Gurpreet Singh: Jailed disabled activist G.N. Saibaba gains support from United Nations experts

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      In a major victory for those campaigning for the release of disabled Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, United Nations rights experts have asked the Indian government to set him free.

      Saibaba requires a wheelchair and is 90 percent paralyzed below the waist. He's suffering from multiple ailments.

      Despite this, he's being incarcerated under brutal conditions after being given a life sentence for supporting Maoist insurgents in central India.

      In a statement issued on June 28, the UN rights experts have urged New Delhi to release him in the light of his deteriorating health.

      Among these experts are Catalina Devandas, special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and Dainius Pūras, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.  

      Saibaba’s relatives and friends believe that he is being persecuted to stifle any voice of dissent against the Indian state's repression of Indigenous peoples and to instill fear in the minds of social justice activists.

      He has been instrumental in mobilizing public opinion against displacement of Indigenous peoples from their mineral-rich traditional lands. It's being conducted in the name of development by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian government.

      Notably, the high-handedness of Indian security forces has convinced many indigenous peoples to join Maoist guerrillas, who are involved in an armed class struggle.

      Even otherwise, Saibaba has always been vocal against the assault on the rights of religious minorities and the oppressed communities.

      Describing Saibaba as “human rights defender”, the UN rights experts stated: “We are concerned about reports that Dr. Saibaba is suffering from more than 15 different health problems, some of which have potentially fatal consequences.”

      The statement noted that Saibaba’s health is deteriorating because of poor jail conditions and untrained staff who are unable to adequately assist prisoners with disabilities. “He is now in urgent need of adequate medical treatment.”

      Saibaba was first arrested in 2014 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. He was sentenced to life last year.

      The UN rights experts observed that the judgment “failed to point out a single instance in which Dr. Saibaba was a conspirator to commit violence or provide logistical support to violent acts”.

      The statement comes in the wake of recent arrests of five social justice activists in India.

      Among them is Saibaba's lawyer Surendra Gadling.

      These individuals have been accused of inciting violence and being involved in conspiracy to assassinate the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

      G.N. Saibaba's case was supported by demonstrators in Surrey's Holland Park on June 30.

      A rally took place in Surrey's Holland Park on Saturday (June 30) after Radical Desi launched a petition asking for the release of Saibaba.

      It began with a moment of silence for Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, a Sikh activist who committed suicide by jumping from a water tank during a fast on behalf of detainees.

      The organizers also expressed their solidarity with Indigenous political prisoners languishing in North American jails, including 73-year-old activist Leonard Peltier.   

      More than 1,000 people signed the petition concerning Saibaba, which was drafted by a lawyer and human rights activist Amandeep Singh. He's the former New Democratic Party candidate in Richmond Queensborough.

      The petition was submitted to the Canadian House of Commons by two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian.

      The New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh also made a statement on social media expressing his concern over the deteriorating health condition of Saibaba.

      Other groups that came forward to raise voice for Saibaba in Canada have included the International League of People's Struggles, South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, East Indian Defence Committee, B.C. Federation of Labour, Sikh Nation, World Sikh Organization, Chetna Association, and Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization.

      The Sikh community supported the cause by enthusiastically signing the petition at two Vaisakhi parades in Greater Vancouver in 2017. Members of Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar and Sukh Sagar Sikh temple in New Westminster have also vehemently supported the cause.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.