In Defence Of Committees For Defence of Political Prisoners

saibaba hanybabu

After Prof. G. N. Saibaba’s arrest a 17-person Committee for the Defence and Release of Saibaba was constituted to expedite his bail and also that all his legal and constitutional rights stay protected. With the arrest of Prof. Hany Babu, member of this Committee on 28 July, 2020 and the subsequent raid on 2 August, 2020 at his house by 12 officials of National Investigative Agency (NIA) along with Delhi Police, a search was conducted for documents pertaining to this Committee. The message was loud and clear that witch hunting of all those associated with the Committee and those who funded the Committee would ensue. Apparently the regime is not comfortable with the idea of legal aid being provided to the political prisoners.

Healthy political tradition for over a century

In the last one hundred years a healthy political tradition has been set up whereby such committees have been formed and have been allowed to function unhindered both by the colonial rulers as well as by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency era.

  • During the Emergency era (1975-77), George Fernandes and 24 others were arrested in the Baroda Dynamite Case. A defence committee was formed which included lawyer V.M. Tarkunde and Acharya Kripalani. The regime in power would recollect that George – a onetime socialist – worked in Vajpayee government as a Union Defence Minister!


  • “On 15 August 1975 The Times of London carried a full page advertisement taken out by the ‘Free JP Campaign’. The ad had been paid for by individuals: the first person to contribute being Bishop Trevor Huddles-ton, the last Dame Peggy Ashcroft. The other signatories to the appeal included such long-standing friends of India as the socialist Fenner Brockway, the economist E. F. Schumacher and the political scientist W. H. Morris-Jones, as well as celebrities with no specific connection to India, such as the actress Glenda Jackson, the historian A. J. P. Taylor and the critic Kenneth Tynan.”


  • Formed in 1929 the Bhagat Singh Defence Committee to provide legal and financial aid to the revolutionaries had the Indian National Congress at the forefront. The Committee asked the public to donate funds. While Jawaharlal Nehru was not a member of this committee, he did go and meet Bhagat Singh and his comrades in the prison.


  • The Kakori Conspiracy Case (or Kakori train robbery) that took place on  9 August, 1925 was conceived by Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan.  Govind Ballabh Pant provided the legal defence for the arrested revolutionaries. Those who came out in support included Motilal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malviya, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Lala Lajpat Rai, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Shiv Prasad Gupta, Shri Prakash and Acharya Narendra Dev.


Jawaharlal Nehru with the members of INA Defence Committee, 1945 Photo by Kulwant Roy


  • In 1945, the Indian National Congress established the INA Defence Committee – which included famous lawyers of the time Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali, Jawaharlal Nehru – to defend Indian National Army mutineers who were to be charged during the trials.

May a thousand committees for the defence/release of political prisoners bloom. Better if the regimes become pro-people and there is no need for such committees. However, the most relevant question has been raised by Prof. Chaman Lal, formerly of JNU, who is known for his work on Bhagat Singh: “PM Modi should throw some light, what the Sangh leaders were doing when the young revolutionaries were hanged.”

Dr. P. S. Sahni is a member of PIL Watch Group. Email: [email protected]



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