Kartar Singh Sarabha

November 16 marks the 107th martyrdom day of a towering revolutionary of the Indian freedom struggle.

Kartar Singh Sarabha was executed in 1915 in British India for waging a war against the Empire while he was only 18-and-a-half years old.

He was a part of the Ghadar movement that was started to liberate India from foreign occupation through armed rebellion.

Sarabha had gone to the US for studies, and instead got involved in the freedom struggle among the Indian expatriates, who wanted to establish an egalitarian republic back home. He had returned to India in 1914 to help start the uprising with the help of the Indian peasants and soldiers working for the British government. However, the authorities got wind of the conspiracy and crushed it with an iron fist.

The courts remained unmoved by the fact that Sarabha was of an impressionable age group and deserved some leniency. Rather the judges described Sarabha as the “most dangerous” in spite of being the youngest of those arrested. They noted that he warranted no sympathy.

This was when India was still under British rule. Fast forward to 2022, when the Indian Supreme Court in a so-called free and democratic environment showed similar curtness towards a wheelchair-bound political prisoner.

Former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who is disabled below the waist and suffering with multiple ailments, is being incarcerated under trumped up charges for merely speaking out for the poor and marginalized and questioning the power.

He was convicted for life in 2017 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer.

Even though he was acquitted by the Bombay High Court in October, the Supreme Court suspended the sentencing and denied him freedom. It has now listed the matter for hearing on December 8. One of the judges said that the “brain is the most dangerous thing”, when Saibaba’s lawyer requested for house arrest.

The judge’s statement echoed what the courts observed for Sarabha years ago, and reinforced the position taken by the Solicitor General, who opposed the plea for house arrest.

That the prosecution and the judiciary consider human brains as dangerous was true both in British India, and even today, when the people have their own elected government. It does not matter whether you are young enough to deserve capital punishment, or physically challenged enough to stay behind bars. Your involvement with any pro-people initiative is sufficient to provoke state violence, which only shows that whoever challenges the status quo and wants a change will be on the wrong side of the law.

Much like the judiciary worked at the behest of the British Empire back then, it is dancing to the tune of their present political masters in New Delhi. So, nothing has really changed since 1915 , especially for social justice activists who continue to be detained under draconian laws, subjected to unfair trials, tortured or killed at will by those in power.

As long as Saibaba is in jail, it’s better that the Indian politicians stay away from celebrating the legacy of Sarabha, and others like him who dreamed of a just society, and not just a country free of white rulers and governed by the natives.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist


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