After a 14-month imprisonment at the Central Jail in Nagpur, G.N. Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound Professor of English at Delhi University accused of having Maoist links, is settling back in his house on the varsity campus.
Last Friday, the Mumbai High Court granted him bail for three months, so that he could consult doctors for several ailments. The court’s ruling followed a suo motu litigation based on an e-mail to the Chief Justice by activist Purnima Upadhyay citing a news report in The Hindu that described how Professor Saibaba’s health was deteriorating in the prison.Professor Saibaba sat in a small room of his house decorated with bookracks and old calendars. Months of separation from his family has left him slightly disoriented. He feels something is missing at home.
“I guess the liveliness in the family is gone,” he told The Hindu. “It’s been a traumatic experience for all of us. I don’t know how long it will take us to be happy again.”
Though he is facing charges of being affiliated with the outlawed Maoist leaders, he comes across as a man who has a firm faith in democracy.
In the early 1990s, he started off as a pro-reservation activist, standing against the forces that attempted to scrap the reservation policy for disadvantaged lower-caste Indians. By mid-1990s, he was campaigning against the Andhra Pradesh Police for what he called “encounter killings” of innocents and Naxalites. Most of his peers, he said, were assassinated by unknown assailants, who, he believes, were state-sponsored hit men. “I lost 10 activist friends in a span of 10 years,” he said. “Their fault was that they criticised the killings of Naxalites and claimed their bodies so that they could give them a funeral. That didn’t go down well with the government.”
After he moved to Delhi, he coordinated a campaign against the military offensive in tribal areas, which hurt investment badly. He said the authorities decided that “the best way to stop me was to throw me in jail.”
‘Green Hunt aimed to dislodge tribal people’
In the early 2000s, Dr. Saibaba moved to Delhi to teach English literature at Ramlal Anand College, Delhi University. It was not the fear for life that forced him to leave Andhra Pradesh and migrate to Delhi.
He grew disillusioned with the coursework, which he taught as an adjunct lecturer in a local college for over a decade.
In September 2009, the Congress government launched Operation Green Hunt, a military offensive aimed at flushing out Maoist rebels from across the tribal belt of India. By then, Professor Saibaba’s activism had taken him across the central Indian tribal belt.
“I have been to almost every Adivasi district. It wasn’t that difficult for a physically challenged person like me. The Adivasis took me on their shoulders and walked me up to the hilly forests,” he said.
“I gathered enough evidence that suggested the ruling class wanted access to their resources no matter what. So the Operation Green Hunt was launched to kill, maim and dislodge these people.”
Between 2009 and 2012, when the operation was at its peak, he mobilised public intellectuals under a group named Forum Against War on People.
He coordinated a nationwide campaign against the military offensive, slamming and shaming it to its core.
His campaign, he said, started to bite the government with several international investors withdrawing investments from the tribal belt. On the afternoon of May 9, 2014, he was heading back home from the university, hoping to join his wife and mother for lunch.
A group of policemen in plainclothes stopped his car, dragged the driver out and drove him out of the university campus.The next morning after his arrest from Delhi, Professor Saibaba was flown to Nagpur, where the District Magistrate heard his case and sent him to prison.
“The evidence was that the police had found some press statements [of Maoist leaders] from my pen drive,” he said. “Another piece of evidence was that I had written a letter to some top Maoist leader. To this day, the police never showed me that letter.”
At the country’s most notorious Anda jail, which means egg-shaped prison, Dr. Saibaba was not allowed to use the toilet for the next 72 hours. The harassment took a heavy toll on his health.
Nagpur Prison like Abu Ghraib: said G N Saibaba released on bail after 14 months
Delhi University professor G N Saibaba was on Friday released from Nagpur Central Jail, 59 weeks and six days after his arrest on charges of being a top Naxal leader of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
Suffering from 90% disability, Saibaba was granted bail by a bench of the Bombay HC to seek treatment for a degenerative spine disease and other neurological ailments.
A relieved Saibaba, along with wife Vasantha and a team of lawyers, took a brief break at the residence of a local activist before boarding a Delhi-bound flight. While highlighting the torture of inmates, he compared the Nagpur Central Jail to Iraq‘s Abu Ghraib.
Saibaba said educated and learned people have got alienated from the masses and their grievances, which are highlighted by Maoist ideology . “My education and learning has helped me develop a vision to work for the weaker sections of the society , strive for masses and work for the poor segments.
The society cannot equate me with a terrorist or attribute any such lowly label for that” said Saibaba. “Today , I can value the significance of freedom more while stepping out of custody after 14 months,“ he said. He refrained from making any comment on the case, saying his lawyers would present his side before the court. “I have been granted bail for treatment and cannot comment on the case,“ he said.
“Systemic violence has been stepped up by the state. Violence by any group is the manifestation of the aggression imbibed in the system itself.Unless the systemic violence is ended, no violence can stop. I want to put a stop to that violence” said Saibaba. Missing his classroom and students, he said a majority of the jail inmates are Dalits, Muslims and OBCs, common men slapped with trivial offences. There are only a few gangsters and negligible numbers from upper castes. “Many tribal peopleare being thrown behind bars after being labelled as Naxals. Those people are languishing behind bars without trial or respect for their rights,“ said Saibaba.
Saibaba, who claimed to be missing his classroom and students, said that the majority of the inmates in jail are Dalit, Muslims and other backward classes, common men slapped with trivial offences. There are only a few gangsters and negligible numbers from upper castes. “Many tribal people are being thrown behind bars after being labelled as Naxals. Those people are languishing behind bars without trial or respect for their rights,” said Saibaba.
He said that he too suffered without trial in custody for fighting for the democratic rights of the people. “It is these poor tribals who looked after me and my needs in the jail,” said the professor, who also taught English to the inmates.
“The government had wanted to know the solution of the grievances of the tribals around three years ago. I had forwarded a simple solution of implementing the fifth schedule of the Constitution in toto, which will bring an end to all problems of the tribals. Even today, I want the government to ensure that the constitutional provisions are implemented to give the tribal their rights over their lands and forest,” he said.
Saibaba, while highlighting the torture of the inmates, compared Nagpur Central Jail to Iraq’s Abu Ghraib to highlight its torture. “The jail administration did not physically torture me but their ruthlessness with others after the jail break episode was sickening. They even ignored state chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s instructions not to thrash a man from whom a mobile phone was recovered during the visit of the politician,” said Saibaba.