By Mohammed Sirajuddeen
“All I want to say is…I will raise my voice for Dalits, Adivasis, and Minorities” – GN Saibaba
Noted activist and suspended Delhi University Professor, GN Saibaba, along with others (Hem Mishra, Prashant Rahi, Vijay Tirke, Mahesh Tirke, and Pandu Narote), was convicted on 7 March 2017 by a court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The Court held that the Professor is guilty on the grounds of having links with the Maoists. The judgment that brought a life sentence to the majorly disabled Professor was the culmination of a three year court proceedings.
Arrested in May 2014, Saibaba was kept under custody for seventeen months and granted bail for three months by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court later. Subsequently, when moved to Supreme Court, he was given a regular bail last year. The current verdict naturally comes as a jolt. The court has observed that the accused, including Prof. Saibaba, had actively associated with the CPI-Maoist and its Revolutionary Democratic Front and served as a prolific leader. The court also opined that physical handicap has no room for mercy, since the Professor is ‘mentally fit’ and involved in the activities of the Maoist organizations as a major ‘think tank’.
Read excerpts from an exclusive interview I had conducted with Professor GN Saibaba in Delhi a week ahead of the current verdict.
Mohammed Sirajuddeen: How do you recall the state excesses?
GN Saibaba: Facing the state is not a new thing to me. I have been in struggle since student days, but this is the first time it seemed like a planned kind of arrangement and they arrested me. During my student days, arrest was part of crowd control. This time, it is part of a planned strategy to victimize me.
In the first stage of persecution by the security state, they planted new stories, false stories, unbelievable ones…a kind of propaganda war…they said the DU professor is spreading Maoism…
In the second stage, they said I am a top functionary, a CC member of the Maoist Party… even a professor said at a reputed University in Delhi said this.
In the third stage, they came with name, pointing that I am directly involved. I had then started sending rejoinders to newspapers but unfortunately most of them didn’t publish my Press Notes…‘Times’ published one but was not sufficient, though.
In Delhi University, I taught literature. All the allegations floated against me were wild ones. It goes like this: ‘Prof. Saibaba is a CC Member ’, ‘Prof Saibaba, the Mastermind of Military Offensive’, ‘Prof. Saibaba prepared military document’. And beyond a point, it was becoming impossible to send rejoinder.
In the fourth stage, some top intelligence officers came and asked me to stop campaign against Operation Green Hunt. I said what I am doing is a legitimate thing. They tried to convince me to stop my activities…I was one of the three Convenors of the Forum against the Security Operations. I may also have agreements and differences with the Maoists but you could not equate me to Maoists. For the state, all are Maoists.
They asked me to stop everything…I refused to stop the campaign against state repression in adivasi belts. They alleged that I am coordinating the campaign against Operation Green Hunt. They alleged that I coordinated everything at the national and international level.
Their perception is built on the animosity created on the basis of my campaigns. They sometimes exaggerated things. At the same time, the government is cornered by international campaigns that exposed excesses…India started getting a bad image: ‘India is butchering the adivasis’. The Home Ministry mail is flooded with representations on concerns. Moreover, many argued that because of our campaigns ‘investments declined and led to fiscal losses.’ My association with the movements against injustice was juxtaposed as a national security threat and many alleged that I conspired against the Indian State by ignoring the fact that I am a mere convenor of a ‘Forum’ in Delhi.
MS: How do you see your ‘suspension’ as an academic faculty from Delhi University?
GNS: Four days after my arrest, Delhi University suspended me without any information to me or my family. As per the rules, in first 90 days of suspension and after 90 days of suspension, the University has to pay the salary to my family, to the tune of 50 percent and 75 percent respectively. Surprisingly, only 20 to 30 percent of my salary reached my family and further clarifications were not given.
And according to precedents and logic, after my release from Jail, they should have revoked my suspension but that didn’t happen. There is no other example like this. Only in the cases of corruption, sexual harassment, and other severe criminal cases that a person is not reinstated back to government service as a precedent. We have seen many top Police Officers coming back to service once they manage ‘clean chits’. Unless one is convicted by the court of law, you are deemed to be innocent. MPs are facing criminal charges but roaming free.
Personally, there have been many challenges in front of me. On the one hand, they are not paying 75 percent salary for almost three years; whatever little amount came, it was adjusted for loan repayment in bank…how do I survive then? No reason is given till now…no one has any answer.
I have severe health problems that is getting aggravated because of these adverse circumstances…a huge amount of money is required for treatment. I’m not able to pay medical bills…Delhi University has thrown out my family in spite of the court order that eviction order was wrong…
In every aspect, academic, professional, family, I suffered a lot by this episode. How do we survive tomorrow is a question now.
Now the vested interests also want to ensure that I do no campaign…this is the state of our democracy….all I want to say is I will raise my voice for Dalits, Adivasis, and Minorities. The case against me is the best example of the malfunctioning of our democracy.
All allegations are a pack of cards. They say that I am a ‘top leader’ of the CPI Maoist and a ‘sympathiser’ of the Maoists…I want to ask: how is it possible to be both at the same time?
MS: Do you see a difference in state repression during the Modi Regime, compared to the previous Congress regime?
GNS: There is no difference, for the past 6 to 8 years, the repression is on the increase…more and more brutal forms are taking place…though there are unbearable rare cases like militarization in Bastar and Kashmir. But the state repression is all pervasive. At the same time, there is a difference between ‘Soft Hindutva’ and ‘Hard Hindutva’…The Congress won’t declare its strategies openly but the BJP does. The difference in the two regimes is that the RSS business is more overt. They feel that everyone associated with them has a licence to do whatever they want… The Congress does it in a more sophisticated way so that they are not directly blamed…Now the polarization is at its height…the civil society is pressured to act against vulnerable communities…This is a general characteristic of the rightwing regimes everywhere.
MS: In the light of increasing misuse of extraordinary measures against members of vulnerable communities, how do you see the victimization on this front?
GNS: The state would definitely use extraordinary laws. The vulnerable section has been pushed into such a situation that these laws can’t stop them. If lakhs are coming out to the streets in Kashmir even after the deployment of 10 lakh security forces, how can these laws stop people from fighting for democratic rights?…Bastar has a population less than that of Kerala. The population comprise of primitive tribes. Even these people are now able to protest. Now if you look at Bastar, the population to security forces ratio is more than what we see in Kashmir. In Kashmir, for every 8 or 9, the government deploys one member of the security force but in Bastar, we see one member of the security force for every five adivasis and the army camps have been set up at every three km range. The people of Bastar don’t know what the Indian state is…they don’t know the nature of State Security regimes, they have no clues of civil society organisations and different modes of protests…but still they are resisting the oppression.
In Srinagar, people have to just walk out of the houses but in Bastar people face hardship in mobilization…still they are resisting…their imagination of the Indian state is different. In the Bastar region, there was no state machinery. In Narayanpur, the revenue, forest or police departments didn’t function…The state said it is an excluded area from the mainstream. Even now, Narayanpur District lacks all amenities.
Adivasis have autonomous rule…even they are daring the Indian forces…they are challenging the Indian state, even if it is not in a manner the Kashmiris are doing…
In Bastar, since the most primitive tribes are confronting the Indian State, is it a big deal for minorities, middle class in the outer world to face the draconian practices of Indian State?…
Extraordinary laws are not new. They came during colonial era. Only the form is changing. The new extraordinary laws have colonial precedent…The colonial extraordinary regimes originated with intentions of forceful control of native subjects. Struggles could not be stopped then. Repression has also intensified but it cannot contain struggles now.
MS: How do you see the shrinking democratic space in educational institutions?
GNS: Attacks on liberal university system is global now. Fascism is spreading all over the world. Trump’s election is a great indication of the same. In Russia, we have another fascist KGB agent Putin. In Israel, India, and everywhere, we see the same trend…We can’t expect the rightwing to give us everything. We cannot protect university spaces without fighting larger struggles, without constructing and deconstructing democratic spaces in the larger society…
We cannot see university spaces as ‘Liberal Democratic Islands’, which is not hindered when there is a total onslaught on society as a whole.
The University emerged as a liberal humanist project during the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe…Liberal democratic space is required to flourish knowledge, capitalism requires knowledge, and knowledge cannot grow without freedom. Now capitalism wants to monopolise knowledge and therefore ‘un-freedom’ is the mantra. Students are becoming sensitive to larger social issues. Like JNU, many universities are doing it now. The ruling class see it as a danger. The attack on the university started even before Modi came to power.
They can bomb Bastar, voices may or may not rise. But if you hit universities, it will be a big jolt for the ruling class.
Mohammed Sirajuddeen is a PhD researcher at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Unmasking the Conflict: Making sense of the recent uprisings in Kashmir’, edited by Idrees Kanth, Leiden University, The Netherlands and Muhammad Tahir, Dublin City University, Ireland.