Pradeep Bhalekar, who runs a Vada Pav stall in Thane, has filed a Public Interest Litigation against alleged leniency displayed by the jail administration towards actor Sanjay Dutt.
The 30-year-old has served more than four years in jail for various other offences, before he turned an RTI activist. He was twice booked under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
Explaining his previous convictions, he blames it on poverty and a troubled childhood. He grew up in the slums at Vakola. He lost his father at the age of six and his mother, who worked as a maid raised him alone. Bhalekar protests that “People conspired against me. You know the poor are always helpless,” He was booked in an extortion case when he was yet to appear for his Class 10 exams. “I fell in bad company. Though I was no way connected to that crime, I was implicated just because I was part of the group that committed the crime,” he reasons.
“Poverty compelled me to join a local gang. But I suffered a lot for my association,” he says.
Post Bhalekar’s acquittal, his family shifted to Kurar to start a new life. However, he was booked twice between 2005 and 2007 by the MCOCA. He says his fight against abuse of law made him a target. “Some local politicians, police and builders conspired against me when I opposed illegal usurping of slum land. While in the first case I was discharged 15 days after the arrest, in the other case too, I was discharged after a while,” “I started an “Andolan” against the wrongful use of MCOCA while in Kalyan jail, which later spread to Arthur Road and Thane jails.” This led to a police booking him under Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous (activities) Act (MPDA) following his release, in a vengeful act.
“It’s my fight for justice for the hundreds of ordinary prisoners languishing in prisons all over the state for years without parole or remittance of sentence. I want to expose the system’s bias towards the high and the mighty. Sanjay Dutt is incidental,” says Bhalekar, who heads the Mahatma Gandhi Manavdhikar Forum and Samajik Karyakarta Sanrakshak Samiti. “Both my organisations fight for the protection of human rights and spreading Gandhian ideology,” he claims.
Bhalekar’s petition has led the Bombay High Court to ask the state government to justify the assessment of good behaviour of Dutt that led to his early release from along with the frequent paroles granted to him. Dutt had been awarded five years imprisonment for possession of arms, which was part of the consignment used in the 1993 serial blasts. However, last year, the actor was let off eight months prior to the completion of the term on account of good behaviour.
“Hundreds of MPDA detainees in jails all over the state joined me on a hunger strike. The strike continued for months and was widely reported in the media,” he claims. Bhalekar who is presently writing a book to expose pitiable living conditions in jail across Maharashtra, says this incident made him renew his struggle against the system.
While mocking Dutt’s adoption of Gandhian values in his film ‘Lagey Raho Munnabhai’, he says “I was the first to start Gandhigiri in jails.”