G.N. Saibaba reveals torture and injustice during 10-year imprisonment

Acquitted after being imprisoned for 10 years on terror charges, Saibaba says he faced inhuman conditions and seeks accountability from authorities.

Published : Mar 09, 2024 17:09 IST - 7 MINS READ

Former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba stated that he was repeatedly tortured and subjected to abuse while in prison.

Former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba stated that he was repeatedly tortured and subjected to abuse while in prison. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap/ The Hindu

For the first time, former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who was acquitted by the Bombay High Court on March 5 after over 10 years of imprisonment, has publicly stated that he was repeatedly tortured and subjected to abuse while in prison in connection with a 2014 Maoist links case. “The inhuman treatment meted out to me during the imprisonment, which amounted to torture, put my life at risk. I was denied medical care on several occasions. It has left me a physical wreck. Today, I am alive before you but my organs are failing me,” said Saibaba, the 58-year-old academic and poet, who is ninety per cent physically disabled due to polio.

Saibaba interacted with the media in New Delhi on March 8 after he was released from the Nagpur Central Jail the previous day. He was arrested on May 9, 2014, under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 1967 and for criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code, nearly eight months after the Maharashtra police claimed to have recovered “incriminating” documents, pictures, and videos from his home.

However, political observers believe that the Professor’s arrest was part of growing state repression against activists and intellectuals opposed to crony capitalism and the criminalisation of human rights defenders in the country.

Also Read | G.N. Saibaba writes: My view from an ‘anda’

Earlier, Saibaba was granted bail in June 2015 by the Bombay High Court and in April 2016 by the Supreme Court. Subsequently, he was convicted on March 7, 2017, for being associated with the banned Maoist organisations by a sessions court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, and was lodged in the Anda cell, a British-era oval-shaped torture chamber, in Nagpur jail.

“I was in the same cell for eight and a half years without a wheelchair. It was a daily struggle to use the toilet, take a bath, or even fetch myself a glass of water. The prison doesn’t have a single ramp for people like me,” he said.

Saibaba complained of several ailments, including a heart condition, kidney stones, cysts in the brain and kidneys, and pancreatitis, besides “shooting pain” in the left portion of his body. “Now my heart is functioning at 55 per cent capacity due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I am facing syncope attacks and fall unconscious,” he said, flanked by his wife Vasantha and members of the Committee for the Defense and Release of Saibaba, including Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja, Delhi University Professors Nandita Narain and Karen Gabriel, General Secretary of National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, Muralidharan Vishwanathan, and Saibaba’s co-accused Hem Mishra.

Saibaba said that there was no relief even after the higher judiciary discharged him. “The only institution left to be relied upon in the country, the judiciary, has also been put to the test in this case,” he added.

Before his recent acquittal, Saibaba was discharged by the Bombay High Court on October 14, 2022, for lack of valid sanction under Section 45(1) of the UAPA. Within hours, the Maharashtra government rushed to the Supreme Court. The top court also demonstrated unusual haste when it stayed his discharge by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court on October 15, a Saturday, which is a non-working day for the court otherwise. The High Court order was overturned by a special bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and Bela Trivedi. The apex court judges observed that the accused persons, including Saibaba, had been convicted of a “very serious” crime “against the sovereignty and integrity of the country”.

This time again, the State government lost no time to move the top court against the high court order on March 5. Now, an apex court Bench headed by Justice BR Gavai is scheduled to hear the appeal filed by the Maharashtra government against Saibaba’s acquittal and five other co-accused persons in the case on March 11, Monday.

The Nagpur bench of the High Court in its March 5 judgement had noted, “In order to attract the offence of conspiracy, besides vague allegations that they have conspired to wage war against the government or advocate arms struggle, there is no other material.” The court order stated that downloading Communist or Naxal literature from the internet or being a sympathiser of the ideology can’t be treated as an offence under the UAPA. Further, it maintained that “the trial held despite violations of mandatory provisions of the law (UAPA) itself amounts to a failure of justice”.

Besides being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, India is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has ratified the UN Convention against Torture. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, state that healthcare of the prisoners is a state responsibility.

In 2018 UN rights experts had urged India to release Saibaba, stating, that he “is suffering from more than 15 different health problems, some of which have potentially fatal consequences.”

Sharing his “horrific” experience, Saibaba said that his mistreatment started right from the time of his arrest from his Delhi residence. “When I was arrested in 2014, the policemen dragged me by my left hand as a result of which my left arm remains swollen to date. After several delays when I was taken to the hospital, the doctors told me that it was almost impossible to revive the muscular and nervous system,” said Saibaba, adding that he suffered two attacks of COVID-19 and one of swine flu in the prison but was not provided emergency medical treatment. He told the press that a doctor had recommended a sleep study for him seven years ago but it was never conducted, while he was provided medicines sent by his family following his 10-day hunger strike inside the jail.

According to Muralidharan Vishwanathan, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPD Act), which was enacted to fulfil India’s obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is wholly applicable to Saibaba’s case. He said Sections 6 and 7 of the Act provide protection from cruelty and inhuman treatment” and “protection from abuse, violence, and exploitation”.

Vishwanathan stated that the National Human Rights Commission’s intervention was sought in the case on several occasions but to no avail. “His wheelchair was like his body organ but the same was denied in jail,” he said, stressing that despite rules and laws, the authorities failed to uphold his basic rights in prison.

Saibaba said he had permanent post-polio paralysis since he was five. “My mother, despite being uneducated, made every possible effort as she brought me up and made sure that I got educated. She would take me to school in her arms. But I was refused permission to meet my dying mother or perform her last rites,” he said, wondering, “if the state’s role is to serve people or crush humanity”. His mother passed away in August 2020. “In jail, I was treated like the biggest terrorist in the world”.

Saibaba claimed that his lawyer, Surendra Gadling, too has been falsely implicated in the Elgar Parishad case (concerning alleged inflammatory speeches made at a public meeting called the Elgar Parishad in Pune, in December 2017). “He too has been denied life-saving medicines, which have been prescribed by a government hospital, despite his fast-deteriorating health in prison”. Talking about Pandu Narote, another accused in the case, Saibaba said, “He died in front of me. He was taken to the hospital only after he started bleeding profusely through urine”. An agricultural worker and a member of a scheduled tribe from Gadchiroli, Narote died in 2022. He was 33.

Also Read | Book Review: 'Why Do You Fear My Way So Much?' by G.N. Saibaba exhibits a fearless mind

Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old activist who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, died in custody in Mumbai’s Taloja prison in 2021 after his bail plea had been rejected several times. Another accused in the Elgar Parishad case, Swamy too had been denied medical bail and access to auxiliary aids relevant to a disabled person.

Speaking on the occasion, Delhi University Professors Narain and Gabriel demanded that Saibaba be compensated for the loss of his service years and that the authorities be held accountable for his wrongful incarceration. After being implicated in the case, Saibaba was terminated from his job as an Assistant Professor at the English department of Ram Lal College, New Delhi. Expressing his desire to resume his job as a Professor, Saibaba said, “I can’t imagine living my life without teaching.”

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment