The book “Why do you fear my way so much?”, containing letters and poems from prison by human rights defender and Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba was launched at Jawahar Bhawan in New Delhi on Wednesday.
An activist from his student days, G.N. Saibaba was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in May 2014. He was lodged in Nagpur jail before being sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 on the charge of having Maoist links and engaging in activities amounting to “waging war against the country.” He played a significant role in the campaign against Operation Green Hunt – aimed at dispossessing Adivasi people off their habitat by force.
The poems and letters in the book convey his deepest feelings from his time in prison. They show his resilience, courage and vision of a humane nation.
“It takes him days to write a single page due to the nineteen medical conditions that he developed in jail. The lack of timely treatment has worsened his situation.”, said his wife Vasantha.
In a letter from her to G.N. Saibaba in the book reads, “Once you wrote to me that you were not sure how long you could survive in these conditions…You said that we might hear the news of another Stan Swamy if no treatment is provided to you.”
The book was released by General Secretary of CPI, D. Raja, award winning authors Arundhati Roy and Meena Kandasamy along with G.N. Saibaba’s wife Vasantha and daughter Manjira.
D. Raja, said: “These are not letters and poems from prison rather letters and poems to the prison from G.N. Saibaba.” Mentioning the cruelty inflicted upon by UAPA on activists in India he added, “I warn them they can never succeed. A communist can be killed, but a communist can never be defeated.”
Saibaba’s wife Vasantha said that her husband’s case is of ‘No crime, No evidence’ and talked about his life in prison. The scorching sun pierces through the iron rods of the Anda cell as sternly as the water pours in when it rains. With a 90% disability as well as a cardiac condition and chronic and severe spinal pain, he can barely manage to sit on his wheelchair. After several requests the authorities allowed to lay an old bed for Saibaba in prison. Saibaba caught COVID-19 multiple times in prison and rarely received proper treatment.
Despite the atrocities, being an ardent academician, his passion for teaching has continued in jail as he teaches fellow prison mates. Delhi University’s Ram Lal Anand College terminated his services as an Assistant Professor in April 2021.
After rejection of two bail pleas, it has been seven years now since Saibaba has been in jail.
Over the course of seven years Vasantha and Saibaba have penned love and hope to each other.
In a poem to Vasantha, Sai writes, “I defeat the purpose of solitary confinement by drowning myself in your letters of love.”
Meena Kandasamy who wrote the preface of Saibaba’s book shared the incident when the book arrived at her home and her kids aged three and five saw the cover page and asked her, “Why is the man on the wheel chair in jail? Is he a bad man? What did he do?’ The difficulty in explaining something as simple as the concepts of good and bad made her realize how fundamentally the country is being changed.
While launching the book by fellow comrade, Arundhati Roy said, “We are meeting to talk about a professor who is paralysed 90%, who has been in jail for seven years, that’s enough, we don’t have to speak anymore, that’s enough to tell you about what kind of a country we are living in today.”
Roy shared an incident when she asked a pilot friend of hers, “Can you fly the plane backwards?”. He laughed hysterically. Roy replied, “This is exactly what is happening with our nation. We are headed backwards.” She backed it by stating how we started with ‘truly revolutionary movements’ in the 1960s for redistribution of wealth and land only to be reduced to the pitiful politics of selling and buying from corporations today.
Published by Speaking Tiger, the book is available for sale in offline and online stores.