Teachers and students came together at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver on Wednesday, April 3 to raise their voices for the jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba.
A well-known human rights defender, Saibaba is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions, despite being ninety percent disabled below the waist.
Saibaba was convicted for life after being accused of being a sympathizer of the Maoist insurgents who are fighting a class war in the tribal areas of India. He has been raising his voice against the repression of indigenous peoples, who are being forcibly evicted by the big mining companies with the backing of the Indian state, that are eyeing their traditional lands to extract rich minerals without informed consent. The police become a ready tool in the hands of these companies and frequently target any voice of resistance. Often the state repression forces the indigenous peoples to join the Maoist ranks to escape police brutality.
Since Saibaba was instrumental in mobilizing public opinion against the exploitation of the tribal communities, he was first arrested in 2014 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. He was convicted in March, 2017 under draconian laws.
Recently, his family applied for a bail plea on medical grounds, as wheelchair bound Saibaba suffer 19 ailments.
However, the Nagpur court not only rejected his bail application, but refused to show any leniency, stating that he is mentally fit and is working as a think tank for Maoists.
The Scholars at Risk that organized the UBC event to raise awareness about Saibaba’s case in Canada was formed to highlight the plight of scholars, who are being hounded by different governments all over the world for standing up for the oppressed. The event was held at the C.K. Choi Building in partnership with Centre for India and South Asia Research.
The poems written by Saibaba to his wife from inside the jail were read out on the occasion as a tribute to the imprisoned professor. The speakers shed light on his contributions to social justice and international solidarity movements.
Among the speakers were Associate Professor of Punjabi Language, Literature and Sikh Studies Anne Murphy, Instructor at Political Science and Vantage College Jenny Peterson, student of Political Science and International Relations Zeus Shroff, and an independent journalist and co-founder of Radical Desi magazine, Gurpreet Singh.
The speakers were unanimous in their observation that more needs to be done to educate Canadians about this important issue and to pressure the Canadian government to intervene urgently.
Those present included human rights lawyer Amandeep Singh, who had drafted a petition on behalf of Radical Desi, seeking Canadian intervention into the matter. More than 1,000 people signed the petition concerning Saibaba, which was submitted to the House of Commons by two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian. Singh is the former New Democratic Party candidate in Richmond Queensborough.
The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) Rakesh Kumar, Sandeep Modgil and Sarabjit Singh were also in attendance. IAPI has been instrumental behind several demonstrations organized in support of Saibaba and other political prisoners in India.