According to his son, who visited him on June 3, Muralidharan, 64, frequently complains of chest pain. “He wants to consult a cardiologist but the prison officials are denying him the opportunity by holding his medical records,” he said. “They would hand over the records only if ordered by the
courts. So my father wants to approach the courts.”
Muralidharan’s health has been a cause of concern for activists across the world, particularly since he was admitted for two weeks in Pune’s Sassoon Hospital with severe chest pain on September 1, 2016. The Maoist leader, also known as Murali Kannampilly or by his nom de guerre Ajith, had undergone a heart surgery a few years ago. On September 6, the renowned American intellectual Noam Chomsky joined human rights activists, academics, writers and philosophers from India and abroad to demand proper medical treatment for Muralidharan. Chomsky also asked that the jailed rebel be given a fair, transparent and speedy trial or be set free. The demand was endorsed by Professors Gayatri Chakarvorty Spivak, Judith Butler and Partha Chatterjee, among others.
Denying proper medical care to a prisoner contravenes Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and liberty. Many judgements over the years have held that harming a prisoner’s body or mental faculties contravenes the right to life. The prison officials’ refusal to release Muralidharan’s medical records also flies in the face of the recommendations submitted by the All India Committee on Jail Reforms, set up in 1983 to devise a plan for prison infrastructure and treatment of inmates. Apart from ensuring their physical well-being, the committee asked jail authorities to be sensitive to prisoners’ perceptions, emotions and thinking, regardless of whether or not they had committed the offence they stood convicted of.
The Prisons Act of 1894 too shows leniency towards critically ill inmates, empowering the prison medical officer to shift them to wherever proper medical care is available.
Muralidharan was arrested on May 8, 2015 while he was being treated in a hospital in Talegaon Dhabada, about 30 km from Pune. He was charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for being associated with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) as well as under penal provisions related to forging, carrying and using “security documents”
At the Yerawada jail, inmates who take ill are often referred to Sassoon Hospital, said Susan Abraham, a lawyer and member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, a civil rights group based in Mumbai. “The prison doctors’ panel doesn’t have a single cardiologist,” she added.
Asked why the jail officials are not releasing Muralidharan’s medical records, Abraham said “they think it will help the undertrial demand bail.” “But they haven’t given us anything in writing as we could challenge it in court,” she added. “They are not at all concerned about Muralidharan’s health or of any other inmates for that matter.”
Abraham said every prisoner is entitled to get a copy of their medical records. Her position is supported by the Council for Advancement and Protection of Constitutional Rights in India. “It is an essential document for seeking any external medical opinion,” the civil rights organisation based in Kochi, Kerala, said in a statement.
The council asked for an independent medical to assess Muralidharan’s condition. But he “should be given proper medical care first”, the statement added.