Gurpreet Singh: Canadian teacher writes to Trudeau, asking him to intervene on behalf of jailed Delhi University prof

The Canadian government, which claims to be the human rights leader in the world, remains indifferent to G.N. Saibaba's ordeal.

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      Annie Ohana, a well-known award-winning social justice educator, has fired off a letter to Canada's prime minister urging him to stand up for an Indian scholar being incarcerated under inhuman conditions.  

      G.N. Saibaba, who relies on a wheelchair for mobility, used to teach at Delhi University before being convicted in 2017 and branded as a Maoist sympathizer.

      Suffering with 19 ailments, his health continues to deteriorate.

      The Indian government has refused to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds in spite of an increasing COVID-19 threat in overcrowded jails.

      Saibaba has been raising his voice against the repression of Adivasis (Indigenous peoples) who are being forcibly evicted from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of Indian state, all in the name of development.

      Maoist insurgents have been active in these mineral-rich areas that big industry is eyeing to acquire. Police brutality often forces Adivasis to join the insurgents who are fighting a class war. 

      Saibaba was instrumental behind peaceful demonstrations against atrocities on Adivasis, which have been done in the garb of police operations against Maoists.

      As a result, he was arrested and thrown in jail as part of a conspiracy to suppress voices of dissent.

      There has been an international outcry for Saibaba, with UN human rights experts asking for his release.

      Hundreds of people signed petition in Canada and attended rallies in his support.

      The Canadian government, which claims to be the human rights leader in the world, remains indifferent to his situation.  

      Prof. G.N. Saibaba is serving a life sentence, even though his supporters feel he's being persecuted for standing up for religious minorities and Indigenous peoples in India.
      Gurpreet Singh

      Ohana who teaches at L.A. Matheson School in Surrey has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of her students asking for his intervention. A copy has also been sent to the New Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh, who had raised the issue of Saiababa in the past.

      In March prior to the shutdown of schools, Ohana even hosted a teach-in at the school to educate Grade 10 and 12 students about Saibaba's situation as part of the indigenous week, after which the students submitted their thoughts on the issue.

      She put their feedback together in a letter that reads: “As a government, please show our students leadership, practice what you preach, dare to stand up for human rights and call for the release of Saibaba.”

      According to Ohana, 60 students participated in the teach-in. Some of them later stuck “Free Saibaba” signs on their backs to show solidarity with the jailed teacher.

      Some of the comments from students included in the letter are really strong and heart-warming.  One student wrote, “In a country that believes in freedom of speech, right in our Charter, shouldn’t they [Canadian MPs] stand up to protect people trying to do the same in other countries?”

      Likewise, another student commented, “Dr. Saibaba is being hurt by being in jail, he did not commit any crimes as I see it. Why is Canada staying silent about calling for his release? I feel like he is being tortured, Canada should never stand for this type of treatment.”

      Last December, Ohana spoke at a rally for Saibaba held in Surrey on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

      Gurpreet Singh is a cofounder of Radical Desi and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.