India: Protests rise against jailing of G. N. Saibaba
26 May 2014. A World to Win News Service. India has seen a rising chorus of protests against the imprisonment of G. N. Saibaba, an associate professor of English at Delhi University and long-time activist in the Indian people’s movement.
A team of police in civilian clothing stopped his car on 9 May, as he was returning to his university residence for lunch after exam duty. Saibaba, 47, is 90 percent disabled and uses a wheelchair. He and his driver were blindfolded and hustled into an unmarked vehicle. He was immediately taken to the airport and flown to Nagpur in the state of Maharashtra, where he was brought before a court the next day.
Saibaba’s wife said that all she knew was that he suddenly disappeared shortly after calling her, and then his phone was turned off. The driver was not released until that evening. In the afternoon his wife received a phone call, but there was no official notification or word about his fate until he was presented in court the next day, after she filed a missing person report and outrage at his apparent disappearance had begun to mount. She accused the authorities of arresting him in this furtive manner to prevent anyone from notifying his lawyers before he could be taken to Nagur, where charges had been filed against him under the Illegal Activities Prevention Act for alleged contacts with a banned organization, the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The Nagpur court ordered him held without bail for 14 days. As of 26 May, nothing has been said about his release. While he was in prison the police said in a press statement, “The Maoists have themselves given proof of Professor Saibaba’s Maoist links. They dropped some pamphlets near Jambia (Gatta) village condemning the arrest of the professor.” The District Superintendent of Police claimed that this made his links with the CPI(M) “clear”. According to the Hindustan Times, citing government sources, the police planned to oppose his release on bail because an alleged rural confrontation between police and guerrillas proved that he was “dangerous”, because, they claimed, it was “retaliation” for his arrest.
Many rights organizations, other groups and intellectuals such as Arundhati Roy have pointed out that with “evidence” like this, the Indian government could arrest anyone they want and hold them indefinitely – which has happened to many activists, charged not for their actions but their alleged associations. They consider Saibaba’s arrest an attempt to intimidate free speech, free association and free thought.
Indian and international legal organizations have denounced the Illegal Activities Prevention Act for the vagueness of its definitions of what is illegal and the arbitrariness of the arrests made under its provisions. People have been held for possessing literature of banned organizations. In Saibaba’s case, the authorities are presenting alleged actions by people other than the accused, which even occurred after his arrest, as “evidence” of ties to an organization they decided to outlaw. This whole package of measures makes it legal for the authorities to deny people’s rights whenever they deem it necessary.
Saibaba is the joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front and convener of the Forum against the War on the People, which opposes a government counterinsurgency campaign that has killed thousands of Adavasi (tribal people). He has organized fact-finding missions to look into state violence in rural areas.
He has been interrogated four times in the last year. In September 2013 police from Maharashtra raided his Delhi campus residence and seized computer hard drives, reading materials and electronic devices with the pretext of looking for stolen goods. They came back to his home to interrogate him for four or five hours when the charges first surfaced last January. Since then he notified the Nagpur police that he would be available for further questioning at his home or office.
In jail, Saibaba has threatened to go on hunger strike because the conditions make it impossible to use the toilet or take care of himself properly.
The Delhi Teachers Association released a statement strongly condemning “this arbitrary and illegal action by the police in connivance with the university authorities.” Following the arrest, Saibaba was suspended from his teaching position. Now and on previous occasions when he has faced repression he has had broad support from professors and students.
Demonstrations, meetings and other events in support of Saibaba have taken place in Delhi, Kolkota Bernala, Hyderabad, Maharashtra and New York.