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With the recent acquittal of former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba after a torturous 10 years of imprisonment under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), we take a look at one of the most important tools in the market of India’s barely-there-democracy: the UAPA.

In the Athenian State of 621 BCE, lived a statesman named Draco. Draco prescribed death for all criminal offences. Laws that were written in blood, not ink. Think of the word ‘draconian’ named after this infamous statesman, but in the Indian context, and perhaps what comes to mind is the notorious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) of 1967. 

Student activist Umar Khalid spent a total of three years behind bars in Tihar, with his bail pleas rejected consistently. The case moved from bench to bench. 84-year-old Stan Swamy, booked under the Bhima Koregaon case during his imprisonment, had asked for a sipper and straw in jail, citing Parkinson’s disease. It took the authorities a month to approve his request. On July 5, 2021, he passed away in jail, still awaiting trial. Journalist Siddique Kappan, on his way to cover the Hathras rape case, was arrested and detained similarly for a period of two years without trial. 

What brings these cases together is UAPA. Stringent conditions for bails (the accused will not be given bail if the first impression of the court is that they are guilty), the ability to declare an individual ‘terrorist’, and detention without producing any incriminating evidence have ensured the overturning of the precept of innocent before proven guilty. The investigating agencies are allowed to take up to 180 days even to file a chargesheet, which, in the case of Kappan, he claims to never even have received firsthand.

The process thus becomes the punishment. The asymmetrical power balance between citizen and state is clearly exploited to the citizen’s disadvantage. Dissecting the acquittal judgement of Professor G.N. Saibaba, Karen Gabriel, and PK Vijayan write for The Quint that the law comprises both the set of legislation that the state has to enact and uphold as well as the rules of procedure that the state must adhere to while doing so. They assert, “Procedure is an invaluable protective measure, not an incidental convenience.”

A Brief History

In the year 1967, the Indira Gandhi administration sought to bring out a law against the secessionist activities that the government observed in the country. The Parliament thus passed the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. What initially emerged as legislation to counter the problem of secessionist tendencies, however, would quickly assume an altogether different colour. 

After the Prime Minister’s death and with the advent of the Punjab insurgency, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA) was introduced. Criticised widely by human rights organisations for its arbitrary tendencies to centralise the onus of justice, it was later withdrawn. TADA trickled down in 2001 to POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act) in 2002, which met with concerns of misuse and was scrapped by the UPA government in 2004. The provisions of POTA, however, were in essence transferred onto the UAPA, which was the first introduction of anti-terrorism into the primarily anti-secessionist legislation. The central government could now overlook rules of evidence when it came to interception of communication and vested in its hands the power to declare any organisation as a terrorist organisation without trial. 

In 2008, the Act was further amended to include longer police custody, longer jail time, and harder bail provisions. The latest and most important amendment in 2019 empowered the NIA further and gave the government powers to declare individuals terrorists. 

But It Works, Right?

The hardlined stringency should then naturally warrant efficiency in curbing the “disturbances” that it claims to protect us from. The Home Ministry’s 2020 report, on the other hand, tells us that only 212 of the 24000 convicted in UAPA cases in 2016–2020 were found guilty. As Kappan puts it, “a conviction rate of less than 3%.”

Acquitting DU professor G. N. Saibaba, who has been in prison for 3600 days, the Bombay High Court noted:

No evidence has been led by the prosecution by any witness to any incident, attack, act of violence, or even evidence collected from some earlier scene of offence where a terrorist act has taken place, in order to connect the accused to such an act…

The court further stated that there had been an evident “failure in justice” in the flouting of mandatory provisions in Saibaba’s case. The appalling conditions of his imprisonment, along with those of many others, lead one to wonder whether the crushing impact that callous state persecution has on an individual’s life can ever be undone with mere acquittal. 

The persecution of intelligentsia, which asks difficult questions of institutions, is no new phenomenon. Considering, however, that as we function under that nimble concept of what is known to some of us as a democracy, the state would do well to clothe its atrocities better and be less conspicuous about them. The UAPA, with its in-your-face authoritarian tendencies, does not seem to be helping in that front. 

Read also: The Donkey Dance of UAPA: Criminalising Dissent in a Hollowing Democracy

Deevya Deo
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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

 

Niharika Dabral

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The DU Professor, G.N. Saibaba, alleged and arrested for Maoist links in May, 2014, has been granted bail. The bench led by Justice J.S. Kehar, also fired at the Maharashtra government who had tried to convince the authorities to do otherwise. What started with the arrest of Prashant Rahi (a journalist) and Hem Mishra (a student), eventually led to the professor’s arrest. Here’s an overlook at the timeline of G.N. Saibaba’s case:

 14th September, 2013

Maharashtra cops search his house, claiming he had info about Maoist leaders hiding in the forests of Abuj Maad in Chhattisgarh.

Agencies claim Saibaba had been associated with an organisation called the Revolutionary Democratic Front which is considered to be a front outfit for the CPI (Maoist).

He acknowledged knowing JNU student Hem Mishra, who was arrested by the Maharashtra Police for alleged links with Maoists, but denied giving him any coded chip.

18th September, 2013

The president of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) wrote to the Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde seeking his intervention.

10th May, 2014

The Professor was arrested by the Maharashtra police to be produced before a court in Aheri town of Gadchiroli from the University Campus; seized hard-drives, chips serving as evidences.

16th May, 2014

After a recommendation from the Ram Lal Anand College itself, the Professor was suspended by the University. While DUSU and ABVP stood for the motion, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association spoke against the violation of his rights.

28th May, 2014

Investigation revealed that professor was affiliated with some prominent persons from Pune and guide movements of the ‘Urban Maoist Fronts’.

3rd June, 2014

The Professor’s family received an eviction notice from the University to vacate his Gwyer Hall residence. The notice asked Saibaba and his family to vacate the house on the grounds of “unauthorised possession of the premises in question since March 31, 2010 due to the absence of any valid agreement in the eyes of the law.” DUTA President, Nandita Narain consulted with the Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh.

14th June, 2014

Principal and Sessions Judge of Aheri in Gadchiroli, D R Shirasav, rejected the bail plea application of G N Saibaba.

19th June, 2015

The wheelchair-ridden Professor, then lodged in the Nagpur Central Jail, went through a medical examination.

20th June, 2015

Neurosurgeon Pramod Giri, who conducted a check-up of G.N. Saibaba declared that he did not need a surgery and was referred to a neuro-physician for his shoulder and neck pain.

1st July, 2015

The professor was granted bail by the Bombay High Court for three months, owing to his medical conditions.

21st November, 2015

The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court asked the government lawyer and G N Saibaba’s lawyer about why they had not objected to the Mumbai bench taking up his case and sought transfer of the case to Nagpur. Earlier in the year, the Nagpur bench comprising Justice Shukre (who later moved to the Mumbai bench) had rejected Saibaba’s bail plea “on merit”.

24th November, 2015

Justice A.B. Chaudhari of the Nagpur Bench raised questions over the intervention of the bench taking over and giving out decisions. Asked what determines such actions.

24th December, 2015

The professor was asked to surrender within 48 hours or face arrest following the resentment by The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court who believed that there was no need to interfere with an order refusing him bail earlier and that too when, his affiliation with the Maoists was based on solid evidences.

25th December, 2015

Delhi University Professors, activists and writers protested against the rejection of his bail. His wife, G Vasantha spoke against the order, saying she wanted to file a case against the “system”.

23rd February, 2016

The Supreme Court ordered the Maharashtra Government to provide basic medical facilities to the professor and asked the counsel for Saibaba to file an exemption plea.

Shreya Srivastava

[email protected]

Image Credits: http://static.indianexpress.com/

eputy Secretary of Revolutionary Democratic Front, an organisation which has been on the radar of intelligence agencies for suspected links to Maoists. Back in September 2013, Saibaba was targeted for the first time when a search warrant was issued for his residence. Police seized a laptop, three hard-disks, four pen drives, one micro-chip, a SIM card, mobile phones of Saibaba?’s daughter, two old phones and some booklets from the house. There was a suspicion then, that he sent some secret information to the Maoist leadership hiding in the forests of Abuj Maad in Chhattisgarh. Once again in January 2014, Saibaba was dragged through a question answer round at his residence by the Gadchiroli Police. As per the statement of Saibaba, the police had sought information about his political activities and academic interests in around 600 questions and this interrogation went on for 4-5 hours. The name of Saibaba had come into picture when a Jawaharlal Nehru University student Hemant Mishra was arrested and he claimed that he was acting as a link between Prof. Saibaba and Maoists. Says Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus at JNU a close friend and supporter of Saibaba, “We don’t even know anything about Hemant Mishra. We first of all thought that it is a kidnapping case, but when we came to know that Gadchiroli police had taken him away, we were outraged. He has always cooperated and this is a not the kind of treatment he deserves. He is a handicapped person after all, he can’t run. Police should handle the matter in an orderly manner.” Post his arrest, Prof. G.N Saibaba’s supporters have been making attempts for his release. Nandita Narain, President at DUTA says, “We wrote a letter to the Home Ministry and also to the Lt. Governor. He is a civil activist and never approved of anything that is violent. Whatever he does is his fundamental right and we shall conduct a meeting to draft a support plan in this regard.” Further,a group of students from Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University staged a protest recently demanding the immediate release of the professor. A memorandum was also submitted regarding the same which was addressed to Prithviraj Chauhan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra.]]>

Prof. G.N Saibaba, Assistant Professor at Ramlal Anand College, Delhi University was arrested by the Maharashtra police on 9th May at the university campus. After months of alleged suspicion of Saibaba’s naxal and maoist links, he was finally held by the police while he was on his way back home after the examination duty at Daulat Ram College.

After his arrest on Friday, Vasantha (Saibaba’s wife) got a call from the police personnel who informed her about  her husbands arrest and nothing else. According to the sources, Saibaba has been taken to the Nagpur jail. His supporters which include family, students and teachers in Delhi have been really worried about Saibaba and his health as he is wheel-chair bound.

Members at Delhi University Teacher’s Association (DUTA) expressed their support for Saibaba and they feel that the laws have been violated by the police each time in this case. Member at DUTA told DU Beat, “Last year when they seized Saibaba’s belongings, nothing was sealed and they had months to alter these belongings and create evidences against him. His wife and other members were locked and now he has been taken away without any information.” Saibaba is the Deputy Secretary of Revolutionary Democratic Front, an organisation which has been on the radar of intelligence agencies for suspected links to Maoists.

Back in September 2013, Saibaba was targeted for the first time when a search warrant was issued for his residence. Police seized a laptop, three hard-disks, four pen drives, one micro-chip, a SIM card, mobile phones of Saibaba?’s daughter, two old phones and some booklets from the house. There was a suspicion then, that he sent some secret information to the Maoist leadership hiding in the forests of Abuj Maad in Chhattisgarh.

Once again in January 2014, Saibaba was dragged through a question answer round at his residence by the Gadchiroli Police. As per the statement of Saibaba, the police had sought information about his political activities and academic interests in around 600 questions and this interrogation went on for 4-5 hours.

The name of Saibaba had come into picture when a Jawaharlal Nehru University student Hemant Mishra was arrested and he claimed that he was acting as a link between Prof. Saibaba and Maoists. Says Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus at JNU a close friend and supporter of Saibaba, “We don’t even know anything about Hemant Mishra. We first of all thought that it is a kidnapping case, but when we came to know that Gadchiroli police had taken him away, we were outraged. He has always cooperated and this is a not the kind of treatment he deserves. He is a handicapped person after all, he can’t run. Police should handle the matter in an orderly manner.”

Post his arrest, Prof. G.N Saibaba’s supporters have been making attempts for his release. Nandita Narain, President at DUTA says, “We wrote a letter to the Home Ministry and also to the Lt. Governor. He is a civil activist and never approved of anything that is violent. Whatever he does is his fundamental right and we shall conduct a meeting to draft a support plan in this regard.”

Further,a group of students from Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University staged a protest recently demanding the immediate release of the professor. A memorandum was also submitted regarding the same which was addressed to Prithviraj Chauhan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra.