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Why Is Professor Saibaba Denied Basic Rights?

By JYOTI PUNWANI
January 12, 2022 13:41 IST
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Right from his arrest in May 2014, the Nagpur jail authorities have denied Professor Saibaba his basic rights, even flouting court orders in the process.
Jyoti Punwani reports.

IMAGE: Professor G N Saibaba with his wife Vasanta Kumari outside the Nagpur Central Jail. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

Has Professor G N Saibaba contracted Covid again? Jail authorities told Rediff.com that the 90% handicapped former Delhi University professor, serving a life sentence since 2017 for being linked to Maoists, had not contracted the infection, adding that regular tests were being done and no inmate of the Nagpur Central Jail had tested positive.

Profeessor Saibaba's wife Vasantha Kumari, who lives with their daughter in Delhi, said she had heard from a well-wisher whose name she would not reveal that her husband had the symptoms of Omicron, hence she suspected he must have got infected again.

There was no way for her to ask him, as no phone calls are allowed between inmates and their families.

The Bombay high court had allowed phone calls during the lockdown, since personal visits had been stopped then. However, after the second wave of Covid subsided last year, families were allowed to meet inmates, hence phone calls have been stopped.

What made Vasantha panicky is her experience when Professor Saibaba contracted Covid in February 2021 -- he was tested almost a month after he started having symptoms, and that too after she sent the jail authorities an e-mail request for the same, as reported by Rediff.com.

Right from his arrest in May 2014, the Nagpur jail authorities have denied Professor Saibaba his basic rights, even flouting court orders in the process.

Wheelchair-bound after a childhood polio affliction left him paralysed waist downwards, suffering from hypertension and chronic back pain, Professor Saibaba was still fit enough to teach at Ram Lal Anand College till his arrest in 2014.

However, his prolonged incarceration, first from 2014 to 2015 as an undertrial, and then from March 2017 onwards as a convict, has worsened his health. He has lost the use of one hand; and suffers from as many as 19 ailments, including severe heart and kidney problems.

In October 2020, Professor Saibaba went on a hunger strike again (his first time was as an undertrial in 2015) for his basic rights: From medical treatment to books to medical reports denied to him since November 2018.

In October 2021, Professor Saibaba was handed over his medical reports. These showed that he needed an angiography. However, not only has it not been done, a remark that he is not willing to undergo it was made by a doctor on his medical papers.

In a letter to the jail superintendent dated November 30, 2021, Professor Saibaba has spelt out the falsity of this remark.

According to him, doctors at the Government Medical College and Hospital, Nagpur (GMCH) had in November 2020, recommended an angiography to be done at the Indira Gandhi Government Medical Hospital, since their equipment was not working. An appointment was fixed at the Indira Gandhi Hospital for October 17, 2021, 9 am.

'However,' Professor Saibaba writes, 'the CMO of the jail hospital sent me to the cardiology department of SSH (Super Speciality Hospital) of GMCH on the same date and time, instead of IGGMH. The cardiologist of GMCH wrote on the medical record sheet that I should be taken to IGGMH again but a new appointment has not been taken.'

He ends the letter with the following clarification: 'I have been willing to go for the CT Angiography since November 2020 when the cardiologist prescribed the test. I have never refused to undergo the test.'

Professor Saibaba's unique position as a 90% handicapped political prisoner -- he was a vocal critic of the State's policies on Bastar's tribals, including the infamous State-sponsored vigilante movement Salwa Judum -- has prompted appeals not only from his Delhi University colleagues and human rights bodies in the country, but also from across the world for his release.

All of these have fallen on deaf ears.

Release is a far cry; Professor Saibaba has neither been granted bail on medical grounds, nor parole. When his mother was dying, he was refused even a video-call with her.

"He applied again in July 2021 for parole to observe his mother's first death anniversary as her eldest son, but this too was turned down," revealed Vasantha. "When she died in August 2020, they gave the excuse of corona. But why did they turn down his latest appeal?"

Last November, Vasantha and their daughter met Professor Saibaba in jail after a gap of 20 months; they had last met him before the pandemic. They found him pale and weak, in constant pain in his hand and hip joint, and prone to bouts of unconsciousness.

A letter from him dated December 27 revealed that there had been no change in his condition.

'In the past one month and 10 days, I could not write to you. Due to extreme pain, my mind was not functioning properly. My lower back pain and hip joint pain has not even been allowing me to sleep... for the past more than two months. There is no relief. My BP is also going up due to extreme pain. Not able to concentrate,' he wrote.

Vasantha finds herself helpless to help her husband. In April 2021, he was sacked from his job, leaving the family with no means of income.

"We are dependent on our savings and the contributions of his friends," said Vasantha, "so it is difficult for us to visit him more often." The family pays his two attendants, inmates of the jail who help him with his essential functions, Rs 2,000 a month.

Even his lawyer in Nagpur isn't able to visit him regularly. The entire day is wasted for a 20-minute visit, revealed Vasantha. The visitor must submit a list of the items they want to give the inmate, and the authorities take time to approve of every item. This time, she said, they did not allow her to give him a pouch to keep his toiletries because in the list it had not been described as a pouch.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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