The Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba with Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) held a united protest in association with more than 40 organisations from all over Delhi and other states condemning the re-arrest of Dr. GN Saibaba and the charge of contempt of court on Arundhati Roy. Dr. Saibaba is a professor of English in Ram Lal Anand College of Delhi University and a democratic rights activist who has spoken for the rights of dalits, adivasis and oppressed masses for over twenty years and led a campaign against the state sponsored war codenamed Operation Green Hunt in Central India. He is also a man with 90% physical disability and moves in a wheelchair. Despite this, the Maharashtra Police has charged him under various sections of UAPA, declared him a “dreaded Maoist”, held him in the ‘anda’ cell of the Nagpur Central Prison for 14 months. During this time it has not been able to prove any of charges made against him. He was released on interim bail by the Bombay High Court in May 2015 on medical grounds as his health deteriorated rapidly inside jail, the muscle degenerated and he developed paralysis in his left hand and the prison condition aggravated his heart and spinal problems while adding to complications in his kidney. However, while he was undergoing treatment for life threatening ailments, the court order of 23rd December 2015 of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court cancelled his bail and alleged a ‘conspiracy’ to establish medical grounds. He was remanded back to Nagpur Central Jail within 48 hours, incidentally when the courts were on Winter Vacation, so that he would not be able to file against the order. This Single Bench Judgment also charged writer and activist Arundhati Roy with contempt of court for writing an article titled ‘Professor, P.O.W.’ in Outlook magazine in May 2015 seeking the release of Dr. GN Saibaba. This united protest in Jantar Mantar on the 2nd of January (Saturday) from 12 noon onwards saw the participation of parliamentarians, intellectuals, professors, students, cultural activists, workers, advocates, filmmakers and democratic rights activists from across political orientations.
The united protest was chaired by DUTA President Nandita Narain. She condemned the treatment meted out to Dr. Saibaba and as a member of the Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba, she urged all democratic voices to unite and assert the right to dissent. The protest meeting was addressed by D. Raja, Member of Parliament from Communist Party of India, who has been taking up the issue in parliament and vowed to continue doing so. He demanded the unconditional release of Dr. GN Saibaba and said, “We are not here to beg mercy from this state machinery. Dr. Saibaba has the legal right to be released. Holding him in prison amounts to subjecting him to torture.” He found the charge of conspiracy to release Dr. Saibaba on medical grounds made by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court highly deplorable and asserted that the judiciary doesn’t have the right to decide if people should speak or not. Ashok Bharti of NACDOR (National Confederation of Dalit Organisations) expressed his solidarity with Dr. Saibaba’s struggle and saw this as an attack on the dalits, adivasis and the most oppressed people of this country. He said, “The manner in which the State, the police and the judiciary is conspiring to keep him (Dr. Saibaba) in jail shows that the judiciary like all other state apparatuses is not representative of the vast majority of people.” Dr. Mrigank of CPIML (New Democracy) reiterated this point and said, “The illusion that the judiciary is independent has broken.” He found the treatment meted out to Dr. Saibaba by the Maharashtra police to be criminal. Filmmaker Sanjay Kak highlighted the case of Dr. Binayak Sen along with that of Dr. GN Saibaba. He found that, “It is clear that the state is afraid of all such voices like that of Binayak Sen and GN Saibaba who have relentlessly worked to expose the anti-people activities of the State in Central India before all of us.” He urged everyone to continue speaking out on the issues that the State hoped to suppress by arresting Dr. Saibaba. Vasantha, Dr. GN Saibaba’s partner, expressed the prolonged torment of living under the gaze of the police and media and the pain of watching Dr. Saibaba’s health deteriorate over the last three years. She said, “Despite the conditions in which we have had to struggle for speaking up against injustice in a country that calls itself a democracy, the solidarity of people from across the country keeps us strong.”
Ex-DUTA President and leader of DTF Shaswati Majumdar saw the arrest of Dr. Saibaba as an attack on democracy and conveyed the need for a united struggle for democratic rights. JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar expressed his solidarity with the campaign for the release of Dr. Saibaba and remarked at the motive behind arresting people like him. He found that “The State doesn’t want people who pose a mirror against their definition of nationhood and development to speak, be it with guns or with pens. And, attacking the intellectual contribution of people like Dr. Saibaba and Arundhati Roy is done with the motive of scaring all such voices that have been speaking out. Arjun Prasad Singh of PDFI found that whenever people raise their voice and lead struggles for the rights of the oppressed, the ruling establishment tries to crush such voices. He emphasised on the need for a united struggle as the only way forward to establish the right for democratic dissent. Leaders of workers unions spoke of the judgment on the Pricol case as well as the Maruti Suzuki struggle and marked the difference in the way the judiciary treats those who raise their voice against injustices to marginalised sections and those from affluent and powerful sections inflicting injustices. Several speakers from teachers unions in DU, JNU and AUD spoke in solidarity with Dr. Saibaba and demanded his immediate release. Student activists, cultural performers, and writers from Progressive Writers Association also expressed their solidarity and urged the need to carry the struggle forward.
All the participants in the united protest signed a joint statement demanding the immediate release of Dr. GN Saibaba and the quashing of the charge of contempt of court against Arundhati Roy. Meetings in solidarity with Dr. GN Saibaba and Arundhati Roy have taken place all over the country, especially in Andhra and Telangana, in Hyderabad, and his hometown Amalapuram. The Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba and all the organisations who have come together in solidarity vow to continue the struggle for the release of Dr. Saibaba and for the right to democratic dissent.