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90% disabled DU Prof G N Saibaba -‘In prison attempt was made to kill me silently ‘

An attempt was on to kill me silently with my own ailments’

Prof GN Saibaba said he was not even taken to the jail hospital a street away or given any medicine

SOME RESPITE:Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba with family members after his release on bail from Nagpur Central Jail, on Thursday.— Photo: S Sudarshan

SOME RESPITE:Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba with family members after his release on bail from Nagpur Central Jail, on Thursday.— Photo: S Sudarshan

t looks like they (government and police) wanted to silently kill me with my own ailments. They may not have shot me down but they wanted to kill me like this,” said GN Saibaba, Delhi University professor, after his release from Nagpur central jail on Thursday.

Prof Saibaba was first arrested by the Maharashtra police in May 2014 for alleged links with Maoists. The wheelchair-bound professor was given bail on medical grounds by the Bombay High Court in June last year, however, the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court cancelled his bail resulting in his return to the Nagpur central jail in December.

Speaking to The Hindu in an exclusive interview following his release after the Supreme Court granted him bail earlier this week, the DU professor said that his health had deteriorated during his second term in Nagpur jail.

How is your health now?

It is very critical now. I was bedridden for last three days. I could somehow get out of bed this morning only. Because of muscle issues in my left shoulder I cannot even lie down. I cannot pass urine properly. This problem was developed in jail. Gallbladder problem is also there. I feel excruciating pain in the entire left portion of my body. I am also suffering from heart problems. In the past few months, I have been experiencing severe chest pain with excessive sweating. The kidney stones are back again.

What kind of treatment and medical help was given to you inside jail after your re-arrest?

Absolutely no treatment was given to me this time. I was kept inside the solitary ‘ anda ’ cell. During my first term, I was taken to hospital 27 times; which had given me some good health; but this time, I was not even taken to the jail hospital which was a street away and not given any medicine.

I fainted thrice due to the kind of harassment I was subjected to. The Sessions Court gave an order [to the jail authorities] to immediately take me to the government’s super specialty hospital but I was not taken. The prosecution took a letter from the superintendent of prisons saying they were treating me at three different hospitals [in Nagpur] and that they were bearing the costs also. But they did not even take me to the jail hospital which is inside the jail premises. How could there be any relief to my problems? What they submitted to the Supreme Court was also a blatant kind of a lie.

I cannot lift my left hand now. I cannot even shift from one place to other without help, which was not the case earlier. The re-arrest put a break on my medical treatment and further deteriorated my health.

Why did they treat you this way?

It looks like they wanted to silently kill me with my own ailments. They may not have shot me down but they wanted to kill me like this.

You you cannot even move without help. Why do you think the police and the government are after you?

They are scared of my activism. They have repeatedly told me that because of my campaigns, particularly on Adivasi issues, the government was facing embarrassment. I was warned about it several times even before my arrest. I was told clearly that I would be arrested if I don’t stop. I told them that what I was doing in my little capacity as a wheelchair-bound person was legitimate. All that I had was my voice to raise fundamental questions related to the most downtrodden people. Shutting my mouth would be like death.

I believe in democracy and democratic voices can give relief to the people. The minimum role I was playing, particularly after the launch of Operation Green Hunt from 2009 to 2012, was being active with thousands of other activists to raise voice against the atrocities on Adivasis. We were only talking about the Adivasis, how their houses were being burnt and lakhs of them were being driven away from their own land. They simply wanted me to stop that and ensure I am not there to raise my voice.

The government refused to take you to Gadchiroli fearing you would be rescued by Maoists. They still consider you a part of the top Maoist think tank. How do you react to this?

These contentions are laughable. It is an attempt to create a psychological warfare in the public domain to make sure that the intellectuals, who have been raising the voices of common people, will be frightened.

The message was clear. If they can do this to a person in a wheelchair, then they can do this to any other person as well. They wanted to create an atmosphere of terror.

Is there an attempt being made to relate every pro-poor, pro-Adivasi and anti-displacement voice to the Maoists movement to silence them?

Today, to be called a Maoist, you do not have to be a Maoist. Any activist or intellectual who is raising fundamental questions about the model of the so-called development, is being termed a Maoist. This is to criminalise the voices of intellectuals. They ban one organisation and try to link up all democratic voices with that organisation.

It is criminalising the democratic process and voices. They think by doing this, they will silence these voices, but so far I could see that such a thing is not successful.

Would you name the forces who want to silence these democratic voices?

It is the ruling classes of this country, whichever party they may belong to, those who want power, those who want to exploit natural resources, and those who are aligned with the imperialist forces. These are the people who will benefit out of suppression of the democratic voices.

The Maharashtra government said that if you are set free you will propagate Maoist views.

This kind of an allegation is basically a threat through prosecution, so that no intellectual or democratic voice raises uncomfortable questions to the government or to the people in power. Can they cite anything during my 30 years of activism which supported the Maoist movement? There is no proof against me.

I am a free citizen of India and I can speak whatever I want. Why should it come in the Supreme Court if I say something? As an activist, I can say anything that is needed for the country. I have never used any aggressive or bad language against anyone.

I always speak for the democratic rights of the people. How can that be found fault with?

An intolerance debate is going on in this country and many activists and journalists are facing harassment. Do you think it has increased in the last two years?

The atmosphere of suppression of democratic voices and an atmosphere of not tolerating any difference of opinion is being created in this country. It is suffocating.

Journalists are not able to do their work freely. Students are not able to raise their voice in their campuses. The ruling classes feel threatened by these voices not only in India but almost everywhere in the world. So an attempt is being made to silence the voices.

The word intolerance is too small a word to use, it is a kind of high suppressive atmosphere creation.

After you went to jail, many activists came out openly in your support. A consolidated campaign was witnessed to raise voice against your re-arrest.

I would like to thank everyone. There was huge response, but I don’t think it was a response of an individual named Saibaba.

The response was against the targeting of defenders of the rights of the people. In me, they saw the people who are defending people’s rights. The response was for the need which has been recognised by all intellectuals, journalists and newspapers, for all the democratic activists. The time has come when you have to defend the defenders of rights.

Do you see the situation changing?

I see a great hope, particularly the surge in the students, younger people and first generation rights activists who are raising important questions. In every campus, unrest is simmering.

What do you plan to do now?

First priority is my health. After regaining my health I would return to the same work I have been doing since my college days. A larger alliance of the people’s forces is required today. Otherwise it will be very difficult to pass over this phase of the heavy repression and suppression for this country. There is always a possibility to slip into a chaotic anarchy with no space for democratic practices. All democratic, progressive forces should come together to give a systematic response to defeat the forces of reaction. I will be a part of that stream which will come together as required by the people of this country. No democrat can stay away from such a movement which is to be built immediately.

You are also writing a book?

There were many interesting twists and turns in my case even before my arrest. I don’t particularly like a thriller, but what has happened in my life is like a thriller. All that could never have been imagined. I would like to present all those events not as a thriller or as realty, but as surreal.

What are your views on the CPI (Maoist?)

(laughs) Exactly, this is what the Maharashtra government wants me to speak. I have never minced my words. I am a public figure and I have no right to hide anything. The CPI (Maoist) is a political party, full stop.

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