A Punjab-based journalist and former information commissioner has appealed to the Indian government to release a physically challenged scholar from jail on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Chander Parkash said that the mistreatment of Professor G.N. Saibaba is both unfortunate and a blot on Indian democracy.
Parkash, who is based in Bathinda district, made the remark in a live interview on Burnaby-based Spice Radio on December 3,
His son, Yashveer Goyal, has established himself as a role model for Indian youths in sports and information technology, in spite of being born with a hearing disability. Goyal had earlier come to the support of Saibaba, a former Delhi University lecturer who continues to face inhuman conditions in an Indian jail after being convicted in 2017.
Saibaba was first arrested on trumped-up charges in 2014, for merely speaking out against the repression of religious minorities, and the Adivasis (indigenous communities). They're being evicted from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian government.
After being branded as a Maoist sympathizer, Saibaba received a life sentence in 2017. Notably, Maoist insurgents are active in the areas inhabited by the Adivasis.
Even though United Nations human-rights experts have asked for his release due to his deteriorating health, the government remains adamant. So much so, he was neither given a temporary release to see his mother on her deathbed, nor allowed to attend her last rites.
Goyal was born with a hearing disability in 1999. His father, Parkash, noticed it when his child remained unresponsive to the loud sounds of firecrackers in the neighbourhood on the night of Diwali—the Indian Festival of Lights.
However, his undeterred parents brought him up with a lot of care, despite many challenges.
Young Goyal had to face discrimination in school in a conservative society, where ostracization of children with disabilities is very common. His parents made sure that he concentrated on education and extracurricular activities, enabling him to master badminton and chess, besides information technology.
After winning many championships and competitions in these fields, both at the provincial and higher levels, Goyal received a national award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities in 2019, under the Role Model Hearing Impairments (Male) category.
He has since asked the prime minister of India to make arrangements for the release of Saibaba, who's confined to a wheelchair.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the vulnerability has grown for inmates like Saibaba, who are locked up in overcrowded Indian jails.
Goyal wrote on his Facebook page: “As I am a special child with absolute hearing impairment so I know the life of specially disabled persons. I have come to know about the plight of Saibaba, facing hellish conditions in jail and also under danger due to COVID-19.”
Reiterating similar views on his son’s behalf who cannot speak, Parkash told Spice Radio that natural justice demands that Saibaba must be released.
He added that whatever may be Saibaba's political ideology, his condition does not allow him to stay in jail anymore without severe implications.
Parkash also said that he and his family are ready to face any consequences for defending the human rights of someone who deserves sympathy.