- MEHBOOB JEELANI
His campaign was seen as anti-investment.
After a 14-month imprisonment at the Central Jail in Nagpur, G.N. Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound Professor of English at Delhi University accused of having Maoist links, is settling back in his house on the varsity campus.
Last Friday, the Mumbai High Court granted him bail for three months, so that he could consult doctors for several ailments. The court’s ruling followed a suo motu litigation based on an e-mail to the Chief Justice by activist Purnima Upadhyay citing a news report in The Hindu that described how Professor Saibaba’s health was deteriorating in the prison.
Professor Saibaba sat in a small room of his house decorated with bookracks and old calendars. Months of separation from his family has left him slightly disoriented. He feels something is missing at home.
“I guess the liveliness in the family is gone,” he told The Hindu. “It’s been a traumatic experience for all of us. I don’t know how long it will take us to be happy again.”
Though he is facing charges of being affiliated with the outlawed Maoist leaders, he comes across as a man who has a firm faith in democracy.
In the early 1990s, he started off as a pro-reservation activist, standing against the forces that attempted to scrap the reservation policy for disadvantaged lower-caste Indians. By mid-1990s, he was campaigning against the Andhra Pradesh Police for what he called “encounter killings” of innocents and Naxalites. Most of his peers, he said, were assassinated by unknown assailants, who, he believes, were state-sponsored hit men. “I lost 10 activist friends in a span of 10 years,” he said. “Their fault was that they criticised the killings of Naxalites and claimed their bodies so that they could give them a funeral. That didn’t go down well with the government.”
After he moved to Delhi, 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.”
‘Green Hunt aimed to dislodge tribal people’
In the early 2000s, Dr. Saibaba moved to Delhi to teach English literature at Ramlal Anand College, Delhi University. It was not the fear for life that forced him to leave Andhra Pradesh and migrate to Delhi.
He grew disillusioned with the coursework, which he taught as an adjunct lecturer in a local college for over a decade.
In September 2009, the Congress government launched Operation Green Hunt, a military offensive aimed at flushing out Maoist rebels from across the tribal belt of India. By then, Professor Saibaba’s activism had taken him across the central Indian tribal belt.
“I have been to almost every Adivasi district. It wasn’t that difficult for a physically challenged person like me. The Adivasis took me on their shoulders and walked me up to the hilly forests,” he said.
“I gathered enough evidence that suggested the ruling class wanted access to their resources no matter what. So the Operation Green Hunt was launched to kill, maim and dislodge these people.”
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.
His campaign, he said, started to bite the government with several international investors withdrawing investments from the tribal belt. On the afternoon of May 9, 2014, 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 prison.
“The evidence was that the police had found some press statements [of Maoist leaders] from my pen drive,” he said. “Another piece of evidence was that I had written a letter to some top Maoist leader. To this day, the police never showed me that letter.”
At the country’s most notorious Anda jail, which means egg-shaped prison, Dr. Saibaba was not allowed to use the toilet for the next 72 hours. The harassment took a heavy toll on his health.