Months have passed since a petition asking the Canadian government to intervene on behalf of a jailed social justice activist in India was presented by two members of Parliament.
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.
He recently wrote to his wife, Vasantha, from jail, saying that as winter sets in, he may not survive due to the inhuman conditions in his cell. He says he does not have a blanket or a sweater and is complaining of constant muscle pain.
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.
These have not yet been tabled in Parliament, though they were submitted to the house clerk for verification, according to Dhaliwal and Julian.
Separately, a letter signed by 100 residents of Delta was presented to the then minister for people with disabilities, Carla Qualtrough, asking for immediate action. Qualtrough, the MP for Delta, has since become public services and procurement minister.
Poorest of the poor have Saibaba's enduring support
Saibaba was first arrested in 2014 and incarcerated in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Following a series of protests, including some in Canada, he was released on bail.
Saibaba has been raising his voice against repression of minorities, particularly tribal people and Dalits, or the so-called untouchables. The Indigenous peoples in tribal belt of India continue to face persecution at the hands of the extraction industry and security forces. It's all in the name of a war on terror against Maoist insurgents active in the area.
Many Indigenous peoples have seen no alternative but to support the Maoists due to the barbarity of the state, which is bent upon evicting them from their traditional lands for mining.
Saibaba has been instrumental in organizing actions in Indian cities against these atrocities. His supporters feel that he is being punished for standing up for the underdog and that he was slapped with baseless charges with an intention to eliminate him.
In March he landed back in jail after being given a life sentence, in spite of his poor medical condition.
Canadian politicians send mixed messages on human rights
Ironically, Canadian politicians did not forget to wish their South Asian constituents Happy Bandi Chhorh Diwas on October 19, while leaving the issue of Saibaba unaddressed.
Bandi Chhorh Diwas is celebrated every year to mark the return of the sixth master of the Sikhs, Guru Hargobind, from the Gwalior jail where he was detained for raising his voice against injustice.
He managed to secure the release 52 kings detained separately along with him and thus became a symbol of human rights.
If our politicians really care for Bandi Chhorh Diwas, they must step in for political prisoners like Saibaba urgently.