Human Rights

A “Maoist’s” arrest

Print edition : June 13, 2014

Prof. Saibaba was produced in a court in Aheri, Gadchiroli, on May 10. Photo: PTI

The manner of Professor Saibaba’s arrest and his detention in judicial custody raise questions about police high-handedness.

WHEELCHAIR-BOUND, 90 per cent disabled, a heart patient and unable to move much without assistance, Professor G. Naga Saibaba of Delhi University is being held in judicial custody in Nagpur Central Jail and has been kept in a cramped, a high security egg-shaped cell built to confine terrorists. He told his brother, Ramdev, who was allowed a brief visit two days after his arrest, that his medication, which he must have daily to be functional, has been withdrawn by the Gadchiroli Police. He also told his brother that he was experiencing great difficulty while using the toilet because it is impossible for him to use the Indian-style lavatory.

Disability rights activists are aghast at such treatment of a severely disabled person, somebody who can surely be no threat to anybody in his present physical condition. “He has cardiac problems, high blood pressure with severe pain in his lower back. His ligaments swell up due to constant use of the wheelchair and his upper body has partial mobility. There was absolutely no need to arrest him, and that too in such a surreptitious and illegal manner. He was cooperating with the police even when they raided his house without a proper warrant,” said Karen Gabriel, Associate Professor, St Stephen’s College.

The arrest was dramatic enough. On May 9, on his way home for lunch from examination duty at Daulat Ram College, at 1-30 p.m., his car was intercepted by a Hyundai Santro in the middle of a busy street a la gangster style and policemen in plainclothes dragged the driver out, blindfolded him and took him away to Civil Lines Police Station. Saibaba was driven to the airport, and his wife, Vasantha, got a call from somebody who identified himself as Gadchiroli Police and said Saibaba was at the airport. Before Vasantha could react, the call was abruptly cut.

Some of his colleagues have been asking why he had to be arrested in such a clandestine manner and why he could not be put on trial. Prof. Raghuram of Indraprastha College said: “Universities are the last bastions of democracy. When people are punished under the law, it is for actions. One cannot be punished for holding a view, however unpalatable it is to the dominant views of the state.” Frontline’s attempts to get in touch with Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh were in vain. The university has suspended Saibaba from service.

“Saibaba is a member of a terrorist organisation [CPI (Maoist)] and he conspired to facilitate activities between various cadres and mustered international support for the banned organisation from Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. So we arrested him under the UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act],” Ravindra Kadam, Deputy Inspector General, Gadchiroli Police, told Frontline on the phone. Saibaba is also joint secretary, Revolutionary Democratic Front, and a visible presence in human rights movements in Delhi.

It takes years before the prosecution is able to produce a single piece of strong evidence against the accused, said Senior Advocate Rebecca John. Soni Sori was arrested and subjected to custodial torture before being released on bail due to lack of evidence. “When the charges are so serious, the checks and balances applied by the police should be more stringent,” Rebecca John said.

The writer Arundhati Roy described Saibaba’s arrest as “illegal abduction which amounted to a human rights violation”. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties has sent a letter to the National Human Rights Council. The Delhi University Teachers’ Association has released a statement in support of Saibaba.