Prof. Saibaba’s health worsening after Covid-19: Wife Vasantha demands his release

Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba said denying him his rights, amounted to torture behind bars

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Dr Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba is in a fragile health condition, and his life may be at risk, fears his wife, activist AS Vasantha Kumari, who once again appealed to the authorities to release the severely disabled, wheelchair-bound professor, who is currently incarcerated in Nagpur Central Jail.

Prof. Saibaba had tested positive for Covid-19 on February 13, and Vasantha says his health has deteriorated rapidly since then. “He has been suffering from cold, fever, throat  infection, body ache, joint pain, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle spasms among other symptoms. His blood pressure has been fluctuating,” she said, and he sounded weak when he spoke to her last. “I almost broke down, but he said I should fight on boldly, adding that repression cannot go on forever,” she said.

Saibaba, is a wheelchair user with over 90 percent disability, and has a number of comorbid conditions that even the government has recognised in its Covid-19 protocol. However, Vashantha says, he is still not given adequate care, and nutrition that he needs in jail. She has also accused the jail authorities not sharing relevant information about his health. She says she fears for his life, if he continues to be denied parole to access the medical intervention he needs. 

“I don’t understand what threat can a 90 percent disabled man pose to the government? There are people like Babu Bajrangi, Aseemanand and Pragya Thakur who get bail on medical leave or are acquitted. They even go on to contest elections. And here is someone who is totally dependent on others and needs assistance throughout the day but is not getting bail,” said Vasantha, at a press conference, on Wednesday, March 10.

She said Saibaba suffered from “several life-threatening ailments”, including “Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy with left ventricular dysfunction, hypertension, pancreatic problems, kidney stones, brain cyst, attenuation of the shoulder and arm muscles, and nerves resulting in partial paralysis of his upper limbs”. She said many of these ailments affected Saibaba after he was sent to jail. 

Vasantha reminds everyone that Saibaba needs two persons to assist him in his daily needs starting with placing him in the wheelchair, however, he has been assigned the assistance of one inmate who is also recovering from Covid-19. “That man himself needs medication and care, how can he help Saibaba,” she asked, adding that Saibaba has only got basic medicines from the Jail health centre, when he actually needs to be treated for his multiple health complications at a specialised hospital. 

Writer Arundhati Roy said that the country is currently witnessing “not politics but pathology”, adding that every individual speaking against the government now risks arrest and jail time. Roy reminded people that Saibaba was in fact first arrested under the UPA regime. She is a part of the Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr G N Saibaba. The committee has made another call for the immediate release of the former Delhi University professor on Medical grounds. Other members including comprises lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary D Raja, filmmaker Sanjay Kak and DU professor Vikas Gupta have said denying Saibaba his rights, as a prison inmate, and a disabled citizen, amounted to torture behind bars. She said all this was happening while people were busy “cultivating a mythological character called Namrenda Modi,” adding that the country seemed hypnotised in a way, as “he was trying to become a godman” of sorts, “and anyone who raised questions has been, and will be put in jail.”

Advocate Prashant Bhushan urged the judiciary to intervene and release Saibaba and all other political prisoners. He said, “I would call upon all the courts in this country and tell them that the time has come to hold those police officers to account who are indulging in false implication and fabrication of evidence.” According to rights activist Muralidharan from the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) what was happening to Saibaba amounted to “torture, cruelty and indignity”. He said  that the government itself had included disability in the list of comorbidities for Covid patients, he added, “Disability is not a disease…but even if you accept that, the government is acknowledging that disabled people are more vulnerable. Then why are they not releasing Saibaba?”

CPI leader D Raja asked why were “they afraid of Professor Saibaba? They are not afraid of his body…The government is afraid of the brain power of Saibaba, of the questions being raised by him. It is afraid of people coming out on the streets and asking questions of the government.” He asked that political parties who believed in democracy must come together in a public movement and demand his release. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had issued its ‘Position Paper on Covid-19 Preparedness and Responses in Prisons’ last year and had noted the urgent need to release all prisoners vulnerable to Covid-19. “We urge the authorities to take note of the UN’s position on this,” stated the committee members. According to filmmaker Sanjay Kak the state was sending a “message to those outside that they would be punished similarly if they spoke of people’s rights”.

Dr Saibaba, a former professor of English Literature at Delhi University is known as an outspoken activist for the Adivasi people, and was arrested on May 9, 2014 as he left the university campus. Police raided his home and claimed to have found documents and correspondence allegedly proving his connections with the banned CPI (Maoist) group. On March 7, 2017, Dr. Saibaba was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on a charge of “being a member of a terrorist gang or organization.” In addition to a lack of credible evidence linking Dr. Saibaba to the CPI (Maoist) group, the trial was replete with procedural violations, such as the judge.

The committee has stated that, “It is crucial that Dr. Saibaba be examined for all his medical issues at the earliest, particularly for the impact of the Covid-19 on his brain and internal organs, at a hospital with adequate facilities to treat a person with such comorbidities. His immediate family should be allowed to access and provide assistance to him. Furthermore, the jail authorities should be directed to provide his medical records to the family to ensure appropriate treatment is provided to him at the earliest.”  

They have demanded that the Maharashtra Government “immediately shift Dr. GN Saibaba to a private hospital  in Nagpur and provide adequate medical care to him. We call upon all the democratic and progressive sections of society to come out and demand the immediate release of Dr. GN Saibaba.”

The committee stated the UNODC’ ‘Position Paper on Covid-19  preparedness and responses in prisons’ last year noted the urgent need to release all prisoners  vulnerable to Covid-19, ‘such as the elderly and prisoners affected by chronic diseases or other health conditions’. They urged the authorities to take note of the UN’s position on this and treat Dr. GN Saibaba and  other similarly affected prisoners accordingly. We urge the Maharashtra government, the Nagpur jail authorities and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to consider steps to release him immediately in light of his precarious condition. 

The Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba in a statement issued by its convenor Prof. G. Haragopal has demanded that:

1. Dr. GN Saibaba should be released from Nagpur Central Jail immediately. 

2. Dr. GN Saibaba should be administered treatment appropriate to all his medical problems with  urgency. 

“…as everyone who comes to stand with me takes the cause of the wretched of the earth where in lies my freedom…” words from a poem Dr. Saibaba wrote to his mother from jail in 2017. She died a few months ago, GN Saibaba was denied parole and thus could not see her for the last time, nor could he attend her funeral. 



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