Tuesday, April 23, 2024

“State crushing humanity, not serving people,” says GN Saibaba, acquitted after 10 years in prison

“I couldn’t see my mother one last time before her death because I was denied parole. This is a denial of basic Human Rights. My mother passed away when I was in Prison. Being a disabled child since birth, my mother brought me up with utmost care. She used to take me to school in her arms so that I could get an education”, these were the words of former Delhi University Professor and human rights defender GN Saibaba, in a press conference on Friday, 9, March.

As 54-year-old Saibaba entered the conference hall at HKS Surjeet Bhawan in New Delhi, for his first media interaction after coming out of prison, he received a warm gesture of welcome in the room full of his supporters, his comrades with clenched fists being raised in the air. He smiled and reciprocated. Behind him, holding his wheelchair firmly and smiling was Vasantha Kumari, his wife.

The former Delhi University professor was acquitted on 5 March 5, and released on 7 March from Nagpur Central Jail, as the court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the case against him beyond a reasonable doubt, marking the UAPA sanction against him ‘null and void’ and stating the prosecution ‘vitiated.’

In his hour-long address, Saibaba recalled 10 years of his life in jail. He started by saying that he is yet to realize life beyond the bars where he was in for all these years.

He said, “I still can’t believe that I am out, I am free. For seven years, in the anda cell, I could only see the prison wall above and around me.”

He added, “I was not allowed to access the wheelchair, the basic facility was denied to me, even though it is a part of my body as I am 90 percent disabled. Everything in the years I spent in jail was much more difficult than it was outside. From as small as getting a glass of water to drink to using the bathroom or toilet, I needed assistance.  Even for the e-mulaqat (a facility for inmates to speak with family virtually), somebody else helped me. As essential as quenching the thirst was a struggle in the jail. For how many years could one live like that?”

He said that when he went to jail, he was a healthy man except for his by-birth polio, but the jail has made him emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted.

He mentioned, “Each part and organ of my body is in a critical condition now. I can’t eat and digest food now. Apart from a prolonged heart ailment, inside jail, I have developed hypertension, paraplegia, kyphoscoliosis of the spine, cell, and nerve disease, acute pancreatitis, stones in gallbladders, and a cyst in the brain.” 

Saibaba also said, “The jail authorities didn’t provide me with the treatment when multiple times my heart rates dropped to a point where the doctors suggested that I would not survive. My hands and muscles stopped working due to muscle damage multiple times in these years.”

“Despite knowing that I have polio, which is mainly associated with my legs, I was dragged by my legs and they thrashed on my legs. The legs can be seen swollen even after 10 years,” he recalled.

He further said, “I was taken to the government hospital when in protest I gave up my medicines and food for 10 days. But no treatment was given, they used to give me painkillers only.”

Talking about the judiciary’s role, Saibaba said, “There is an old saying, justice delayed is justice denied. For me, the judicial fight was agnipariksha (trial by fire). Sita had to go through it once but for me, it was twice. I was discharged but one judgment acquitting was not enough. Now, the court delivered justice but it is delayed.”

Saibaba was acquitted in October 2020, but the order was stayed and later overturned by the Supreme Court which he calls “Double agnipariksha.”

Out of all the things he suffered in prison what stayed with Saibaba was the memories of his mother who died in 2020 during his incarceration and he couldn’t even meet or see her one last time. 

Holding back the eyes filled with tears, he said, “They even denied me going to her last after the funeral. All she wanted was to meet me before she died, the state, the police, and the court denied the permission to visit my dying mother.”

“She died because of one thing that is, I was in jail. Till her last breath, she only wanted to see me once”, he added.

The Nagpur bench denying the parole to visit his mother at that time had maintained, “…looking at the background of the petitioner’s background, it is unsafe to direct release of the petitioner on an emergency parole.”

He also highlighted the condition of the jail and said, “The jails are so much crowded that inmates fight for the space to even sit and sleep when in reality they should be fighting for the development and education. It will not be wrong to call the condition subhuman.”

He also added that prisons are full of people who belong to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and minority communities.

Others who addressed the press conference were Saibaba’s wife, Vasantha Kumari, now released co-accused, Hem K Mishra, a former Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU) student, CPIM’s general secretary D Raja, Delhi University Professor Nandita Narain, Karen Gabriel, National Platform for the Rights of Disabled General Secretary, Muralidharan.

The others co-accused in the case who have been acquitted along with Saibaba are Pandu Pora Narute, who died in jail in in August 2022 due to alleged medical negligence, Prashant Rahi, sentenced to life imprisonment, and Vijay Tirki, who was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment by a special court in 2017. Maharashtra government had filed a petition against their acquittal and the hearing of the case is scheduled  Supreme Court for March 11th.

Saibaba concluded his speech by saying, “The state is there to serve the people, but they are crushing the nerves of people and humanity. The state’s basic responsibility is to stop anarchy but it has now become Anarchy in itself and is crushing humanity.

Hem Keshawdatta Mishra, a former JNU student, who was also released along with Sai Baba also spoke with the media and said, “Saibaba had been an inspiration even inside the jail. At first, I used to wonder how will I survive inside the jail but then I realized the resilience and patience exhibited by Saibaba inside the jail gave me strength.”

“I still can’t believe, I am out and free and sitting among you all”, he added.

GN Saibaba was arrested in 2014 and charged with UAPA in an alleged Maoist-links case. He was discharged in October 2020 by the Bombay High Court but the order was reversed and suspended by the Supreme Court and he remained in Nagpur Jail till March 5th, 2024, which is close to 3600 days.

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