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India: Targetting the "anti-nationals": inhumane detention for Prof GN Saibaba


Saturday 19 March 2016, by siawi3


Two Possible Ends: Prof GN Saibaba’s Story
A 90% paralysed professor suffers inside one of ​India’s harshest prison cells. Will the courts hear his plea?

Posted by Anushka Shah
| Mar 18, 2016

GN Saibaba is a professor of English at Delhi University. He’s also 90% disabled and has been imprisoned for over 17 months.

He has been accused by the Maharashtra government of associating with the CPI (Maoist), that was banned in 2009. His trial is ongoing.

His disability, due to childhood polio, forces him to crawl on his hands and knees in the prison to use the hole built in the cell’s floor as a bathroom. Due to this, he has slowly lost the use of his left hand. He now has only one functioning limb.


A student of Professor Saibaba writes:

“For some reason, almost every student in my batch chose Latin and Greek studies over the Indian paper leaving me as the only student in the course. With his driver helping him move his wheelchair inside the disabled-unfriendly campus, Saibaba had to come to the university to address a class of exactly one student. He was never late and he never missed a lecture.” (Martand Kaushik, Times of India)

Chapter 1: Trouble with the Government

The government has charged Saibaba under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) — Sections 13, 18, 20, 38 and 39. The primary charge is: “the applicant who is an intellectual has used his intelligentsia [sic] for anti-national activities”.

His supporters, though, hold that he is really being targeted for his critique of the government’s 2009 anti-Naxal campaign called ‘Operation Greenhunt’. They claim that under the pretext of removing Naxals, the government’s real objective had been to push Adivasis out and free land for industrial projects.

Arun Ferreira and Binayak Sen had been imprisoned on similar charges – Sen’s case became an international human rights issue, and Ferreira was eventually released as innocent after spending five years in prison as an undertrial.


Saibaba was born into a peasant family and lived in a neighbourhood of manual scavengers. His upbringing possibly shaped his critique of politics and literature: his PhD was on elite bias in English writing in India. Here he is seen receiving his degree from the President of India.

Chapter 2: Where it starts to sound Kafka-esque

One afternoon, on his way home from the University, Saibaba was blindfolded and bundled into a van by Maharashtra police dressed in plain clothes. Their warrant was for ‘stolen property’. Neither his family nor lawyers were informed of the arrest and, in the raid conducted on his home, his laptop and other belongings were taken, while his family was kept locked out of the room.

There is little clarity about the exact evidence against Saibaba, most of which seems to come from the mention of his name by another arrested accused.

For this association with CPI (Maoist), which is yet to be proven in court, he has been kept in Nagpur’s Anda Cell – an airless, windowless, egg-shaped room, whose previous inhabitants have included Ajmal Kasab (Mumbai Taj attacks), Abdul Telgi (Telgi stamp scam) and Sanjay Dutt (1993 Bombay blasts).


Saibaba after his arrest: “Whether right or wrong, I have to follow the judicial process.”

The Committee for the Defense and Release of GN Saibaba and students of DU have helped organised protests and bring notice to this issue. Prashant Bhushan has spoken out for Saibaba and Justice Markandey Katju has written fiercely about it. In a strange reaction, however, the Bombay HC served Arundhati Roy with a Contempt of Court notice for her article on Saibaba’s case in Outlook.

Chapter 3: One court gives bail, another cancels it.

For the first 14 months, Saibaba was denied bail three times by the Nagpur Bench (regional branch of the Bombay High Court).

In June last year, the main bench of the Bombay High Court ordered Saibaba to be released on bail because his medical condition had drastically deteriorated.

After this bail order, the case was transferred back to the Nagpur bench.

Reportedly disagreeing with the main bench’s interference, the Nagpur bench denied bail and ordered Saibaba back into prison within 48 hours.


Main Bench – Bombay High Court (June 2015): “Releasing Professor Saibaba on bail for a period of three months for medical treatment would not cause any threat or risk to the security of the Nation.”


Nagpur Bench (December 2015): “Sometimes the matters from the Benches are transferred to the principal seat at Mumbai with or without any motion in a sudden move without recording any reasons or without any notice to any of the parties, much less, upon consultation with the presiding judge or judges of such a Bench from which the transfer of the cases is effected. This is undermining the authority of the judges at the Benches.”

Chapter 4: Supreme Court responds

Saibaba submitted himself back to prison on Christmas last December. After his indictment, Delhi University cut his salary by 50% and asked him and his family to vacate university accommodation.

As Saibaba’s condition continued to worsen, his lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court for bail.

The Supreme Court responded in February last month; they asked the Gadchiroli court where the trial was being conducted to hold proceedings on a daily basis — rather than on staggered dates — and complete key witness interviews soon.

They further said they may consider granting him bail at the next hearing on April4, 2016.


Last Chapter – End #1

No bail, hence trial may continue or Saibaba may die

Saibaba has been denied bail so far for two possible reasons: the Maharashtra government claims he may be a threat if out of jail, and because he seems to be caught in a debate of autonomy between the Nagpur bench and the main bench of the Bombay High Court.

With a history of a heart condition and previous cardiac arrest, the jail doctor has advised angioplasty as critical to his survival. With multiple heart, kidney, and spine complications, a 90% disability, and debilitating conditions within the Anda cell, Saibaba may likely die within prison, as per the Central Indian Institute of Medical Sciences.

This would be under the watch of the court.

If proven innocent at the end of his trial, what would his death amount to?


Last Chapter – End #2

Trial continues, with Saibaba on bail

The other outcome is that the trial continues, and Saibaba is permitted bail through its duration.

This is something he is legally entitled to on medical and humanitarian grounds, and what the Bombay High Court ordered Saibaba be granted last year.

India has ratified the UN convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) that says “States Parties shall ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural and age-appropriate accommodations.” (Article 13)

If the Supreme Court grants him bail on 4th April, 2016, Saibaba’s fate will be decided by the prudence of the court, rather than the punishing conditions of the Anda Cell.


Deciding the innocence or guilt of a man is the prerogative of the judiciary. Ensuring institutions function in line with human rights is the responsibility of citizens.

Additional links about GN Saibaba’s case:

Indian Express:

The Hindu:



Is there a way to express support for Saibaba’s bail to the Supreme Court?

A petition found here (below) shows support for Saibaba’s bail in the Supreme Court, and requires maximum signatures before the court hearing on 4th April 2016.

Does signing the petition mean one has to take a stand on Saibaba’s innocence or guilt?

This petition is not to advocate his innocence or guilt – that is up to the court.
Bail, which he is legally entitled to, permits access to medical support and ensures human and disability rights.

Do petitions help in such situations? Especially to institutions as large and seemingly unreachable as courts?

In recent times, background checks on Uber’s drivers, regulation of acid sale to protect women, and former President Kalam’s house to be made a knowledge centre were all outcomes of petitions. The courts are not unreachable, but they are overburdened – calling their attention to specific issues is a way of supporting them.

A petition to grant GN Saibaba bail on medical grounds has been started by the author. It does not reflect Newslaundry’s opinion or stand on the matter. We just tell stories.


Petitioning Chief Justice of India and 1 other
Petition to the Supreme Court of India: Bail for Professor GN Saibaba

A 90% disabled English Professor from Delhi University has been in prison for over 17 months, without a conviction.

His disability forces him to crawl on his hands and knees in the prison to use the hole in the cell floor as a bathroom. Because of this difficulty he has lost the use of his left hand, and is now left with one functioning limb - official medical reports say that if these conditions continue, he may not survive.

He has been accused by the Maharashtra government of associating with a group called the CPI(Maoist), that was banned in 2009. His supporters however say that he is being targeted because he was a critique of the government’s anti-Naxal campaign ’Operation Greenhunt’; they claim that this campaign was really an excuse to push out innocent Adivasis to create industrial land.

His trial is ongoing, and so he is far from having been proven guilty.

If at the end of his trial he is proven innocent, what will his death amount to?

This petition is a signature campaign to the Chief Justice of India in the Supreme Court to grant him bail on medical grounds in the upcoming hearing on 4th April 2016 – it is NOT to advocate his innocence or guilt.

Saibaba is legally entitled to bail on humanitarian and medical grounds as he is disabled, and as India has signed the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Deciding the innocence or guilt of a man is the prerogative of the judiciary. Ensuring institutions function in line with human rights is the responsibility of citizens.



Although it is initiated by Indian citizens, international support would help bring attention to the case

SIGN the petititon here

Letter to
Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court of India
Honorable Supreme Court of India:

To the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India,

We, the concerned citizens of India, write to you today regarding Professor GN Saibaba, a 90% disabled academic from Delhi University, who is currently imprisoned within Nagpur prison’s Anda Cell. His plea for bail, once granted by the principal bench of the Bombay High Court in June 2015, was cancelled by the Nagpur bench thereafter; he thus continues to endure the punishing conditions of the Anda Cell.

As per the prison medical reports from the Central India Institute of Medical Sciences, Saibaba suffers from nervous and muscular disorder as well as multiple organ complications of the heart and spine, in addition to supporting his 90% disability with only one functioning limb. The report claims he may or may not survive the ordeal of such prison conditions.

We appreciate the Supreme Court’s recent comments (hearing of 29th February 2016) regarding the Professor’s medical and physical support, addressing the Maharashtra government. The government has however expressed reservations over permitting him outside prison.

In recent times, his case has received attention in the media, with citizens and writers calling for his bail on humanitarian grounds. If GN Saibaba is to die under the conditions of his prison confinement before a verdict is pronounced on his guilt, the liability would lie with both court and society.

Attached here is the campaign petition in support of GN Saibaba’s bail signed by a number of concerned citizens of India.

We hope that in the upcoming Supreme Court hearing dated 4th April 2016 he may be granted bail, and that his punishment be decided by the court’s wise judicial counsel, rather than poor prison conditions.

We thank you for taking the time to read this letter and petition, and look forward to your decision on the 4th of April