23rd May 2015
A little over one year after the abduction and arrest of Dr. GN Saibaba, poets, intellectuals, artists, teachers, students, activists came together for a Convention against Silencing Democracy & Criminalizing Dissent at the Hindi Bhawan in New Delhi. This convention was organized in solidarity with Dr. GN Saibaba, Assistant Professor of English at Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi and a well-known human rights activist. Dr. Saibaba, a person with 90% physical disability hailing from an underprivileged background, has been in the forefront of democratic movements across the subcontinent. Ever since his arrest, Dr. Saibaba has been kept in torturous conditions in the anda cell in Nagpur Central Jail. He has been denied the most basic facilities crucial for his survival in jail. This convention intended to highlight Dr. Saibaba’s condition in jail and the treatment meted out to him as well as demands his immediate release.
Speakers included the chairperson of the Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba, Prof. G Haragopal felt that the hallmark of democracy is the preservation of ideas and the burden of proof lies with the political parties. Thus, he found that, “Dissent or unpopular idea may not be relevant now but it is crucial for posterity”. Amit Bhattacharya, Professor of History in Jadavpur University found that, “When attempts to curtail sustain over such a long period, the laws are used for the purpose of justifying these attempts.” A civil rights activist from West Bengal, Sujato Bhadro, asserted, “The judicial system is harbouring the practice of declaring criminal any thought antithetical to the existing establishment.” Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, JNU, emphasized that, “the ruling class doesn’t think that certain ideas should surface. It is time for us to recognize and say this openly as our silence gives legitimacy to the kind of that rule that jails people like Dr. Saibaba.” KJ Mukherjee, a professor from JNU, stressed the need to move beyond our safe spaces and take this fight for our rights to the centers of struggle. DUTA President, Nandita Narain said, “There is no justification for his arrest and detention which is nothing short of torture and physical and mental humiliation heaped on him. Irrespective of his views, we need to salute his courage. It is the value that needs to be fostered in all the young among us.” Prof. N Raghuram of IP University underlined that, “in people like Dr. Saibaba lies our freedom. That is the single most important reason for fighting for him and for social change.”
Cultural activist and editor of Vidrohi magazine, Sudhir Dhawale, who was acquitted and released from jail soon after Dr. Saibaba was arrested, stated that, “When the whole country lives in fear of being jailed for the freedom of thought, we need to accept that fascism is knocking on our door.” Political activist Kavita Krishnan felt that this fight to free political prisoners everywhere is a fight we fight for ourselves. Malem Ningthouja noted the connection between this notion of democracy, laws, the claim of protecting national security and development. He highlighted the irony of a state that claims to be a democracy jailing its democratic voices. Prof. Jatinder Singh from Panjabi University, Patiala underlined the significance of the dissent and if it is seen as a flame, then he felt that it was a flame that needed to be lit. Noted film maker Sanjay Kak felt this is a moment for us to turn out reverses into an opportunity where while pressing for Dr. Saibaba’s release we get through to more people about the conditions he had been highlighting that led to his arrest.
Rebecca Mammon John, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court stressed that, “the judiciary is complicit and hand in glove with the ruling establishment in ensuring that the basic rights of prisoners is denied when politically expedient.” Arundhati Roy felt that Dr. Saibaba is in jail today because he was too successful in exposing the state sponsored Operation Green Hunt. She said, “When the best institutions that money can buy are pitted against the people of this country, it is up to us to understand how these forces operate and fight them.” She expressed her solidarity with the large section of the Left and felt that this was a time to unite on not just the release of Dr. Saibaba but also the struggle against exploitation by corporations that landed him in jail.
Many poets, cultural activists, organisations, and teachers spoke at the convention including journalist Panini Anand, Abhishek Srivastava, and Manisha Sethi of JTSA, N Sachin from DU, Animesh from IFTU, Jeevan Chandra of RDF, Madhu Chopra, Pankaj Tyagi and others. Those who attended the convention unanimously voted in favour of the resolution attached along with this statement.