Professor G.N. Saibaba, former English professor at Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University, has been sentenced to life imprisonment by sessions court in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra on 7th March, 2017. The court has found him of “hatching criminal conspiracy to wage war against the Government of India and collecting people with the intention of waging war against the Government of India”.
Professor G.N. Saibaba’s activism.
Before his arrest in 2014, wheelchair-bound and 90% disabled Professor Saibaba use to be an outspoken critic of the human rights abuses by the Salwa Judum and Operation Greenhunt, launched by the government against Maoists. He also played an active role in mobilizing public intellectuals under a group named Forum Against War on People. Owing to his open activism several academics, teachers and students have described his arrest as a deliberate attempt to stifle dissent.
Abduction or arrest?
On the afternoon of May 9, 2014, he was heading back home from the university when a group of policemen in plainclothes arrested him. The next morning after his arrest from Delhi, Professor Saibaba was immediately flown to Nagpur, where the District Magistrate heard his case and sent him to prison. His family was not informed about his arrest and this prompted his wife to file a missing person’s report. The question of this abrupt, almost haphazard arrest raised questions that- why did the Maharashtra police abduct Professor Saibaba in this way when they could have arrested him formally?
The charges against him.
He has been charged under the notorious and dangerously vague Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for advocating unlawful activities, conspiring to commit a terrorist act and inviting support for a terrorist organization. Simply put, Prof. Saibaba was arrested for his alleged Maoist links and being a ‘Naxal ideologue’.
Another offence listed against him is that he is the joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), an organization that is banned in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. However, it is not banned in Delhi. So how does his association with Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) matter?
The validity of evidence.
The charges against him rest on of letters, pamphlets, books and videos seized during raids that were conducted in his house. During the raids, his laptop, hardisks and pendrives were taken from which the evidence was gathered. Talking to The Hindu in a 2015 interview Prof. G.N Saibaba claimed that “Police claims to have recovered a letter that I had written to some top Maoist leader. To this day, the police never showed me that letter.”
Even if Prof. G.N Saibaba is found to be a member of a banned organization, it won’t be sufficient enough to prosecute him as according to the previous judgments by the Supreme Court ( the Kedar Nath Vs State of Bihar 1962) “mere membership of a banned organization would not make a person criminally liable unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or creates public disorder by violence or incitement to violence”.
Not an isolated case.
The case against Prof. Saibaba should not be seen in isolation, since the use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act id not unprecedented. Earlier cartoonist Arun Ferreira, public health specialist Binayak Sen and many members of Kabir Kala Manch were imprisoned on similar charges. The apparent similarity in all these cases is that they all have been accused of being Naxalites since they talked about issues of lesser known state oppression. Arun Ferreira was eventually released as innocent after spending five years in prison, and Binayak Sen is out on bail since 2011 while the case against him is still pending since 2007. The acquittal rate in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is 72%, despite this the law is used very frequently.
What can we do?
With corporate driven media, there is hardly any news from remote conflict ridden territories. Those few individuals and organizations that attempt to highlight these problems are harassed in with help of laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In this situation it is up to us to either live in complicity or listen carefully to what the state machinery does not want us to hear. To not ignore, but to acknowledge what the dissenters are trying to say is the least and often most what one can do.
Image Credits- Shalendra Panday/Tehelka