ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Justice or Death?

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As G N Saibaba, a political prisoner, continues to languish behind bars, there is a question that all democratic-minded people ought to ask. Can we be silent while a person is persecuted simply because of his or her political views, ideas, and opinions? Saibaba has always been known as someone who has been vocal about the well-being of the tribals of this country, their right over their land, forest and rivers, and their right to lead a life of dignity. He has been critical of a particular model of “development” in ­India that has translated into the death, destruction and displacement of tribals in the millions. He has been vocal against the war on Adivasis, sponsored by corporate greed for minerals in the name of Operation Green Hunt. He has been a public intellectual, a professor of English in Delhi University, and has written and spoken extensively on the above concerns in his public life, both nationally and internationally. For this “crime” of having given voice to his conscience, Saibaba has been convicted. Just like Binayak Sen earlier, he has been branded as a “Maoist,” and subjected to a witch-hunt.

While he is in the process of appealing to the higher courts against the injustices meted out to him, we remain deeply concerned about his health, which is fast ­deteriorating due to neglect. Saibaba’s wife, Vasantha Kumari, has returned from Nagpur after visiting him in jail and expresses her apprehensions about his physical well being. Apart from being 90% disabled, owing to polio, and as a result, wheelchair-bound, Saibaba also suffers from multiple other physical ailments. During his earlier incarcerations he had been denied several life-saving medicines by the jail authorities, actions which have further ruined his health. To procure these medicines, as well as a bed, and to get medical check-ups done, Saibaba had to approach the courts every time. It was owing to his failing health that the Supreme Court bench led by J S Kehar granted him bail in April 2016 on medical grounds, admonishing the authorities for being “extremely unfair to [Saibaba], especially knowing his medical conditions.” Ever since he received bail, Saibaba had been undergoing treatment in several hospitals in the country. Apart from polio, which has affected both his legs, there have been progressive and incurable conditions of his spine and nervous system. The medical neglect in jail had almost cost him one of his arms, for which he was undergoing physiotherapy. In February 2017, Saibaba was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis and impacted gall bladder stones, and was advised immediate surgery in a hospital where special facilities for the treatment of people with severe disabilities was available. In fact just the week before the judgment that awarded him life imprisonment in March 2017, Saibaba had been admitted into the intensive-care unit in a hospital in Delhi. While he was scheduled to undergo surgery, he was sent back to prison. This time, the Court even refused to pass a separate order on the plea of Saibaba’s lawyer, to ensure appropriate medical facilities, instead, referring these issues back to the same jail authorities who had denied them the last time.

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Updated On : 19th Jan, 2018

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