Free Dr Saibaba and Oppose the Suppression of Dissent in India

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In March 2017, a court in the western state of Maharastra convicted Professor GN Saibaba and five other activists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a repressive law that originated under British colonial rule. They were convicted with being members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), with opposing industrial development in Gadchiroli, Maharastra and with “waging war against the state.” The only evidence for these charges came from 22 coached police officers.

The Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba in Delhi pointed out that the 827 page judgment failed to point out a single instance in which Saibaba and the other five were conspirators to commit violence or provide logistical support to violent acts. The charge of “waging war against the state” which the Indian state has levied against Saibaba is particularly ridiculous since he has had polio since the age of five and is 90% disabled from the waist down.

Saibaba has been Professor of English at Delhi University and at Ram Lal Anand College in recent years. The other five are a journalist, a student and three tribals. Saibaba and four other activists received life-sentences; one received a 10-year sentence. Since Saibaba was arrested in 2014, he has been denied adequate medical care for gall bladder stones, acute gastric condition, and high blood pressure. The judge who handed down the sentence pointedly refused to order Saibaba’s jailers to provide him with adequate medical care in the future. In a press release on April 20, the President of the Delhi University Teachers Association, Professor Nandita Narain, expressed her concern about the urgent need for medical release and emergency surgery for her colleague. Without this treatment, the court’s verdict will be a death sentence for Professor Saibaba.

At his trial, Saibaba’s lawyers demonstrated that his “crime” was to criticize and organize legal mass organizations as the Deputy Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF). Saibaba has been a leading voice defending the rights of adivasis (tribals), dalits (formerly called untouchables), and religious minorities. Saibaba and the RDF have launched nationwide opposition to the corporate pillage of adivasi water, forest and land resources by profit-hungry mining and industrial corporations. Saibaba has also publicly opposed the deployment of 100,000 paramilitary forces in mineral-rich adivasi areas in eastern India under the name of Operation Green Hunt, which began in 2009. When Saibaba visited dozens of the districts in these areas, he was carried by adivasi activists on their shoulders.

The Chairperson of the Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba, Professor Haragopal, stated on April 20 that “the function of a university is to critically assess the manner in which society lives. As professors and teachers, it is these values and opinions about the nature of society and life that are discussed in classrooms. But this judgment [Saibaba’s life sentence] strikes at the very core of this right to exchange ideas.” While the Indian state has filled up the jails with over 100,000 political prisoners, a growing number of Hindu extremists, with support from Prime Minister Modi and the courts, are free to attack and intimidate Muslims and other religious minorities with impunity. At the same time, dalits and lower castes have experienced ongoing oppression and brutality. On May 5, upper caste Thakurs burned down the houses of 25 dalits in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, with no arrests by the local government.

The draconian sentences given to Saibaba and five other activists are reflective of the growing attempts of the state to silence all progressive forces in India. The judgment is not just a conviction of Professor Saibaba and five other activists, but puts all democratic values in India on trial.

Petition campaigns and grassroots organizing efforts have started in Delhi, Brazil, and Vancouver, Canada. This is one way we can unite to demand the release of Saibaba and defend democratic activists and dissent in India. This U.S.-based petition will be forwarded to the Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba in Delhi.

Free Dr Saibaba and oppose the suppression of dissent in India!

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