In an unprecedented judgement, an Indian Court sentenced a physically handicapped professor of Delhi University to life in prison for his link to Maoist rebels. Professor G.N. Saibaba, who suffers from 90 percent disability owing to post-polio paralysis was arrested three years ago but was released on bail on grounds of deteriorating health. Following his arrest, Saibaba was suspended from Delhi’s Ram Lal Anad College where he taught English literature.
The Nagpur District Sessions Court of western Indian state of Maharashtra on Tuesday pronounced the life imprisonment for Professor Saibaba and four other leftwing activists. The court said in its 825 judgement, “They were convicted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for being active members of a “terrorist gang or organization and offenses relating to support given to a terrorist outfit and waging war against the nation.”
While agreeing with the prosecution’s argument that the disabled academic deserved no leniency as he used to frequently travel abroad to spread Maoist ideology and actively recruit youths, the judge Suryakant Shinde ruled that “Though he [Saibaba] is physically handicapped, he is mentally fit” adding that “the imprisonment for life is not a sufficient punishment to the accused”.
But the court’s pronouncement is drawing criticism that the Hindu nationalist government influenced the judiciary. Professor Saibaba’s lawyer Surendra Gadling termed the judgement as “shocking” and said “this is the first time in Maharashtra that vague and tenuous electronic evidence has been used as evidence to establish guilt.”
Meanwhile Vasantha Kumari, Saibaba’s wife, openly blamed India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for having a hand in the court’s verdict.
She said in a statement that “It seems the government has put a lot of pressure on the judiciary to implement anti-people and undemocratic policies at the behest of corporate firms and multinational companies.”
Ms Kumari claimed that “The government has selectively suppressed the voice of people to plunder the resources of the country.”
Agreeing with the opinion of Ms Kumari, the academicians also voiced that “The trend nowadays is quite obvious. Every voice critical or dissenting has to be put behind bars.”
A leftist scholar opined that “The events that have been unfolding since the BJP came to power points to subtle methods being adopted by the government to stifle critical thinking and instil fear in those who dare to speak against it.”
The Maoists claim to represent the poor and indigenous tribal groups, who suffer some of the country’s highest rates of poverty, illiteracy and infant mortality. The rebels have accused successive governments of uprooting poor and landless people to exploit mineral-rich forests scattered throughout the region. They operate in 60 districts in India, mainly in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand ,Bihar , Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya radesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal.