As the world is gearing up to celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities this Sunday (December 3), the issue of a physically challenged social justice activist being incarcerated in India has gained momentum in Canada.
Prof. G.N. Saibaba is a Delhi University professor who is 90 percent disabled below the waist. Currently in jail where he is serving life sentence for supporting Maoist insurgents in the tribal areas of India, Saibaba is dependent on a wheelchair for his mobility and suffers from several ailments.
His supporters both in India and Canada believe that he is being persecuted for standing up for the Indigenous communities whose lands are being taken away by the extraction industry with the help of the Indian state. The high-handedness of the government has forced the Indigenous population to turn to Maoist insurgents for support. Saibaba therefore has become a victim for advocating for the rights of the Indigenous peoples being subjected to the state violence.
While the Canadian government is aware of the case, it's yet to be seen if it will intervene into the matter effectively.
Vancouver-based Radical Desi launched a petition seeking the release of Saibaba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The petition was signed by close to 1,000 people and was presented to two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal (Liberal Party) and Peter Julian (New Democratic Party), before the fall session.
The petition was drafted by former B.C. NDP candidate and human rights activist Amandeep Singh.
In response to the petition submitted to the house by Dhaliwal, the first Canadian MP to accept it, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has acknowledged that it is aware of Prof. Saibaba’s case and continues to encourage India, with its “vibrant and diverse civil society, to guarantee freedom of expression and association”.
Though Dhaliwal helped the petitioners in arranging a meeting with the staff of the former minister for people with disabilities Carla Qualtrough, the Liberal government has been ambivalent on the demand.
Separately, a letter signed by 100 residents of Delta was also presented to Qualtrough asking for immediate action. Now the minister of public services and procurement, she is also the member of Parliament for Delta. Her staff categorically said that the government wants to remain neutral in this case.
However, the New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh raised the issue through social media after remaining silent on it for several months.
Singh is the only national leader to come out in support of more humanity, describing the Indian government’s treatment of Saibaba as “shameful” on Twitter.
Saibaba was first arrested in 2014 and locked up in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Following a series of protests, including some in Canada, he was released on bail.
In March he landed back in jail after being given a life sentence, in spite of his poor medical condition. His recent letter to his wife has raised serious concerns over his health that continues to deteriorate.