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On December 8, 2017, SOAS India Society of SOAS, University of London organised a public meeting to highlight and stand in solidarity with Professor GN Saibaba and Chandrashekhar Azad. Below is a solidarity statement released by the SOAS India Society:

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Prof. Saibaba who is a 90% disabled person and worked as an Assistant Professor at the Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi was taken away in 2014 by the Maharashtra Police, without following any procedure laid down by the law. He was later charged under Sections 13, 18, 20, 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). Prof. Saibaba has been a vocal supporter of rights of Adivasis and poorest of the country against all forms of oppression by State machinery.

In March, 2016 the Supreme Court bench of Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice Nagappan acted on a special leave petition challenging the rejection of bail for Prof.  Saibaba by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. Noticing Saibaba’s deteriorating health, they granted bail to the professor on medical grounds.

In an 827 page judgment given in March, 2017 the Sessions Judge Suryakant Shinde of the Gadchiroli Sessions Court, sentenced Prof. Saibaba to life imprisonment. The same judgment also sentenced an IIT engineer turned journalist Prashant Rahi, JNU student Hem Mishra, and three young adivasi Mahesh Tirki and Pandu Narote to life imprisonment and Vijay Tirki to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment. An unbiased reading of this case reveals that the anti-terror laws have been utilised for political motives.

Prof. Saibaba suffers from severe medical conditions that have worsened and become life threatening, his health has deteriorated and taken a turn for the worse. In the past he has been diagnosed with Acute Pancreatitis, Cholelithiasis, Left Brachial Plexopathy. At present, not only is Prof. Saibaba being denied access to medical services, it is deplorable that the prison administration has stopped the supply of the basic medication required for him to survive. Due to this neglect, he has undergone fits of black-outs and has been constantly suffering from high fever and infection.

The actions of the Indian government are in violation of various domestic legislations (such as the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016) and UN resolutions and conventions (such as the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, United Nations Resolution 70/175 on Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). Amnesty International has also appealed for immediate and urgent action in his case.

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The Bhim Army Ekta Mission, was established in July 2015 by Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, a law graduate, to empower Dalits through education. It was established with two main objectives: educating the Bahujans and protecting them from exploitation and atrocities. To achieve the first objective, Bhim Schools were started. These schools are run with people’s co-operation. Students and those preparing for competitive examinations teach in these schools. Bhim Schools also prepare students for appearing in competitive examinations and introduce them to the teachings and ideology of Ambedkar.

In April, 2017, the Bhim Army supporters faced violence at the hands of organised upper caste Thakur landlords in Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur. Over 50 Dalit houses were burnt and many were left injured in the retaliatory violence. As violence between both the communities escalated, several Bhim Army activists, including Azad, were arrested even as the state police allegedly went easy on Thakurs.

A day after Azad was granted bail by the Allahabad high court, the Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government slapped provisions of the National Security Act against him. The NSA empowers the police to preventively detain a person and has been used in this case to nullify the court’s decision of granting bail. This was done, knowing that the Allahabad high court, while granting bail to Chandrashekhar, observed that the Bhim Army chief was falsely implicated and that the charges against him were “politically motivated”.

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In this context, on this day the 8th December, 2017, we the people gathered here in the Public Meeting, unanimously resolve that we shall take our struggle forward till justice is done in the cases of Prof. GN Saibaba and Chandrashekhar Azad. As individuals with ability to think critically and question, we condemn the use of anti-terror laws, for political motives to crush dissent. We condemn the witch-hunt of voices speaking on behalf of the oppressed. We appeal to all the democratic organizations and individuals to join with us in our struggle and demand the release of Saibaba and Azad.

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Shailza Sharma is a lawyer and a student of MSc International Politics at SOAS, University of London. She is also a member of the SOAS India Society. SOAS India Society aims to encourage Indian academia, through research, lectures and seminars on contemporary debates in the fields of Indian history, politics, and culture.

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