Rights

Nearly 100 Global Intellectuals Appeal for Varavara Rao, Saibaba to Be Released

The statement says the professor and poet have been imprisoned in 'fabricated cases' and are vulnerable to COVID-19 in the 'overcrowded Maharashtra prisons'.

New Delhi: Close to a 100 renowned intellectuals from across the world have appealed to President Ram Nath Kovind and Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde to release professor G.N. Saibaba and activist Varavara Rao, saying they have been imprisoned in ‘fabricated cases’ and that they are vulnerable to infection in the ‘overcrowded Maharashtra prisons’.

Among the signatories are Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Partha Chatterjee, Homi K. Bhabha, Bruno Latour, Gerald Horne and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. They said that Saibaba, who is 90% disabled with post-polio syndrome, does not have proper access to medical care.  

“He suffers from a number of life-threatening ailments (including acute pancreatitis, cardiac complications, hypertension, impacted gallbladder stones, fainting spells, and more) and has lost most of the functioning of both his hands since being imprisoned. The continued negligence of jail authorities is effectively a death sentence for him during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are calling on the government of India to immediately release Professor G.N. Saibaba from prison on medical bail so that he can receive proper medical treatment and be protected from the Coronavirus outbreak,” the statement says.

The statement says 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao, an eminent public intellectual and ardent civil rights activist, has also been imprisoned “as part of the nation-wide crackdown of public intellectuals by the [Narendra] Modi government in relation to the infamous Bhima Koregaon case”.

They pointed to that on May 28, Varavara Rao fainted in the jail and was admitted to JJ Hospital, Mumbai but the government “responded recklessly”, sending him back to jail on June 1 after “preliminary treatment to stabilize his condition”. “The government did not even allow his family members to visit him in the hospital or talk to him over the phone. Given this disturbing situation, Varavara Rao’s wife filed a petition in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court to release him on bail. But, the court refused to release him. Yet, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life to all citizens, including prisoners,” the signatories said.

Varavara Rao and Saibaba. Photo: PTI/The Wire

“Considering G.N. Saibaba’s and Varavara Rao’s deteriorating health conditions and the outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons, we strongly believe that there is a potential danger to their lives. We appeal to you to release them immediately on bail to restore their right to live,” the statement appeals.

The full statement and the list of signatories has been reproduced below.

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We, the undersigned, appeal for the release of public intellectuals and social justice activists, Prof. G.N. Saibaba and Varavara Rao, who are imprisoned on fabricated cases and vulnerable to COVID-19 infection in the overcrowded Maharashtra prisons.

Indian Professor G.N. Saibaba is currently languishing in prison in India without access to proper medical care or his wheelchair. Professor Saibaba is 90% disabled with post-polio syndrome and yet the jail authorities have continually refused to provide him with assistance in moving about, even for basic bodily functions like going to the bathroom. He suffers from a number of life-threatening ailments (including acute pancreatitis, cardiac complications, hypertension, impacted gallbladder stones, fainting spells, and more) and has lost most of the functioning of both his hands since being imprisoned. The continued negligence of jail authorities is effectively a death sentence for him during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are calling on the government of India to immediately release Professor G.N. Saibaba from prison on medical bail so that he can receive proper medical treatment and be protected from the Coronavirus outbreak.

Professor Saibaba was abducted and arrested on May 9, 2014 as he left the campus of Delhi University. Police claimed that they had found documents and correspondence allegedly proving his connections with the CPI (Maoist), a banned political party in India. However, in the court proceedings against Saibaba, they were not able to produce clear evidence of this charge or the charge that he was “waging war against the state.” Commenting on the conviction, Amnesty International stated that it “believes that the charges against G. N. Saibaba are fabricated and that his trial did not meet international fair trial standards.” Regardless of the credibility or otherwise of the trial and conviction, Professor Saibaba is entitled to proper medical care and medical bail. Now with Coronavirus spreading like wildfire through the Indian prison system, this life sentence could very well become a death-sentence.

Professor Saibaba is confined to a wheelchair as he suffers from post-polio syndrome, which inhibits the use of his legs. Despite his disability, he remains tireless social justice activist and a committed human rights defender. A recent report from Scholars at Risk noted that Saibaba “worked with activists and movements to investigate and struggle against the national and multinational corporations, which extract resources from the region at the cost of the environment and displacement of indigenous communities.” Many, including internationally acclaimed author Arundhati Roy, have speculated that Professor Saibaba was arrested because of his activism and his courageous defense of the human rights of the oppressed.

In addition, jail authorities have not permitted him to send or receive letters in his native tongue, Telugu. Even when his mother came to visit him, they insisted that he speak to her only in English despite the fact that she does not speak English. Now she is on her deathbed, battling terminal cancer, while her son languishes in jail, a political prisoner denied medical care as well as the ability to communicate with many of his loved ones.

The courts denied Saibaba’s recent application for parole during this pandemic. They claimed that his brother (with whom he would stay if released) was living in a COVID-19 containment zone; however, this is not true. What’s more, it seems likely that he is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in jail.

Now Professor Saibaba lies in jail, frequently falling in and out of consciousness and unable to even go to the toilet without assistance, which he is routinely denied. We are deeply disturbed by the cruelty with which the Indian government and the judicial system are treating Saibaba. As his jailers have repeatedly demonstrated their inability or unwillingness to provide proper medical care to him, and because the Coronavirus is now spreading through the Indian prison system, we the undersigned call for the immediate release of Professor G.N. Saibaba from prison.

The 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao is an eminent public intellectual and ardent civil rights activist. For the past 60 years he has shown a firm commitment to working for the oppressed. Over the decades, the Indian state has been trying to silence his voice by implicating him in many phony cases. Over the past 45 years, 25 false cases were foisted against him. He has spent about 8 years in prison while awaiting trial, but was acquitted in all prior cases. In November 2018, Varavara Rao was once again arrested, this time as part of the nation-wide crackdown of public intellectuals by the Modi government in relation to the infamous Bhima Koregaon case. He is currently imprisoned in the Taloja jail, Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra, awaiting trial. Many international scholars and acclaimed organizations such as PEN International have called for his release.

Even after 18 months of judicial custody, no charges have been filed against him. It is important to note that Maharashtra has been identified as the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak in India. Moreover, the government admitted in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case in the Mumbai High Court that one inmate recently died of COVID-19 in the Taloja jail. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Varavara Rao, who is suffering from multiple medical ailments, is in a very vulnerable medical condition.

Recently, on May 28, 2020, Varavara Rao fainted in the jail and was admitted to JJ Hospital, Mumbai, when his condition became critical. The government responded recklessly and he was sent back to jail on June 1st, 2020 after some preliminary treatment to stabilize his condition. The government did not even allow his family members to visit him in the hospital or talk to him over the phone. Given this disturbing situation, Varavara Rao’s wife filed a petition in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court to release him on bail. But, the court refused to release him. Yet, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life to all citizens, including prisoners.

Considering G.N. Saibaba’s and Varavara Rao’s deteriorating health conditions and the outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons, we strongly believe that there is a potential danger to their lives. We appeal to you to release them immediately on bail to restore their right to live.

 

1. Noam Chomsky Laureate Professor of Linguistics, Agnese Nelms Haury Chair,

University of Arizona, USA.

2. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature,

University of California, Irvine, USA.

3. Judith Butler Maxine Elliot Professor, University of California, USA.
4. Fredric R. Jameson Knut Schmidt-Nielsen Professor of Comparative Literature, Duke

University Literature Program, Duke University, USA.

5. Bruno Latour Emeritus Professor, Sciences Po Paris, France.
6. Homi Bhabha Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Department of

Comparative Literature, Harvard University, USA.

7. Paul Gilroy Professor of The Humanities, Institute of Advanced Studies,

University College London, UK.

8. John Bellamy Foster Professor, Sociology, University of Oregon, USA.
9. Michael Burawoy Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.
10. Leo Panitch Emeritus professor of political science, York University, Canada.
11. Donna Haraway Professor Emerita, History of Consciousness Department,

University of California Santa Cruz, USA.

12. Barbara A. Frey Director, Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota, USA.
13. Partha Chatterjee Senior Research Scholar in Anthropology and Middle Eastern,

South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University, USA.

14. David Hardiman Emeritus Professor of History, Warwick University, UK.
15. Gerald Horne Moores Professorship of History and African American Studies,

University of Houston, USA.

16. Henry Veltmeyer Professor Emeritus, International Development Studies, Saint

Mary’s University, Canada.

17. Gyan Prakash Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Princeton University, USA.
18. James Scott Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale

University, USA.

19. Sudipta Kaviraj Professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies,

Columbia University, USA.

20. Walden Bello Adjunct Professor of Sociology, State University of New York at

Binghamton, USA.

21. Michael Hardt Professor of Literature, Program in Literature, Duke University,

USA.

22. Gyanendra Pandey Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor, Department of History,

Emory University, USA.

23. David Ludden Professor of History, New York University, USA.
24. Chandra Talpade

Mohanty

Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies &

Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, Syracuse University, USA.

25. Dipesh Chakrabarty Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History,

South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College, University of Chicago, USA.

26. Jan Nederveen

Pieterse

Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Distinguished Professor Global

studies and Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara,

USA.

27. David F. Ruccio Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Notre Dame, USA.
28. John Harriss Professor Emeritus, International Studies, Simon Fraser

University, Canada.

29. Vinay Lal Professor of History and Asian American Studies, University of

California, Los Angeles, USA.

30. Deepa Kumar Associate Professor, Department of Media Studies, Rutgers

University, USA.

31. Philip McMichael Professor of Global Development, Cornell University, USA.
32. Jan Breman Emeritus Professor, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
33. Javed Majeed Professor of English and Comparative Literature King’s College

London, UK.

34. Marcel van der

Linden

International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, the

Netherlands.

35. Ted Benton Emeritus Professor, Department of Sociology, University of

Essex, UK.

36. David McNally Cullen Distinguished Professor of History & Business

Department of History, University of Houston, USA.

37. Derek Gregory Peter Wall Distinguished Professor, Peter Wall Institute for

Advanced Studies and Department of Geography, University of

British Columbia, Canada.

38. Joy James Ebenezer Fitch Professor of the Humanities, Williams College,

USA.

39. Wendy Brown Class of 1936 Chair of Political Science, UC Berkeley, USA.
40. Erik Swyngedouw Professor of Geography, University of Manchester, UK.
41. Raúl Delgado Wise Professor and Director of Development Studies, Universidad

Autónoma de Zacatecas, Mexico.

42. Michel

Chossudovsky

Professor of Economics (emeritus), University of Ottawa;

Director, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), Montreal,

Canada.

43. Göran Therborn Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge, UK.
44. Patrick Bond Professor, University of the Western Cape School of Government,

South Africa.

45. Geoffrey Robinson Professor, Department of History, University of California, Los

Angeles, USA.

46. Ronaldo Munck Professor, Dublin City University, Ireland.
47. Roger Jeffery Professor of Sociology of South Asia, University of Edinburgh, UK.
48. Mukoma Wa Ngugi Associate Professor of English, Cornell University, USA.
49. Robin D. G. Kelley Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History, University of

California, Los Angeles, USA.

50. Stephanie Luce Professor and Department Chair, School of Labor and Urban

Studies, City University of New York, USA.

51. Michael Gismondi Professor, Sociology and Global Studies, University of Athabasca,

Canada.

52. Nancy Fraser Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics, New School for Social

Research, USA.

53. Haroon Akram-

Lodhi

Professor of Economics and International Development Studies,

Trent University, Canada.

54. Ilan Kapoor Professor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York

University, Canada.

55. Peter Hallward Professor of Philosophy, Kingston University, UK.
56. Sarada Balagopalan Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Rutgers

University, USA.

57. Michael Goldman Professor, Department of Sociology and Global Studies,

University of Minnesota, USA.

58. Rachel Schurman Professor, Department of Sociology and Global Studies,

University of Minnesota, USA.

59. Sandro Mezzadra Associate Professor of Political Theory, University of Bologna,

Italy.

60. Ilan Peppe Professor of History, Director of the European Center for

Palestine Studies, University of Exeter, UK.

61. Priya Chacko Senior Lecturer, Politics and International Relations, University

of Adelaide, Australia.

62. Ania Loomba Catherine Byrson Professor of English, University of

Pennsylvania, USA.

63. Rochona Majumdar Associate Professor and Interim Director of The Nicholson

Center for British Studies, University of Chicago, USA.

64. Adam Hochschild Lecturer, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California,

Berkeley, USA.

65. Immanuel Ness Professor, Department of Political Science, Brooklyn College City

University of New York, USA.

66. Enzo Traverso Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities, Cornell

University, USA.

67. Richard Sennett Chair, Council on Urban Initiatives, United Nations Habitat, and

Visiting Professor, The Senseable Cities Lab, MIT, USA.

68. Subir Sinha Senior Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, SOAS

University of London, UK.

69. Gilbert Achcar Professor of Development Studies and International Relations,
SOAS, University of London, UK.
70. Yunas Samad Emeritus Professor, Bradford University, UK.
71. Ruth Milkman Professor of Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center, USA.
72. Louise Tillin Reader in Politics, King’s India Institute, King’s College London,

UK.

73. Jamal J. Elias Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the Humanities, University of

Pennsylvania, USA.

74. Hal Foster Townsend Martin Professor of Art & Archaeology, Princeton

University, USA.

75. Paul Le Blanc Professor of History, La Roche University, Pittsburgh, USA.
76. Greg Albo Professor of Politics, York University, Toronto, Canada.
77. Sital Kalantry Clinical Professor of Law, Cornell Law School, USA.
78. Kathi Weeks Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, Duke

University, USA.

79. Brian Spooner Professor of Anthropology, Museum Curator for Near Eastern

Ethnology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

80. Andrew Sartori Professor of History, New York University, USA.
81. Afsar Mohammad Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania, USA.
82. Radha D’Souza Reader, Westminster Law School, University of Westminster, UK.
83. Gordon Laxer Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta, Canada.
84. Raju Das Professor, Department of Geography, York University, Canada.
85. Hira Singh Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University,

Canada.

86. Radhika Desai Professor, Department of Political Studies, University of

Manitoba, Canada.

87. Salvatore Engel-Di

Mauro

Professor, Department of Geography, SUNY New Platz, USA.
88. Amitava Kumar Professor of English on the Helen D. Lockwood Chair, Vassar

College, USA.

89. Waquar Ahmed Associate Professor, Department of Geography. University of

North Texas, USA.

90. Marcello Musto Associate Professor of Sociological Theory, Department of

Sociology, York University, Canada.

91. Victor Wallis Professor, Liberal Arts Department, Berklee College of Music,

Boston, USA.

92. Sourayan Mookerjea Director, Intermedia Research Studio, Department of Sociology University of Alberta, Canada.
93. Murray E.G. Smith Professor of Sociology, Brock University, Canada.
94. Gerardo Otero Professor, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser

University, Canada.

95. Pritam Singh Visiting Scholar, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK.
96. Aijaz Ahmad Distinguished Professor, Department of Comparative Literature

School of Humanities, University of California, USA.

97. Mary Fainsod

Katzenstein

Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor of American Studies,

Department of Government, Cornell University, USA.

98. Paul Bowles Professor, Economics and International Studies, University of

Northern British Columbia, Canada.