The life of Professor DU GN Saibaba in prison
Hyderabad: “I will not cry in front of the prison authorities, come what may. Even a single tear on my cheek will serve as a testimony to the victory of the state that oppresses my husband. I don’t want that,” says Vasantha Kumari, wife of human rights activist, literature professor and UAPA defendant Dr. GN Saibaba.
During an hour-long chat with Siasat.com, Vasantha recounted the agony her husband has endured over the past seven and a half years. With Saibaba now contracting COVID for the second time, prison authorities are refusing to reveal his medical reports to the family. As such, there is good reason to be concerned about his health and, indeed, his very right to life.
“I only know he might be COVID positive because in one of his letters he informed me that he had all the symptoms. The situation looks grim,” says Vasantha.
Perhaps some of Vasantha’s statements may lose their authenticity when translating his account from Telugu to English. However, what is important to note, and far more important to remember, is that Vasantha, like her husband, carries within her a courage that she painstakingly cultivated. The kind of courage that is very spotty in today’s heated political climate, but somehow the couple managed to normalize.
Over the past seven years, Vasantha has made countless trips to Nagpur Central Jail to meet her husband. She lives off the financial help her friends and colleagues have been kind enough to offer her. Other than that, she works as a part-time typist to fend for herself. As Vasantha speaks continuously, with occasional pauses to take a sip of water, she is neither restless nor melancholic. Nor is there a trace of flamboyant rhetoric. She is calm, down to earth and resolute.
Even though her future looks bleak, she doesn’t want to let go of the determination she has so meticulously built. “Idanta meeku chepaddam kuda kashtame. Kaani chepakunda ela undali?(Telling you all this is hard. But how do you stop talking?) she asks.
Dr Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba has been languishing in Nagpur Central Jail since 2017 despite repeated appeals to the court to release him. He was charged with the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Professor now firmly believes he is likely to remain in prison for the rest of his life.
“He wrote to me after the death of Father Stan Swamy. He said that one day I might also read news of his death if the prison authorities did not pay attention to his health. He was not sad about his imprisonment or even about his health, but every time I tell the contents of his letter to friends, they find themselves filled with grief and helplessness,” Vasantha adds.
The imprisoned professor’s statements contain a lot of truth, especially considering the fact that even for health reasons, his bail and parole were denied two and three times respectively.
Saibaba is in jail for his alleged ties to banned far-left organizations. While released on bail after his initial arrest in 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 for his ties to the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), a banned organization linked to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) forbidden. Although he repeatedly denied he had anything to do with the banned organization, he was charged under Articles 13, 18, 20, 38 and 39 of the UAPA and Article 120 B of the Indian Penal Code.
Whether or not Dr. Saibaba is in league with the Maoists, there is no doubt that the treatment being meted out to him now is profoundly inhumane.
The legacy of Dr. GN Saibaba:
Talk to The Hindu in July 2015, Dr Saibaba referred to Operation Green Hunt, a military offensive launched by the then Congress government in 2009 with the sole aim of crushing Maoist rebels across India’s tribal belt.
“I have been to almost all the adivasi districts. It was not so difficult for a physically handicapped person like me. The Adivasis took me on their shoulders and accompanied me to the hilly forests,” he said.
“I have gathered enough evidence to suggest that the ruling class wanted access to its resources no matter what, so Operation Green Hunt was launched to kill, maim and dislodge these people.
As Vasantha notes again when addressing Siasat.com, her husband was deeply disturbed by the ruthless manner in which the huts of the Adivasis in the central tribal belt of India were burnt down. « Vaalu gudiselu kalchestaru, food lo kerosene posestaru, mahilalanu rape Chestaru (They, the state police, were burning the huts of the Adivasis, pouring kerosene in their food and raping the women.),” she adds.
Dr. Saibaba’s nationwide campaign against Operation Green Hunt caused several international investors to withdraw their investments from the tribal belt. As he has mentioned in the past, the professor believes this is the reason for his incarceration.
State apathy over Saibaba’s deteriorating health:
Dr. Saibaba’s health would be a matter of concern even with access to good medical facilities. “His left hand was damaged in a fight and stopped working due to a condition called brachial plexopathy. The condition has now spread to his right hand for lack of treatment, and even that has started shaking” , added Vasantha.
According to the statements of his wife, GN Saibaba, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to polio infection, used to travel around the country and abroad with no problem. Currently, he cannot bring the spoon to his mouth to feed himself with ease, because his right hand starts shivering. “If he wants to lie down, the prison officers have to help him. He cannot go to the toilet, bathe or even stand up without proper assistance,” she added.
Afflicted with countless health issues like joint pain, hypertension, a previous cardiac arrest and stones in the gallbladder and kidneys, there is little respite for Saibaba. Vasanthi further stated that there is a cyst in his brain and a lump in the left side of his abdomen which made it difficult for him to function. “He regularly deals with shooting pains,” Vasanthi said factually, almost by heart, after having to rehearse the struggles her husband went through for the umpteenth time.
The life-saving drugs provided to Dr. Saibaba were also funded by his wife and friends. “Ideally the prison authorities should have provided it themselves, but they did not.”
The spirit of Vasantha Kumari:
Asked about her mental state, Vasantha laughed and after the briefest of pauses said she had known her husband since they were in 10th grade.
“We got married in 1991. It’s hard to think about all he’s been going through. Even me telling you all about it isn’t easy. Once, when I went to visit him in prison, the authorities in prison wouldn’t let me meet him. They said they were taking him to the hospital, so I waited outside the main gate of the prison. As the convoy with Sai in it came through the gate, I started screaming. Until then, Sai didn’t know I was there. I went to the hospital and waited there for five hours. I didn’t go to lunch, or even use the toilet just in case. where I would miss my chance to meet him. Ideally, when someone is in the hospital, even if it is a prisoner, he should let the family meet the patient. But we were treated with a lot of cruelty,” she said.
Even though they managed to meet the day after the incident, the memory of the police cruelty remains with Vasantha until now.
Even during the pandemic in 2020, phone calls were restricted and post offices were closed. So I couldn’t keep in touch with him. “Jail ki velith mulakhat jaraganivaledu vaalu“(Even if I went to the prison, they wouldn’t allow me to meet him.)
Breaking away from her story, Vasantha also mentions how, with her, countless other families were prevented from meeting their loved ones imprisoned in the central prison.
“Prati saari santhoshangane velthanu Sai ni kalavadaniki. Kaani nirasha okkate kalustundi. (Whenever I go to meet Sai, I am happy, but invariably since they don’t allow me to meet him, I am disappointed.)
Vasantha has repeatedly tried to get her husband released on bail due to his health condition and fear of the pandemic. She wrote to Maharashtra’s former home minister, Anil Deshmukh, and prison authorities, but her pleas came to nothing.
“They keep saying he is a threat to the democracy of the country. What can a man do who does not have the basic functions of limbs? People like Pragya Thakur are out on bail after admitting Proudly in court that they were guilty of terrorist acts Why is my husband who did no wrong still in jail she asks.
Vasantha further remarks that so far he has survived due to his faith in the audience and his determination. Discussing one of his letters, she recalls how he said: “Nenu chavuni nirakarsithanu » (I refuse to succumb to death).
When asked where she finds her strength, she clearly stated: “Anyayam chaala rojulu gelavadu. (Injustice doesn’t last too long.)
The language of silence:
Another perhaps distressing part of Vasantha’s story was how language turned out to be such a terrible barrier. “In the prison, they wouldn’t allow us to speak Telugu because they don’t know the Maharashtra language. I don’t know English very well. So I spoke in Telugu and he answered me in English. If by mistake he pronounced something in Telugu, we were not allowed to speak even though we only had 20 minutes to start. she says.
Viewing language and alienation as a roadblock, Vasantha attempted to transfer her husband from Nagpur prison to Cherlapally central prison in Hyderabad under the Prisoner Transfer Act 1950, but the state responded with radio silence.
Literature: the only respite
“Now he only reads the books I send him. Although I don’t know what he is reading at the moment, he asked me The Early Indians by Tony Joseph, The Anarchy by William Dalrymple, Perumal Murugan’s amma and the collected poems of John Keats,” she says
But following the account of Vasantha Kumari, Dr. GN Saibaba praises the Urdu communist poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He also translated some of Faiz’s poetry into Telugu in letters to his wife.
Dr. Saibaba told his wife that every time he reads Faiz, he feels like his thoughts have found form. With the darkness surrounding the couple (and indeed all victims suffering from UAPA), snippets of literature seem to be the only solace Dr. Saibaba finds.