A.S Vasantha Kumari
On International Day of Disabled Persons, A.S Vasantha Kumari, Wife of G.N Saibaba, a former Delhi University professor serving a life sentence for ‘Maoist links’, took to Facebook to share a letter written by Saibaba from his jail cell in October 2019. Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound academic was arrested in May 2014. Sharing the letter, Vasantha painstakingly penned a detailed note on her husband’s health condition and status of case procedures.
Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Prof GN Saibaba, wheelchair-bound, 90% disabled still in the jail since 2014. After Conviction (without evidence and crime) on 7th March 2017 his health deteriorated further in inhumane Anda cell, Central Prison, Nagpur. After 14 months of prolonged adjournments and arguments, the bail plea on medical grounds was rejected on 25th March 2019 by the Bombay High Court at Nagpur bench.
India is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the UN Resolution 70/175 on Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Nelson Mandela Rules), all of which reaffirm the right to life with dignity of prisoners. The Nelson Mandela Rules specifically state that the provision of health care of prisoners is a state responsibility, and those prisoners “should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community” without discrimination. It also provides that prisoners who require specialist treatment must be transferred to specialized institutions or outside hospitals when such treatment is not available in prison.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (Disabilities Act) specifically guarantees that the appropriate Government shall ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the right to equality, life with dignity and respect for his or her integrity equally with others. Further, Section 7(1) empowers the authorities to “take cognizance of incidents” and further facilitates the authorities to “take steps for avoiding such incidents” and to “take steps to rescue, protect and rehabilitate victims of such incidents”.
Further, UN experts had urged to release Dr. Saibaba on health grounds and had stated that “any denial of reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities in detention is not only discriminatory but may well amount to ill-treatment or even torture. In particular, solitary confinement should be prohibited when the conditions of prisoners with disabilities would be made worse by this measure.”
The honorable Supreme Court of India, in many cases, held the “right to health care” as an essential ingredient under Article 21 of the Constitution. In Pt.Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India & Ors. (1989) 4 SCC 286, the Supreme Court had held that Article 21 of the Constitution casts the obligation on the State to preserve life.
Whether an under trial or a convicted, one is entitled to his Right to life, as guaranteed in the Constitution of India. Denial of these rights tantamount to gross violation of human rights and prisoners’ rights, as is being faced by Dr. Saibaba.
Despite all of these laws and provisions, Saibaba did not get bail. Now he is in a position where he cannot move without the help of two persons and suffers from frequent blackouts. All the ailments/diseases have aggravated and intensified due to a lack of any treatment. His spine and left-hand muscles have degenerated further according to the medical tests conducted in the Government Hospital in Nagpur. He lives in extreme pain and mental stress, where his remaining limbs are losing functionality. There is an alarming bulging in his abdomen with frequent bursts of severe pain, which has not been investigated. The Jail authorities can not provide him with the regular physiotherapy he requires. His wheelchair has been damaged in the harsh environment there. Despite all of these ailments, Saibaba has failed to qualify for an emergency medical Bail.
Recently I received a letter from Sai in October 2019. I had lost hope in the wake of the latest developments in the Indian judiciary. This letter Sai wrote inspired me a lot. I feel the message the letter contains is not only for me but for everyone. I wanted to share it with all of you.
I am not in a position to write and read because of my ill health. All the ailments/diseases have aggravated and intensified due to a lack of any treatment. Don’t lose hope. You must be more active. Do not limit yourself to the house. You should meet people widely. Be very creative and energetic. You do all that you can do for my release. You see me how I am still alive and surviving with so many diseases and so much pain in a closed draconian prison. I have been trying my best to be active within the confines of my highly restrictive prison space. What little exercises I can do I am doing every day in the morning. According to a schedule of my own, I am reading and writing every day. Thinking positively and living with the hope that I can get my freedom on the next day.
After all, I have never committed a crime. I have contributed to my society and my country even though I am a 90% disabled person. I did not live for my own sake. I lived for the people. The case in which I am falsely implicated is a political case. It has no criminal content in it; though they tried to impose on me one. You think. Why should we suffer? If you are mentally tired and feel dejected we both get defeated. We should not be defeated. You should be active. You should always smile like you have been all your life smiling before my arrest and this tyranny pounced upon us. You should be brave. You must think positively. You have been very creative all your life. We may die as long as we are alive. This is the meaning of human life. We are creative because we live for the people not just for ourselves.”