GN Saibaba, the professor of Delhi University was apprehended, or virtually abducted by the Maharashtra police in 2014, thrown into the notorious 'Anda' cell of Nagpur jail and now convicted under UAPA and sentenced to life by the Gadchiroli trial court as the prosecution “successfully established his links with the outlawed Maoists.”
The Maharashtra police has skillfully carved out and executed the plan to silence dissent with a Maoist tag. Ever since his arrest, it was evident as the cops deliberately blocked every possibility of him to prove his innocence. The way in which the men in uniform acted was to demonise the professor who is 90 percent orthopedically disabled. To the police, the wheelchair-bound professor is the “urban face of the Maoist movement”.
The professor attempted to engage with whatever issues which he thought need to be addressed as an intellectual. His research and readings in the field of popular movements made him a popular face in the frontline against the Operation Green Hunt and the state-sponsored genocides of tribals in Bastar area. But, the price which he had to pay was his life itself.
Saibaba has been a vocal critic of Operation Green Hunt, the government’s counter-offensive against the Maoist insurgency. Starting as a direct engagement of the security forces with armed formations of the Maoists, the counter-offensive has acquired new dimensions over time as an attempt to suppress any form of activism, legal or underground, that gives voice to the predominantly tribal population in the remote, forested terrain of central India.
Dr Saibaba’s only ‘crime’ is that he stood in solidarity with the marginalised who were protesting against the corporate loot of natural resources. He was protesting with them against the current development model practised in the world, which is making the already marginalised even more impoverished. Coming from a similarly disadvantaged background, Saibaba talked about the plight of the oppressed through his classroom teaching and activism. It is to protect the crisis caused to the legitimacy of the State by activists and academics like him that the State has started curtailing dissenting voices through arrest and torture and framing.
Saibaba was born in a poor family Andhra's Amalapuram in 1967. His disability, due to childhood polio, forced him to crawl on his hands till he got a wheelchair after coming to Delhi in 2003. His father grew rice on his three acres but by the time Saibaba was 10, he'd lost that to money-lenders. However, a consistently stellar performance in class ensured scholarships throughout. The fee for his entrance test for master's in Hyderabad was paid by his wife, then girlfriend.
The revolutionary and Vasantha met at a coaching class and they fell in love over grade 10 maths homework. The duo “exhausted” the literature section of the Amalapuram library. Saibaba finished at SKBR College at the top of the university. After education as an activist of the All India People's Resistance Forum (AIPRF), he travelled over 200,000 km to speak in support of liberation movements in Kashmir and the north east and campaign for Dalit and Adivasi rights.
In the early 1990s, he started off as a pro-reservation activist taking on the forces that attempted to scrap the reservation policy for disadvantaged lower-caste Indians. By mid-1990s, he had kickstarted a campaign against the Andhra Pradesh Police for “encounter killings” of innocents and Naxalites. Most of his peers were killed by unknown assailants, who, he believes, were state-sponsored hit men. In his own words, their fault was that they criticised the killings of Naxalites, which didn’t go down well with the government.
After he moved to Delhi in early 2000 to teach English literature at Ramlal Anand College, Delhi University, he coordinated a campaign against the military offensive in tribal areas, which hurt investment badly. He said the authorities decided that “the best way to stop me was to throw me in jail.”
In September 2009, the Congress government launched Operation Green Hunt. By then, Professor Saibaba’s activism had taken him across the central Indian tribal belt. Between 2009 and 2012, when the operation was at its peak, he mobilised public intellectuals under a group named Forum Against War on People. He coordinated a nationwide campaign against the military offensive, slamming and shaming it to its core.
Police actions against Saibaba was steered up after the home ministry reportedly received thousands of protest letters against Operation.
The “legal abduction” of Saibaba was made eight months after police team from Gadchiroli district of eastern Maharashtra raided Saibaba’s residence in Delhi University’s North Campus and seized hard drives, reading the material and even his daughter’s cell phone. The raid had followed the arrests of rights activist Prashant Rahi and JNU student Hem Mishra last September from the Chhattisgarh capital Raipur and Balharshah railway station in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district, respectively.
On 9 May 2014, when he was heading back home from the university, hoping to join his wife and mother for lunch, a group of policemen in plainclothes stopped his car, dragged the driver out and drove him out of the university campus.The next morning after his arrest from Delhi, Professor Saibaba was flown to Nagpur, where the District Magistrate heard his case and sent him to the country’s most notorious Anda jail, which means egg-shaped prison. The since then harassment took a heavy toll on his health.
G N Saibaba has been suffering from permanent post-polio paralysis of the legs since the age of 5 and it has resulted in his 90 percent disability. As per latest report, he also suffers from acute cervical and lower lumbar spondylitis, multiple cramps in his hands due to weak muscles along with hypertension and has a history of severe cardiac arrest.
As a passionate academic, popular among his students and colleagues Dr Saibaba has never failed in discharging his prime responsibility as a teacher. G N Saibaba's reassuring presence and his commitment to his profession were much valued by his colleagues in the faculty. Dr G N Saibaba achieved this professional reputation and academic stature despite heavy odds. As he walks into darker corner of Indian prison, the eyes of the Lady Justice seems to be closed.