by Garima Aggarwal
Disclaimer – The information / views provided in the ‘answers’ to the questions below are solely of Sadhavi Pragya’s sister, Pratibha Jha and her husband, Bhagwan Jha. The writer is only the interviewer. The writer does believe that Pragya Thakur is innocent like hundreds of Indian citizens, but she has no means to validate the given information and therefore does not endorse it. The writer believes that Indian judiciary will do justice.
Acknowledgements – Thanks to each and every person who helped in making this interview reach this page. (Thanks to my spiritual gurus).
Q: Lets begin with the beginning. How difficult was it to believe that sadhavi pragya was an accused in malegaon blasts case? Did you anticipate this accusation?
BJ & PJ: No, we could not. We were shocked. If you look at our family background, we, specially sadhavi was always involved in various social welfare and dharmic activities. Our father (sadhavi’s father) was an ayurvedic acharya and our family environment was very patriotic. He would narrate biographies of great people and discuss their lives every evening. Sadhavi pragya’s childhood was spent in Bhind zila, Lahar tensil in MP. When she was in 8th standard, she once ran an education program for girls for 22 days, forcing the government to provide proper schooling / college facilities. As time passed, every family began trusting pragya didi and started sending their daughters with her for patriotic and religious activities. After completing 10th standard, she became a pracharak / vistarak. Later she worked as ‘Sangathan Mantri’ with ABVP for 17 to 18 years. Since she had no desire to get married, she decided to spend her life working for the country and sanatan dharma, and finally took sanyas (renounced domestic life) when she was about 35 years old. We had never imagined that a day would come when we will have to spend years defending her innocence.
Q: So, why do you think she became an accused?
BJ: If you would remember, in 2008, Swami Laxmanand Saraswati was murdered in Orissa. All the people close to him hinted at church padres’ involvement in his murder. Pragya di was very vocal in public regarding this issue.Then news came that some local people / adivasis had beaten those padres in anger, and a lot of people began blaming sadhavi pragya for this reactive incident. She came into the eyes of powerful people. In 2009, in an adhiveshan in Maharashtra, Pawar of NCP party had even publicly claimed that he was the one who manufactured the term ‘Hindu Terror’. Basically, Sonia Gandhi & team tried to fill up the gap between patriotism and their political policy by inventing this term called ‘Hindu Terror’.
Q: How did it all begin? Sudarshan TV once ran a series on sadhavi pragya in which it was said that her detention was illegal and she was severely tortured. Would you like to speak about it?
PJ: Pragya di was living in Jabalpur ashram in those days. My mother was diagnosed with TB and so my parents were living with me at that point of time. It was afternoon and the door bell rang. Inspector Sawant of ATS and Surat’s police officer VK Aiyer came in. We called our father outside in the living room. I glanced outside the door and was surprised to see 4 police jawans standing along the periphery of our house. I went into the kitchen and was again shocked to see another 4 standing along the backside of our house. They had circled our house. Inspector told us that they just needed a little information from pragya di. We told them that she stayed in jabalpur now. They insisted on calling her to surat (they didn’t want to go to jabalpur) and said that since our family was known for patriotism, we must help them in providing all information. Ironically, pragya di too felt happy that she could be of any help to Indian police and agreed to come to surat. Since she was a sanyasi, she chose to stay at a disciple’s house in surat. To our total shock, she was kidnapped from that house by ATS and taken to Mumbai. Not a single paper / notice (under 160 Act or so) was left for us to see, they did not approach the court for her detainment. That’s how her illegal detention of 14 days began, from 10th Oct 2008 to 23rd Oct 2008.
The horrific treatment that she was put through, is now known to some people. Every attempt was made to make her agree to her involvement in the crime, but she did not give in. Then they wanted her to die or become mad in prison. Since she was a sanyasi and never used to eat without praying or offering food to her deity first, she stayed just on water for all 14 days of unexpected detention. Beating her in shifts and use of expletives by male police officers were everyday things. In spite of being a woman, she was always surrounded and tortured by policemen, instead of police women. One day, she was kicked so hard like a football that a layer of her lungs collapsed, leading to a condition called Pneumomediastinum. She had to be put on ventilator for 5 days. But they didn’t let that happen smoothly. They kept shifting her deliberately from hospital to hospital. They had realized that she wouldn’t agree to committing the terrorist act, so it also turned into retaliatory torture. Sadhavi di survived through things like removing oxygen pipe, making her walk through stairs to the 3rd floor in hospital with collapsed lungs etc. They would wake her up at 2 am or so in middle of the night and scream in her ears expecting her to lose mental balance. But she held on to her sanity and life.
Her spirituality and religiousness was used to torture her. She was shown pornographic videos in the presence of police men to destroy her self respect. It is very difficult for us to tell you in exact words the things that were done and spoken to her. Like once they asked her, ‘Which book do you read?’. She replied, ‘Geeta’. They brought a copy of it and flung it in the air, kicked it and kept it under their feet in front of her. Once they changed her clothes while she was unconscious, we don’t know who did that. She was wearing her bhagwa clothes and they changed her into a white salwar kameez without her knowledge. Pragya di was extremely shocked with this incident and we can only hope that women did it. By the end of this illegal detention period of 14 days, sadhavi di had lost about 18 to 20 kg weight.
And we had no idea this was happening to her! Whenever we used to call them, they would lie to us saying that sadhavi was put up comfortably in a hotel and was providing information to senior police officer, and that there was nothing to worry and she would be dropped back. We were totally kept in dark!
Q: So how did you finally come to know of the reality? What happened after that? It is said that sadhavi was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Is this true?
PJ: We got to know through media that pragya di has been accused in malegaon blasts case. The first court appearance was in Nashik and later the case was shifted to Mumbai HC. We have not been financially affluent and therefore affording to stay in mumbai was a challenge for us. So, I usually traveled almost daily from surat to Mumbai for long periods of time. When we sought the first meeting with her in jail, the police and their staff showed extreme apathy. The humiliation and intimidation we suffered at the hands of ATS, Hemant Karkare, Inspector Sawant & team is beyond explanation. For 3 days, I went to the police station and sat there till late evening, but nobody replied with proper information. They would just say, ‘You have to sit & wait’. Since we had to save whatever money we had, for fighting the case further, I would just walk down to every place instead of hiring an auto or travelling by bus. And I was usually always followed (by ATS people). Finally, after 3 days I was told that Hemant Karkare was the authority to approve my meeting with pragya di. The experience of taking his approval was very bitter.
His room had dim lights primarily only around him. He looked at me very angrily and shouted, ‘bol’ (say).I told him that I wanted to meet my sister. He roared rudely, ‘Kyon, tamasha karna hai? (why? to create a ruckus?). I was surprised at his extreme rudeness for no reason, every accused’s family has the right to meet him/her so why unnecessary rudeness. He said things like ‘tumhara baap jhooth bolta hai’ (Your father is lying). I stood my ground and told him that I must meet my sister. Inspector Parambir Singh entered the room and gave me very ugly looks, from top to bottom, took a round around me. My heart skipped a beat, there was nobody else in the room except the 3 of us. Finally, Hemant Karkare screamed on top of his voice that I could meet my sister for few minutes. I asked him the time and he again shouted ‘6.30 pm’. I moved out with a racing pulse and after walking for a while, sat on a bench and cried my heart out.
It was only at around 9.30 pm that they finally let me see pragya di for 10 minutes.The scene in her prison cell was also very intimidating. Policemen were standing in all 4 corners of the room, must be around 8 of them. Inspector Sawant was sitting on a chair and sadhavi di was standing on one side. I could not recognize her at all. She had become almost half her size with sunken eyes and her hands were all black. She called me to her side but we could hardly talk properly with so many policemen staring at us. There was no police woman there at that time. She did not sign the vakalatnama (the legal deed to hire a lawyer) that day inspite of me asking her repeatedly. And 10 mins were over!
Much later after this incident, she told me that she was threatened with dire consequences (to her family) if she signed the vakalatnama on that day. Similarly, when she was standing in the court witness box for the first time, an ATS police woman Suvarna Shinde, who was standing next to her almost holding her kept threatening with dire consequences if she spoke too much. Even during her entire tenure in jail till last year, she was severely inconvenienced several times. There were 3 attempts to get her murdered by muslim prisoners in jail, twice in byculla jail and once in Nashik central jail. The torture had damaged her cervical and lumbar spine and living in prison became a painful nightmare for her. Then they resorted to things like mixing egg in her food routinely, we requested for home made food in the court, and got it approved after a considerable fight. But they would allow only 2 chapatis for her and used to remove salad, salt etc from the food packet. We were shocked to see that all prisoners were given unclean water to drink. There was only one kind of water, same water was being used for drinking, bathing and in the toilet. When she was taken to Dewas (MP) from Mumbai for a court appearance, they deliberately made her travel in sleeper class in the train with a damaged spine. They never really allowed proper treatment until recently. Sudarshan TV showed a short video of her crying in pain on stature when shifted to bhopal. She was yelling in pain, ‘I want treatment first, then I’ll go to jail’. The video is also uploaded on you tube. She was tentatively diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 itself, but the police hushed it up and she really was never allowed proper treatment. We also think that media was either reluctant or intimidated and did not publicize her health issues and injustices enough. She is now being allowed ayurvedic treatment as per her wish and is currently put up in hospital. But her health issues are not fully reversible and she continues to suffer from painful spine and cancer.
The incidents of torture and deliberately causing her inconvenience are many more. The interview will run into hours, so stopping here.
Q: You didn’t choose to approach National Human Rights Commission and National Womens Commission?
BJ: We approached NHRC & NWC right away, in Oct 2008 only. But you know, since the whole case was a conspiracy from very powerful people, there was no real action. From NWC, we just received an acknowledgement of the complaint that they are seeking response from concerned people. NHRC had not done anything till 2014. Only when the central government changed in 2014, NHRC told us that they have given a request to Maharashtra Home Ministry for a probe. So, years passed by following up and nothing really happened.
Q: The biggest evidence against Sadhavi Pragya is that one of the bikes found near the blast site was registered in her name. What would you say on this?
BJ: The truth is that sadhavi had sold that bike in 2004 in surat. She had filled the owner transfer form but the new owner did not get the registration done. She did not ask that person again. And forensic lab clearly gave the ‘possibility’ of 3 numbers that could be there at the blast site. Who were the other two? Did we see or hear interrogations happening on other 2 numbers? Only sadhavi’s bike was chosen. And look at the stark truth, the date on the letter sent by ATS maharashtra to Surat RTO asking about the owner of the bike is 17th Oct 2008. And they had already called up sadhavi pragya on 7th Oct 2008 in the name of providing information. It shows that either the bike was planted or the bike was never there and she was framed on a false report.
Q: So who do you think is really behind the samjhauta express blasts?
BJ: See, the US intel and other international reports had suggested this as work of LeT or HUJI terrorists. Even David Headley’s wife had admitted that LeT had a hand in these blasts. I think the blasts were carried out by 4 IEDs and you know, agencies have not been able to trace and link the sourcing of explosives with sadhavi pragya or so called hindu terror. No arms or explosives were found in her ashram. Finally, Supreme court too gave us relief from MCOCA in April this year.
Q: It is said that the chargesheet against Sadhavi Pragya (and other accused) has not been filed till now. Please clarify on this.
BJ: Chargesheet in this case has become a joke in itself. Its a sad story of using the judicial framework to keep lingering on the detainment. The case was first under ATS maharashtra and they had filed a chargesheet of 4,500 pages funnily. In 2009, they applied MCOCA in this case in order to prevent bail. However, before the trial could begin, the then government stated that it was not satisfied with ATS work and the case was handed over to CBI. The whole process started all over again and before CBI could get the trial started, the govt again transferred the case to NIA in 2011. The NIA has not been able to file the chargesheet till now, been almost 4 years. And all this while, the accused have been in prison only.
Q: Have you heard the latest statement of Ex PP Rohini Salian stating that some NIA officials were telling her to go soft on the accused in this case? Do you know that an activist called Harsh Mandar has filed a PIL in SC accusing the current government of influencing this case? Any comments?
BJ & PJ: To be honest, Rohini Salian has negated many facts in this case. She disregarded all the torture /health issues of sadhavi di even when they were staring in the eye. She opposed her bails even when she could see that sadhavi was not even able to stand on her own and needed support to move. She used to say, ‘Natak kar rahi hai’ (she is acting). And anyway her term was ending and she had to move on, don’t know why she made that statement. May be the conspiracy continues. The whole case is a manufactured one, reeks of conspiracy. This PIL is actually not a shock to us. The sad part is middle class people with no prior experience with lawyers and judiciary just get entangled in the web of judicial formalities, we neither have influential approaches nor bags of money. Our experience with lawyers is a long story in itself, will talk about this some other time.
Q: Any message you would like to give to Indian Judiciary and Govt of India?
BJ & PJ: Truthfully, the biggest disappointment in this case has been the failure of 3 biggest national agencies (ATS, CBI & NIA) to complete the investigation in 7 long years! Though we have not been given justice as yet, we still believe in indian democracy and judiciary. We don’t want to raise a question mark on our systems, because they are our own. We have been victimized by a particular government / set of powerful people, but because of that, we cannot question our own constitution. Our faith in our constitution and judiciary is unshakable. We are hopeful that justice will come one day. That’s our only message.
PS : Writer / Interviewer’s word – The allegations are serious and if the story is true, it is disappointing that this happened in a democracy. Will the justice ever be given to this case (and similar cases)? May be an SIT will find out the truths? Lets stay hopeful! Thanks for reading it till the end.