“Why Do You Fear Me So Much-Poems and Letters from Prison” by Professor G.N.Saibaba portrays the sheer inhumanity prevailing within prison walls in India, illustrating the barbaric jail practices. It is the best illustration of how genuine activists are falsely fabricated in India today ,with the judiciary virtually a tool or completely subservient to the ruling classes .The book portrays how neo-fascism is penetrating the parliamentary system at height unscaled ,with laws passed similar to colonial times. We get an insight into how spiritually the resolve of a political prisoner to combat fascism is further intensified within the confines of prison walls .The book illustrates the death defying courage of Professor Saibaba and his wife Vasantha Kumari in bearing the situation. It is the voice of all the oppressed people of India. A mascot for all revolutionary democrats confronting proto-fascism.
In the Introduction Vasantha’s letter to Sai is published. Here she narrates how he called her from jail on her birthday and wedding anniversary to rekindle memories of the energy that binded them. Recounted how both were so keen to share their experiences inspite of being held to the state’s mercy .Expressed outrage that her husband was denied access to writing in Telegu.
She described Saibaba’s baptism into the academic world as teacher in Hyderabad University ,rising from a small hut with a coconut thatched roof.Vasantha summed up her similarities with Sai in upholding the lofty ideals of Tagore, Premchand,,Periyar,SArath,Chalam,Srisri,Koku ,Ranganayakamma and Kara.Elaborated what qualities of Sai with a magnetic effect,struck a bond towards him. They included upholding rights and dignity of women and respecting women’s role in social development. Wrote about how today ’love’ was treated like a mere crime in society with many regarding their love as ‘true and pure.’
Vasantha recounted on initially her husband did not avail of the facility of a wheel chair and how he traversed through the most remote areas of India, crawling by the force of his hands, covering his palms with Hawai chappals.
She touched upon his zest to be an accomplished teacher by obtaining a doctorate, braving the extreme heat and cold of Delhi, causing pain down his legs and back. Vividly Vasantha described his ability to enable students to grasp complex topics in a simple manner putting down things in a most lucid and gentle form. Sai was the most dutiful of teachers, giving his work the cutting edge of creativity. He helped many a student from poor towns to avail of facilities in Delhi hostels and tooth and nail fought for right to reservations and played an active role in syllabus planning.
Vasantha narrated the nightmare of the police witch hunt in 2013 and 2014, with the police barging in like SS Storm troopers. The 1st time they captured laptops, hard disks, phones, and literature etc.A false warrant was made claiming that stolen goods were placed there from Gadricholi.In 2014 they stormed in with greater intensity, preventing any one from peeping in. Before one could say Jack Robinson all the mass democrats and intellectuals thronged outside Saibaba’s house, it students or professors.
On 9th May 2014 in a sensational manner Sai was forcibly escorted by a police car and taken to Nagpur and Gadicholi.The Police tried to camouflage Saibaba s a lethal terrorist by placing him in big landmine vehicle, with scores of police commandos armed with ultra-modern weapons. The Marathi mdia also framed him. She wrote about how her heart shook hearing how he was flung in big vehicle, denied BP medicines, prevented from urinating for 72 hours and bleeding from nose and ears.
Vasantha narrates the agony of travelling hundreds of m to just felt the presence of her husband by attending jail mulakat and the manner she was tormented he by asking her to share surname.
The gross violation of Supreme Court orders was reflected during the pandemic. The authorities were unable to prevent transmission of the virus into prison walls.Saibaba and his inmates launched a death defying hunger strike which resulted in prisoners being allowed access to phone calls, to their families and to their lawyer. They now agreed to give Saibaba access to Medical records, newspapers and monthly medicines, as well as permit letters in Telegu.
Vasantha recounted the countless occassions their family had made appeals to the governors and governments which changed since 2014, but to no avail. She expressed great admiration for her husband’s relentless courage inspite of being denied physiotherapy and insufficient blood being pumped into the heart. Reports had revealed bent spinal cord, stones in the gallbladder and a cyst in the brain.Saibaba had also mentioned a lump on the left side of the abdomnen which created bouts of pain in the waits and shoulders. The authorities simply dumped such grave issues into the dustbin.
The effect of the prolonged separation was illustrated making Vasantha dream of putting her arms around her husband’s neck .She recounted how Saibaba would help her with buying vegetables ,washing dishes, folding clothes, and keeping the house intact.Vasantha praised Saibaba’s commitment to confront injustice. ‘and that he should not grieve but walk with his head held high.”She expressed through sheer disgust how jail mulakats were stopped after November, last year.
This chapter projected sensitivity, love and courage, to realms rarely transcended of the wife of a revolutionary.
The various poems published are manifestation of the spirit of liberation of revolutionary, penetrating the very core of the soul of a reader. Arguably this collection of poems by Saibaba is comparable to that of any other Revolutionary poet penetrating zones rarely transcended in recent times, aesthetically .Gives me glimpse of poems of Pablo Neruda, sending shivers down the spine of the ruling classes. They are manifestation of the spiritual aspect of a revolutionary and in poet form convey language of a revolutionary, the evil designs of imperialism and fascism and hypocrisy of traditional Religion. One got vibrations of the blood of revolutionary dipped by Sai’s pen .The flow in his words was as natural as stream water. They convey why a Marxist revolutionary is in essence spiritual.
Saibaba’s most captivating poems in my view in projecting spirit of combating neo-fascism within jail walls were ‘A Bird in Front of a Cage” which gave a bird a human form in illustrating captivity within prison walls, “How Beautiful to wait for your Visit,” Your letters Defeat my solitary Cell “, “My New friend?,” “A Nightmare in my Dystopian Prison Cell, “ My Fellow Prisoners “, :Solitary Hope ,” “Mother weep not for me .” “I Refuse to Die “where he counters the death of the spirit with that of Love, “The True Prison “, “A solitary Day in my Cell.”, “My Heart is Covered with The Colour of Love,”, ‘Ode To Life “and “Bombs Go Astray.” . Such poems from the clutches of darkness resurrect light.
Saibabas poems illustrating secular and rationalist spirit include “Love isn’t in Shrines,” where he explains that struggle is the sole path to create love, “Why Do you Fear Me So Much “where he states he is not an agnostic, atheist ,secularist or rationalist,” “Renounce Your Ego .” “I Enter your land of fantasy,” “Resurrection”, “Tell Me o Monk”, “The True God “.
Projecting True love his best poems are “Renounce your Ego”, “Win a World of Love” which has a line that the Almighty has never wiped out the tumours of injustice “, Way to the City of Love “ ,”Ode To Life,” “The Goddess of Love “, “Enter the Citadels of Love “ ,”My Heart is covered with the Colour of Love.”A set of poem she has written in memory of prophet Kabir.Very significantly one poem says that Kabir is not a preacher or a Teacher ,monk or fakir ,or renouncer .Even if not godfearing they have deeply spiritual overtones or metaphors.
Poems projecting designs on Brahmanism are ‘Koregaon’s Heart of Bhima” ,”Now We have more Freedoms ,” “The Ocean in his Voice .” and “A True Story of My Heaven and Hell “ which most poignantly illustrates the fate of the Chamar and the Mahar. In a most subtle manner they project the scenario of Hindutva and Brahmanical fascism.
On projecting political fascism as a whole “Oh Justice” is a masterpiece as well as in International Light, “Odes of Life”and“Bombs Go Astray.”The later reflects on Palestine and Middle East.
Letters of Professor Saibaba
In the final part of the book Saibaba’s letters are published written to his wife, to friend Anjum ,K.Vengopal and Justice Katjuji.
To Vasantha he wrote about how such acts of incarceration are a shame for democracy and reflected how it was the state’s will to separate them. He wrote about how relentlessly they both confronted evils of social injustice in diverse spheres and that she should never relent in serving the people. He requested his wife to not lose spirit because of his imprisonment and to intensify her resistance against the neo-fascist rulers. For 36 years being boded their sole pursuit was the emancipation of the poor.Sai dwelled on how rights of all oppressed peoples were trampled upon, be it Adivasis,Dalits women or the minorities and how disparity was accentuating day by day.
To fictional character Anjum from Arundhati Roy’s novel “Ministry of Utmost Happiness “he described his fatal plight and his blunder of not learning Urdu. He narrated how he failed to respond to an ailment recommended by Hyderabad doctor, which would open his throat by inserting air through a machine that pumped air into the throat. He passed on the message for Arundhati Roy who was common friend, to release the book.
To justice Katjuji he wrote a letter complementing his judicial fairness to enable it to still enable it to keep some remnants inact.Saibaba requested the justice Katjuji to delve into the evidence on record. The district judge rejected all the Supreme Court Judgements., cited by his lawyer arbitrararily. Sai described how the judge cooked up stories and violated all norms of jurisprudences.
Saibaba concluded that there was no credibility to a single allegation.wih the prosecution’s story not having the slightest traces of evidence. He requested the judge to examine the evidence in a trial court, written arguments submitted and his 313 statement.
The trial was projected as grossly unfair .An independent witness was disguised as an agricultural labourer, though in actual fact he was a home guard in some police station.Inspite of defence proving identity the court and impersonation in other cases still recognised him as a genuine witness.
A None of the electronic documents allegedly seized from Sai’s house were displayed by the court of examined through any witness. They were brought out only by 313 statement.
B Without sanction provided by UAPA, charges were framed under sections 13.18, 10.38, and 39.Section 120 B of 1PC was invoked., withdrawn and re-instated.
C 65 b Certificate was not produced by the Call Records of my phone number.
D None of the procedures were followed in house search, seizures, arrests, handling of devices or keeping them in appropriate custody.
An open letter was written by Vasantha to the supporters of her husband where she quoted the UN Resolution. 70/175 : Standard minimum rules for political prisoners. Rules specifically state that the provision of health care of prisoners is a state of responsibility and those prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community without discrimination. The Rights of Persons Disabilities act 2016 was also touched upon that ensure that disabled persons are entitled to the right of equality, dignity and respect for her integrity equally with others. She asserted that whether an under trial or a convicted, one is entitled to right to life, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Such denial of rights to Saibaba,is a blatant violation of human rights. Section 7(1) was also referred to those empowered authorities to rescue, protect and rehabilitate victims.
Vasantha dwelt upon inspite of all the laws prevailing her husband was denied access to bail.
Vasantha revealed how Saibaba’s condition was chronic with his spine and left hand muscles degenerated further and intensifying growth in his abdomen with frequent bouts of pain ,uninvestigated.
After virtually losing all hope Vasantha received a letter from her husband in October 2019, which inspired her to boldly march along the path of struggle. The letter advised her to invest every ounce of her energy for his release.Saibaba conveyed how inspite of being 90%isbaled,he let no stone unturned in serving mankind, braving the most hazardous obstacles.Sai described how even confined within prison walls, the revolutionary trail never deterred.
The determination and spirit of Saibaba and his wife is an inspiration to any democratic in India challenging oppression.
Ashok Kumbamu sky high praises Saibabas tenacity in withstanding fascist oppression and optimism in the quagmire of darkness.Ashok felt Saibaba reposed great faith in the people and few writers expressed such diversity, addressing issues ranging from War, famine to Climate Change. He admired Sai for resurrecting from the grave within prison walls to write. He spoke about the powerful fascist trend which shut a lid on dissent.Ashok described how like Sai, thousands of people were bound within prison walls. On trumped up charges, ironically he endorsed the view that had Sai been a Muslim poor lower caste-peasant or an Adivasi he would have been beaten to death.
Ngugi Vwa Thiong compared Saibaba’s poetry with collections of poetry in prisons by Pablo Neruda and other poets during the dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile.He notably compares Saibabas work with Eklavyans of the world, giving an illustration of Victo Jara of Chile,whose fingers were chopped off by the military just like Eklavayas was ,to prevent him from competing with the mighty and powerful.
Harsh Thakor is a Freelance Journalist who has covered mass movements all around India and been close to Civil Rights Movement