The Saibaba Trial

The well-known human   rights activist, wheelchair-bound G N Saibaba, was acquitted on March 5, 2024, after spending 10 years in jail. Born into a poor peasant family in Andhra Pradesh in 1967, Saibaba completed his post- graduation in English from the University of Hyderabad and got his Ph. D degree from Delhi University. From 2003 till his arrest in 2014, he taught English literature at a Delhi University college. He came out from the prison in utter distress. Saibaba was paralysed below the waist since his childhood. Recounting the brutal treatment in the prison after his release, he said: “On May 9, 2014, when I was arrested, police dragged me by my left hand. That hand has remained swollen for a decade now. For nine arduous months, I endured the trial without any treatment for my hand. When finally taken to a hospital, I heard that it was too late. The doctor informed that he couldn’t revive my nervous and muscle system.”He also shared with the media his psychological distress: “My mother passed away when I was in prison. She carried me to school as I was disabled but she wanted me to get a good education. When she died, I was not allowed to see her. I was denied parole and even permission to attend the funeral…” (Saibaba quoted in The Telegraph, March 9, 2024)

Saibaba’s long imprisonment has a unique legal history. To put it in the words of The Hindu (March 10, 2024): “Mr Saibaba was first arrested on May 9, 2014 over his alleged links with Maoists. He approached the Bombay High Court, challenging his arrest and was given bail on medical grounds in 2015, but was back in jail again. In 2016, the Supreme Court released him on bail unconditionally. However, in 2017, a trial court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, convicted him under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Though he challenged his conviction in Mumbai High Court, he couldn’t get bail due to stringent provisions of UAPA. In October 2022, the Bombay High Court set aside his life imprisonment and concluded that the proceedings before the sessions court were ‘null and void’. But his acquittal was stayed by the Supreme Court…”

It should be noted in this connection that on March 5, 2024, in its judgment on the Saibaba case, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court overturned the 2017 Trial Court judgment, both on the basis of the merits and procedural lapses. The Court also came out strongly against thought policing of individuals and acquitted, along with Saibaba, five others charged under UAPA. (See Hours within G N Saibaba’s acquittal, the State of Maharashtra moved the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the Bombay high Court.

The predicament of G N Saibaba reminds one of the opening sentences of The Trial, the famous novel by Franz Kafka: “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning”.

[Contributed by Arup Sen]

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Vol 56, No. 39, Mar 24 - 30, 2024