Mr R R Patil
Home Minister, Maharashtra
Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali are members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a group which uses protest music and theatre to campaign on human rights issues, including dalit rights and caste-based violence and discrimination in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.
On 2 April 2013, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali appeared before the legislative assembly of Maharashtra in what they said was a protest against the charges levelled against them. They were arrested by the Mumbai police and brought before a magistrate, who remanded Sheetal Sathe to judicial custody until 17 April, and Sachin Mali to police custody until 10 April. According to her mother, Sheetal Sathe is six months pregnant.
Less than two years ago KKM members were finally forced to go underground after police began to describe them as Naxalites. Two of their members were charged and arrested under the UAPA.Fearing police arrest and torture and the possible planting of evidence, Sachin and Sheetal had stayed out of public sight till now. This period of enforced absence from the public stage has been a difficult one for a group as talented and popular as KKM.
Last year KKM began to entertain the hope of working openly again when a documentary film in which they featured, “Jai Bhim Comrade”, began to be screened widely and won a National award as well as Maharashtra State recognition.
More recently the Bombay High Court granted bail to two arrested members of KKM, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth, ruling that unless the police makes out a case that an actual crime has been committed by the accused, they cannot interpret the UAPA to arrest people merely on the basis of any alleged ideology.Emboldened by these events to hope that due process of law can still bring justice even in these unjust times, and encouraged by signs that there is a civil society that will monitor their progress, Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe have decided to test the depth of our democratic system.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau of the home ministry, Maharashtra tops the list of custodial deaths in the country in the past 10 out of 12 years; in that entire period, it recorded about 23% of such deaths in the country. In 2011, the last year for which the data is available, most number of such deaths-40 out of 122-in the country are from the state.
- We urge that due process of law is followed in their cases and Maharashtra authorities ensure that Sachin Mali is protected from torture and other ill-treatment while in police custody, and Sheetal Sathe, who is six months pregnant, is provided with any medical care that she requires.
- We also urge the Maharashtra authorities to ensure that Sheetal Sathe, Sachin Mali and the other accused activists are tried in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards.
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