Canadian teacher writes to Trudeau, asking him to intervene for jailed Delhi university professor

annie chana

Annie Ohana, a well-known award winning social justice educator, has sent a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister urging him to stand up for an Indian scholar who is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions.

Wheelchair-bound GN Saibaba used to teach at Delhi University before being convicted in 2017 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. Suffering with 19 ailments, his health continues to deteriorate.

The Indian government has refused to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, in spite of increasing COVID 19 threat in overcrowded jails.

Saibaba has been raising his voice against repression of Adivasis, or the indigenous peoples, who are being forcibly evicted from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian state in the name of development. Maoist insurgents have been active in these mineral rich areas that big industry is eyeing to acquire. The police brutality often forces Adivasis to join the insurgents who are fighting a class war.

Saibaba was instrumental behind peaceful demonstrations against atrocities against Adivasis in the garb of police operations against Maoists, as a result of which he was arrested and thrown in jail as part of a conspiracy to suppress voice of dissent.

There has been an international outcry for Saibaba, and the UN had asked for his release.

Hundreds of people signed petitions in Canada and held rallies in his support. However, the Canadian government that claims to be a human rights leader in the world remains indifferent to the whole episode.

Ohana, who teaches at L.A. Matheson School in Surrey, has written a letter to Justin Trudeau on behalf of her students asking for his intervention. A copy has also been sent to the New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh who had raised the issue of Saiababa in the past.

On March 12, she had hosted a teach-in at the school to educate Grade 10 and 12 students about the situation of Saibaba as part of the indigenous week, following which the students submitted their thoughts on the issue.

She has put their feedback together in a letter that reads, “As a government, please show our students leadership, practice what you preach, dare to stand up for human rights and call for the release of Saibaba.”

According to Ohana, sixty students participated in the teach-in, following which some of them stuck “Free Saibaba” signs on their backs to show solidarity with the jailed teacher.

Some of the comments from students included in the letter are really strong and heart-warming. One student wrote, “In a country that believes in freedom of speech, right in our Charter, shouldn’t they [Canadian MPs] stand up to protect people trying to do the same in other countries?”

Likewise, another student commented, “Dr. Saibaba is being hurt by being in jail, he did not commit any crimes as I see it. Why is Canada staying silent about calling for his release? I feel like he is being tortured, Canada should never stand for this type of treatment.”

Ohana had also spoken at the rally for Saibaba held in Surrey on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities last December.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist from Canada




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