Rows upon rows of books in Telugu literature decorate jailed professor GN Saibaba’s house in New Delhi. A house that he hasn’t lived in since he was convicted in 2017. His wife and daughter still live there and pass days hoping for a change of heart from authorities, a breakthrough in the case.
The Ram Lal Anand college professor was arrested in May 2014, before being convicted in 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment the same year and charged under sections 13, 18, 20, 38, and 39 of the draconian UAPA and section 120B of the Indian Penal Code for having Maoist sympathies. The Gadchiroli police in Maharashtra had then claimed that he was serving as “an active urban link for Maoists”, claims that Saibaba later denied. His stint with politics had started with the Radical Students Union during his MA and MPhil days. The wheelchair-bound academic and political activist has been in the Nagpur jail since. Activists and his family have repeatedly claimed that Saibaba was put behind bars for being a “vocal critique of government operations such as operation Green Hunt”. He said the government operations in tribal areas of Maharashtra were “almost genocidal in nature”.
Saibaba’s arrest led to extensive international concern, with the Human Rights Commissioner of the United Nations calling him “a long-standing defender of the rights of various minorities in India against corporate interests”. The United Nations has persistently pressed for his release on medical grounds, citing his deteriorating physical condition.
“The first time they (police) barged in was in 2013, while I was in school,” says his daughter Manjeera. Ten to twenty people barged into the quarters the family lived in on campus. The police came in saying that they had a search warrant for some “stolen goods” from Aheri in Maharashtra. The warrant led to police looking into every nook and cranny of the house for “Maoist links”. They categorically went through the books, especially those with red covers having words such as ‘Marx’ on them, the daughter said.
Manjeera is doing her MPhil in English from Jamia milia Islamia in New Delhi.
“My father complied with the interrogation process because he was sure that they couldn’t find anything against him. He believed in the due process of law. Despite the tense political climate, my dad had hope,” says Manjeera.
In 2014, at the University of Delhi, Saibaba was arrested on his way home for lunch. Four cars stopped in front of him and forced him inside. The family received a phone call from Saibaba’s driver about the incident, after which they filed a missing person’s report. They were informed about the arrest itself only when he was on the flight to Nagpur. Thus began the fight for his release.
During the arrest, the wheelchair got damaged. Saibaba is 90% disabled. His family says he currently has “19 health ailments and conditions in jail only seem to aggravate them further”. They further claim that they haven’t received any of his health reports post-2018, leading them to file an RTI.
He tested Covid-19 positive on February 13 this year. Various human rights activists once again wrote in his support and demand his immediate release. He has been kept in solitary confinement.
Manjeera told Maktoob: “Dad is just recovered from covid so he was feeling very weak and tired. This was just the worst news on top of that. So I think it’s all adding up to a lot of psychological strain.”
On the 31st of March, Ram Lal Anand College terminated his contract leaving his wife and daughter in disarray. The professor was sacked and removed from his position as an assistant professor. The services were terminated from the 31st of March with immediate effect.
His wife, Vasantha has said that she will take the matter to court. The family had been receiving half of his salary since he was convicted and put behind bars in 2017. Now Ram Lal Anand college has scrapped of that as well. Now the family will find it difficult to make ends meet.
“The termination was very unexpected and they didn’t give any valid reason as to why his salary was terminated. The survival and sustenance of the family will be very difficult, as I’m still studying now. The financial situation is looking very dire for us,” said his daughter Manjeera.
“We had a brief phone call with him today and he was very shaken due to the termination. He received the letter in jail and said that his conviction and life sentence did not hurt him as much as the termination of his contract did,” Manjeera told Maktoob.
“My father comes from a very small and backward village in Andhra Pradesh, consisting of some 20 huts at most. He’s been handicapped with polio since he was 4. He’s worked very hard to get where he is. More than the financial situation, we feel bad that he was stripped off his position as a professor. Teaching means a lot to him. He’s had to go through a lot of nerve wrecking obstacles in order to teach, now he won’t have that as well,” said Manjeera ruefully to Maktoob.
“How can a 90% disabled man be a threat to the state and perpetuate violence?” ask many human rights activists. Arundhati Roy in her letter to her jailed friend writes “things can’t go on like this”. She ends with the letter by telling him to have courage as the injustice will not go on forever. With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, a bleak future lies ahead for many political prisoners charged with the UAPA.
Akansha Sengupta is a student at Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi.