Guest post by NIRMALANGSHU MUKHERJI
N. Sai Baba, an Assistant Professor of English in Ramlal Anand College of Delhi University was arrested by Maharashtra Police in opaque circumstances in May 2014. For the past year, there has been a small but sustained protest against Sai Baba’s arrest. Most recently, a day-long fast was held by some activists and university teachers in front of the Art’s Faculty in Delhi University. Despite impressive campaign in the social media by a group of dedicated individuals, just a few dozen well-known protestors showed up for the fast. The event was barely reported in the mainstream. In staying away from the event, the wider left-liberal fraternity in Delhi, and the rest of the country, has once again failed a vital democratic cause.
Sai Baba is one of those rare individuals in the current Indian academia—otherwise marked by its unconcealed opportunism and abject surrender to the establishment—who is at once a serious scholar, a dedicated and widely-popular teacher, and a death-defying political activist.
Sai Baba believes that Indian society must undergo an armed proletarian revolution along Maoist lines to usher in a new democratic republic as a step toward a classless egalitarian society. He has strengthened his beliefs with a deep study of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and has advocated them in a variety of public forums.
From his student days, Sai had been an active member of revolutionary student politics in his home state of Andhra. While most of those students have since deserted revolutionary politics, Sai Baba not only continued with it, he actually expanded his zone of activities several folds to cover the rest of the country in terms of writings, lectures, tours, meetings and organization of a range of revolutionary mass forums such as the earlier All India People’s Revolutionary Front (AIPRF) and, in recent years, Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF). He is one of the well-known faces in revolutionary politics in the country; in fact, by now he is internationally known by his writings, organizations and lectures abroad.
Incidentally, I largely disagree with the Maoist politics, especially the horrendous ways in which it has been implemented by the CPI (Maoist) in Chattisgarh and elsewhere. I have written about it extensively (Maoists in India: Tribals under siege, Amaryllis, 2013, http://www.amazon.in/Maoists-India-Nirmalangshu-Mukherjee/dp/9381506264/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431838567&sr=1-1&keywords=maoists+in+india). So, my great admiration and sense of solidarity with Sai has little to do with his political views, except that I have deep respect for the moral courage, personal sacrifice, and compassion that underlie such otherwise mistaken beliefs.
There is one more fact about Sai Baba. He is totally paralytic from his waist downwards due to childhood polio. According to medical estimate, his paraplegia affects 90% of his body. Before he could procure a wheel-chair for himself—to be followed later on by a motorized auto—he basically moved around crawling on his hands, dragging the rest of his massive torso along. If he is required in a room upstairs without a lift, he needs to be physically carried in arms by his friends (I had the friendly privilege of doing so on some occasions). Years of dragging his body around even for basic daily functions has left a severe toll on his heart and lungs and continues to damage his spinal system. No wonder, he survives with heavy specialised medication that takes its own toll.
With this level of disability, Sai Baba had been able to maintain the scholarly and revolutionary life sketched above with sheer determination bolstered by his belief that one day it’s going to be a better world for all people.
I recall an incident over a decade ago during a demonstration in Jantar Mantar against the US attack on Iraq. Some of us were appalled by the sight that two radical forums—AIPRF and CPI (ML-Liberation)—were holding separate demonstrations on the same issue on two sides of the same street. I located Sai Baba in a wheelchair engrossed in some pamphlets and memorandums. I went over to him and protested about the glaring sectarianism. I knew that I was stepping into historical hostilities between different naxalite groups. To my surprise, he listened carefully with a very friendly smile on his face. At first, he tried to raise some hackneyed ideological issues. When we briskly brushed them aside, he wheeled around and away to meet Dipankar Bhattacharya, the leader of the other group. That is Sai. Soon, the two groups joined forces and we had a very meaningful joint rally. This mixture of steely political determination with a disarming demeanour makes Sai one of the most effective organizers in mass politics.
Just to remind, he is in constant physical pain, very much like another brave person constantly in pain, Irom Sharmila Chanu.
What does it mean for the Indian state to arrest this person under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and incarcerate him in the solitary anda-cell of the Nagpur jail meant for hardened criminals? According to the notorious anti-terrorism cell of the Maharashtra police, Sai has been found to be in touch with some leaders of CPI (Maoist); it is totally unclear what the alleged connections are. I return to the absurdity of this charge in a moment.
For now, even assuming some contact between Sai and some Maoists, according to the Supreme Court of India, it is no crime at all if (a) a person is merely acquainted with some persons of a banned organisation, and (b) a person is sympathetic in mind to the cause espoused by a banned organisation. These injunctions directly follow from the principles of free speech and association.The Supreme Court has also held that (c) it is no crime if someone is found to be a member of a banned organisation if the person cannot be linked to the unlawful activities of the organisation. The police has not provided even a glimpse of an evidence that Sai was involved in any unlawful activity of the Maoists. In any case, the apparently baseless charges need to be examined by a court of law.
Pending legal examination, not only principles of natural justice but also various sections of the Indian Penal Code require that an invalid, physically challenged accused must be granted bail immediately when other things are equal. The police has no evidence that other things are not equal in Sai Baba’s case. Thus, Sai Baba’s severe physical restrictions fully qualify him for the relief granted in law.
Sai Baba has always cooperated with the police in their investigations conducted in detail before his arrest in dubious circumstances; he has continued his cooperation since his arrest including furnishing passwords for his computer and moblie phones. Therefore, there is absolutely no basis for the police to keep him in jail under the excuse of investigations.
His physical handicap is such that it is impossible for him to flee or to affect the course of justice in any manner. In fact, his medical condition has deteriorated rapidly in prison during the past year due to lack of proper medical care and facilities. By any measure, his continued imprisonment is an inhuman act and is in violation of law.
Most importantly, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Sai Baba, despite his life-long attachment to Maoist politics, will ever get in touch with maoist activists on the ground. This is because both Sai Baba and the maoists are rational people. I took some pain to detail Sai Baba’s politics and life to highlight his extreme public visibility. When this fact is combined with his acute physical disability affecting his movement, he is probably the last person the Maoists would want to be in touch with. And, as a veteran activist himself, Sai Baba would know that as well. Let me explain.
Anyone with little a greymatter understands that the maoist armed struggle in the hills and forests of east-central India is a serious life and death affair. For reasons of security and survival, the entire complex operation has to maintain utmost secrecy to prevent the police from penetrating the organization. These include the identity of the personnel, the complex network of hideouts, source of money and arms, network of maoist intelligence, their courier system, operational codes, and the like. An armed struggle, in which hundreds of cadres die each year from police bullets, cholera, or snake bites, is no picnic. As such, no active maoist will reveal her political identity except before the most trusted.
- N. Saibaba, as noted, happens to a very visible political activist with ‘Maoist’ written on his words and actions in bold letters. He is perhaps the most well-known maoist face in the country. Naturally, branches of Indian police will be after him wherever he goes to keep track of whom he meets, corresponds with, etc. This is done not so much to gather evidence for an allegedly criminal case, but to maintain a surveillance of possible recruits in the future. The actions of the police are mostly either political or criminal; they are seldom meant to serve the cause of justice in these ‘anti-terrorist’ cases. There must be a substantial file by now in police quarters detailing Sai Baba’s rather colourful political life.
Maoists know this, so does Sai Baba. So, the two will avoid any possible physical contact. It is impossible to believe that Sai Baba, so sympathetic to the cause of revolution, will actually maintain contact information with the maoists on his mobile and computer to endanger the very movement. It is even more improbable that the veteran activist will actually meet someone and send the person on some errand with the maoists. It is said that Swami Agnivesh, not exactly a veteran activist in the style of Sai Baba, once made this fatal mistake that led to the killing of the maoist leader Azad. Sai Baba of course knows dozens of less prominent cases of the same variety.
Sai Baba is the last person to initiate action that has any chance to expose a link in the maoist network even if we assume that Sai Baba is politically connected with the maoists. The so-called charges against Sai Baba must, therefore, be viewed as entirely political in character without any legal basis.
Sai Baba must be released on bail at once.