Delhi: A year after his arrest on charges of aiding Naxals, five Rajya Sabha MPs cutting across party lines have come forward to demand relief for Delhi University lecturer G.N. Saibaba. The MPs have written a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, asking him to intervene and obtain bail for Saibaba, especially in view of his severe physical disabilities and failing health.
The group comprises Neeraj Shekhar (Samajwadi Party), Rapolu Anand Bhaskar (Congress), D. Raja (CPI), K. Keshavrao (Telangana Rashtra Samiti) and Ritabrata Banerjee (CPM). They made their demand on the grounds of the DU teacher’s “physical disability and academic profession”, and went on to say that “the case of Saibaba is the latest example of humiliation, indignity and violence subjected to people with disabilities when they are arrested, jailed or engaged with law enforcement agencies.”
Saibaba, a Lecturer in English Literature at Ramlal Anand College, is also a Joint Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front, a grouping of leftist organisations that the government alleges is a front for the banned Maoists.
He was arrested by the Maharashtra police on May 9, 2014, while on his way home from college in Delhi. He was accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy with senior Naxal commanders Narmadakka and Ramdhar, who reside in the forests of Gadchiroli, and charged with various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act dealing with conspiracy, and membership of ‘a terrorist gang or organisation’. Though the RDF has not specifically been banned under UAPA, the MHA has declared the “Communist Party of India (Maoist), all its formations and front organisations” as unlawful. In a recent case involving other RDF leaders in Kerala, the National Investigation Agency has told the courts the RDF is a Maoist front.
One year and counting
In the year since Saibaba’s arrest, university faculty and activists have taken out protests, and launched social-media campaigns and even hunger strikes demanding his release on bail. Last Tuesday’s letter is the first intervention by politicians. The five MPs had asked to discuss the issue during Zero Hour in the Upper House. When they were refused, they wrote a letter to the Home Minister seeking his intervention.
A medical report presented by the Nagpur Central Prison on May 11 summarises Saibaba’s challenging physical condition. According to the report, he “is 90 per cent physically handicapped, is a known case of systemic hypertension suffering with ischemic heart disease, cervical radiculopathy on the left side, bilateral kidney stones… gall-bladder stone and Kyphoscoliosis.”
Earlier, on April 27, Saibaba had written to his lawyer describing his physical anguish and deteriorating health. The letter mentions his cardiac and renal troubles, and says that his “left hand has become non-functional due to the bend in [his] spine and vertebrae. The nervous system has been affected due to these problems… and rib-bone crowding on the right side has also effected the dislocation of nervous system.”
Nagpur Jail authorities say they have organised two staff members to assist Saibaba around the clock, a claim he refuted. His letter also said that he was denied a special bed, and instead given a rusted iron cot, which aggravated his spinal condition. He was given a western commode after six months of requests, but it was broken and had no water. After his bail plea was rejected by a sessions court in March, other facilities were withdrawn as well. Instead, he relies on the voluntary help of other inmates.
Prison, not hospital
On May 16, Saibaba was visited in jail by his brother, Dr G. Ramadevedu, who told this correspondent, “His condition has become critical since I met him last month. He is a physically challenged man with a medical history, and a year in jail without medical facilities has failed his health. He has not been able to urinate for the last few days, and needs medicine to do so. He is very weak and unable to talk fluently.”
Yogesh Desai, Superintendent of Nagpur Central Prison, said that “we don’t have a specialist doctor in jail, so we referred him to the government medical college which is the best option available with us.”
“We have provided him with the best of facilities,” said jail officer Arvind Gaikwad. “Anybody can come and check with their own eyes.”
Keshavrao of the TRS, speaking for the contingent of MPs, said Saibaba is a figure in his own right: “He comes from a very poor family, and has been handicapped since the age of five. Before coming to Delhi, he didn’t even have a wheelchair and used to crawl. A boy of such stature became a professor in the university.” There is no rational pretext for denying him bail, he added. “He is confined to a wheelchair, and cannot walk or stand. As far as I know him, he is not capable of violence nor of any kind of conspiracy.”
“Let the law take its own course, but denying him medical treatment is wrong,” added the CPM’s Banerjee. “That is his fundamental right. We have put our demand in front of the Home Minister and he assured us he will look into the matter.”
Prateek Goyal is a journalist based out of Pune. He has worked with Dainik Bhaskar, Pune Mirror and Tehelka.