Guest Post by Radical Desi
A letter asking Canada’s Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough to intervene for the release of disabled social justice activist who has been convicted for life in India was submitted at her constituency office on Tuesday, March 28.
Signed by 100 people, the letter asks Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, to press upon the Government of India to free G.N. Saibaba, a wheelchair bound Delhi University professor who is 90 percent disabled below waist.
Saibaba was sentenced to life imprisonment early this month under draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for standing up for the rights of the oppressed communities, including Adivasis (Indigenous peoples) and religious minorities.
Saibaba was first arrested in 2014 and incarcerated under inhuman conditions sparking protests across the world. Demonstrations were also held in Greater Vancouver, including one outside the Indian Consulate. Though Saibaba got bail on medical grounds, he has now been convicted after being branded as Maoist supporter. His only fault is that he has been raising voice against repression of the Adivasis, who are being evicted from their traditional lands by the extraction industry in connivance with the state authorities. Often the security forces and the state sponsored vigilantes target Adivasis in the areas under the influence of Maoist insurgents in the name of war on terror. By punishing Saibaba the Indian state is clearly trying to suppress a voice of dissent.
The representatives of Radical Desi submitted a letter asking for Canada’s intervention into the case at the constituency office of the Honorable Carla Qualtrough in Delta.
Qualtrough has been known as a human rights advocate and a strong voice for the people with disabilities. The letter that seeks the intervention of the Canadian government on compassionate grounds was signed by the people living in her riding. Among them are some well known community activists. The letter also asks for the release of other political prisoners and innocent tribal people, besides the scrapping of the draconian laws.
The Honorable Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
Re: Release of a disabled social justice activist and scholar
It is with utter disbelief and deepest concern, we the undersigned constituents of your riding learn that Prof. G.N. Saibaba, Asst. Professor of English Literature at Delhi University – a highly respected academic and an acclaimed intellectual – has been sentenced to life imprisonment under various sections of the draconian anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Prof. Saibaba and five other people, including a journalist, have been accused of criminal conspiracy to “wage war against the Government of India” and of having “links with a Maoist organization.” We register our strongest condemnation of the sentence and urge the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of India to release him and all other political prisoners on bail immediately; conduct a fair trial and thoroughly investigate the case in which all these people have been unlawfully framed. We also urge the Canadian government to intervene on behalf of concerned Indians abroad.
Since you have been known for advocacy for the human rights and the rights of the persons with disabilities we humbly request you to take a lead and use your good offices to make Canadian authorities intervene to ensure immediate release of Saibaba on compassionate grounds and protection of his freedom of expression.
The background of the case:
The wheelchair-bound Saibaba is 90 percent disabled below the waist. He has been facing constant harassment and was recently slapped with a life sentence for raising his voice against the oppression of indigenous peoples, as well as Dalits (those considered as untouchables), and religious minorities.
A court in Maharashtra convicted him on March 7 after finding him guilty for helping the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned group that is locked in a class struggle with the Indian government. He is among six people convicted under the controversial UAPA, which many feel is a draconian law being excessively used to suppress any voice of dissent.
Saibaba had been in the eye of the storm for the past several years. Being a social justice activist associated with the Revolutionary Democratic Forum, he has been opposing attacks on the indigenous peoples whose lands are being taken away by the extraction industry with the backing of the government in central India. These are the same areas which fall under the “red corridor” – where Maoists are fighting an armed struggle with Indian forces. In the name of crushing the insurgency, the Indian forces have been harassing indigenous peoples who face eviction from their traditional lands that sit over rich minerals.
Saibaba was instrumental in mobilizing public opinion in urban areas against this repression, and against structural violence against Dalits and religious minorities across India. As a result of his actions, Saibaba was first arrested in May 2014.
Following protests in his support across the world, including Canada, Saibaba got interim bail on medical grounds in July 2015. He has multiple health issues and had to live through inhuman conditions in jail. After his release, he was shifted to a hospital in New Delhi. Though his condition began improving, his bail was cancelled in December, 2015 and he was sent back to jail once more. After being released once again early this year, he has now been convicted.
Saibaba’s wife Vasantha fears that there is a conspiracy to kill her husband legally. She insists that her husband always worked within the constitutional framework of India that is based on the principles of democracy and free speech.
We therefore ask Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, to press upon the Government of India to free Saibaba and other political prisoners, including innocent tribal people, and to scrap all draconian laws and let political activists exercise their right to dissent without fear and intimidation.
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