The Big Story: The case against Saibaba
An 827-page judgment delivered by a sessions court in Gadchiroli district on Tuesday condemns former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and four others to life imprisonment. The court finds it “proved beyond reasonable doubt” that the accused “hatched criminal conspiracy to wage war against the Government of India and to collect people with the intention of waging war against the Government of India”. It finds them guilty of charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It also holds that “merely because accused no. 6 Saibaba is 90% disabled is no grounds to show him leniency”.
In the past, wheelchair-bound Saibaba has spoken out against human rights abuses by the Salwa Judum and Operation Greenhunt, launched by the government against Maoists. Ever since the ailing professor was arrested in 2014, doubts have been raised about the case against him. Several academics, activists and students have described it as a deliberate attempt to muzzle dissent. Even if the charges against Saibaba are taken at face value, what exactly are they?
The case against him rests on a collection of letters, pamphlets and videos seized during searches whose legality has been contested – the judgment weighs the matter and has determined that they were above board. The court parses the evidence and concludes that Saibaba was an active member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its frontal organisation, the Revolutionary Democratic Front. In the court’s reading, this is enough to make him guilty of criminal conspiracy.
This indictment would appear to go against earlier judgments by the Supreme Court, which said “mere membership of a banned organisation would not make a person criminally liable unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or creates public disorder by violence or incitement to violence”. The sessions court brings up the judgment, only to say it does not apply in this case. First, because it claims to have found sufficient material to suggest Saibaba intended to incite violence. Second, the UAPA has provisions to convict people for membership or support of terrorist organisations.
The case against Saibaba cannot be seen in isolation. It is part of a sequence of prosecutions, from Binayak Sen, a doctor who spoke out human rights violations and provided medical care to Adivasis, only to be branded a Maoist, to Kobad Ghandy, charged under UAPA for being a member of the CPI (Maoist). At best, they use draconian laws to criminalise individuals for proscribed political beliefs. At worst, they seek to silence voices that question the policies of government.
The Big Scroll
Read Anumeha Yadav’s interview of the former Delhi University professor when he was briefly out on bail in 2015.
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