging to hope for bail and an eventual declaration of innocence by the court. For the past six years, Mahesh Raut and Sagar Gorkhe, both 36, have spent their days in Taloja jail surrounded by undertrials. Their families and friends said this experience motivated them to become lawyers, providing legal aid to those in need.

Mahesh Raut scored 99.79 percentile while Sagar Gorkhe scored 57.70 percentile. According to the NCRB's Prison Statistics India (PSI) report, of the total 5,73,220 prisoners across India, 4,34,302 were undertrials as of December 2022. Maharashtra had 41,070 people inside its 64 prisons awaiting the courts to seal their fates. “Most of them are likely innocent, but have no money for bail or any legal representation,” said a relative of Mahesh. 

The  violence broke out on January 1, 2018. File Pic/X
The  violence broke out on January 1, 2018. File Pic/X

Up until now, Sagar had been working as an artist for political and social change with the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM)—a Marathi-Hindi performance group that highlights the struggles of deprived communities. Mahesh, on the other hand, who was the youngest activist until Sagar's arrest in 2020, is a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) graduate in social work and has focused his work towards the land rights of Adivasi communities.

Mahesh was granted bail last September by the Bombay High Court, which was stayed later on by the Supreme Court. According to Mahesh's relative, he prepared for the exams using old books he found in the library one month prior to the exams. “As soon as he received the admit card, he had to submit an application in the court seeking permission to appear for the exam,” the relative said.

In Sagar's case, he has been preparing for CET since late last year. “He wants to represent those coming from poor families and marginalised communities like himself. We provided him with some books last year,” said Ramdas, a member of KKM and Sagar's friend since 2008. “Across the world, researchers, activists and experts have called this a fake case and yet everybody is still behind bars,” Ramdas said.

It was the first time in all these years that Sagar made bail which was granted for his brother's wedding. “The session’s court had rejected it and then the HC granted it,” Ramdas said. “He was in Pune. We met him after so many years. We sang together and shared a meal together. It was an emotional moment.” Meanwhile, Mahesh's relative said this was the first time in six years that he used a computer.

The 2018 protests

On January 1, 2018, protests and violence spread across Maharashtra following an attack on a gathering of Dalit people at Bhima-Koregaon. The initial investigation was focused on pro-Hindutva leaders as suspects, but then took a surprising turn when known activists, lawyers, and academicians were accused of instigating violence through speeches and subsequently arrested arrested by the NIA under the Centre. The last round of arrests was in 2020, with Sagar Gorkhe, Delhi University Prof. Hany Babu, and Jyoti Jagtap and Ramesh Gaichor from Kabir Kala Mach being jailed. Another prominent public intellectual to be arrested was Anand Teltumbde, grandson-in-law of Dr B R Ambedkar. Of those arrested, six were released on bail recently, including Teltumbde.

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