Recalling Saibaba to Jail

India—the Biggest showcase of  democracy—is a dangerous place for democrats and liberals who voice their dissent against growing intolerance and authoritarian governance that now threatens the every core of civilised existence. And for journalists and writers who refuse to kowtow to the establishment and money bags the days are not far when they won’t be able to see the sun. The persons in authority see ‘threat to national security’ in every ‘disobedience’, civil or otherwise. How a 90% disabled person is threatening the mighty security system of India is anything but ludicrous. It’s the case of Dr G N Saibaba. The story of Saibaba’s prolonged incarceration is actually the story of why Indian rulers cannot rule without undeclared emergency. They have created a situation where all institutions including the all important judiciary, otherwise supposed to be a neutral entity, nakedly and openly act against the underprivileged, hopefully to strengthen democracy!

Dr G N Saibaba, an English Professor in Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University and a human rights activist has been re-incarcerated after the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court ordered him to return to Nagpur Central Jail after cancelling his bail. He has already spent 14 months in jail since May 2014. He was granted bail in June 2015 on medical grounds after his left hand was paralysed and he developed severe ailments, mainly due to inhuman treatment meted out to him in custody. The Nagpur Bench order also charges writer and social activist Arundhati Roy with contempt of court for writing an article ‘Professor, POW’ in May 2015 issue of Outlook magazine.

The controversial order sending Dr Saibaba back to jail and accusing Arundhati Roy of contempt of court for voicing protest against unjust imprisonment of Dr Saibaba, teaches the people at large what democracy means. In truth Arundhati Roy called into question the very manner in which Dr Saibaba was arrested and charges framed against him and the successive denials of bail, albeit his fragile health was deteriorating rapidly. A medical report by the Central India Institute of Medical Sciences, Nagpur, presented in the court, stated Saibaba suffered from anterior horncell disease in which progressive atrophying of nerves and muscles, unless treated, could lead to death. His chest and cardiac problems too required constant monitoring and re-evaluation by specialists. The Bombay High Court granted him bail, so that he could avail of proper medical treatment. Not that he is medically fit today. Recalling Saibaba to jail is to impose an excruciating slow death sentence on him.

The reason for denying bail to Saibaba on grounds of merit is identical to the reason for which the court arraigns Roy for contempt of court. To speak out, dissent, question and worse accuse the government of wrong-doing is seen by the honourable court as an act worthy of punitive action.

When the Gadchiroli police and intelligence personnel of Maharashtra, conducted a raid at Saibaba’s Delhi house in 2013, the occupants of the house were locked away in different rooms. None of his friends and colleagues were invited to witness the search and seizure, in total violation of the Supreme Court’s D K Basu judgement-related guidelines.

The Bombay High Court in June observed it "would be failing in its duty of protecting the fundamental rights of Professor Saibaba under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, who was confined to a scheduled cell and was not in a position to move this court on his own" if it did not grant bail—under Article 226. But the Nagpur Bench order virtually does away with a citizen's fundamental rights.

Nobody is safe in this Republic sans 'republicans'. Here idea of justice is being rescripted all the time to suit the needs of powers that be. When a distinguished professor doesn’t get justice, how do ordinary people fare in legal jungles is anybody’s guess. The civil liberty situation in India is getting worse with every passing day. The hysteria of propaganda against ‘Naxal menace’ is escalating as well as pressure on civil society and rights activists across the country. Prison population is rising alarmingly and prisons otherwise aptly described as living hells across the country are already overcrowded, with most unhygienic and degraded conditions prisoners are being forced to live in. The authorities now need large-scale concentration camps, not sub-jails or central jails, to stifle voice of dissent. Democracy remains as strange to them in the 1960s as in the 21st century when global citizenship is the buzzword.

Vol. 48, No. 28, Jan 17 - 23, 2016