If the insensitivity being shown toward physically challenged former Delhi University professor by the Indian state is any indication, the government of world’s so-called largest democracy lacks compassion.
G.N. Saibaba, who is 90 percent disabled below the waist, is being incarcerated after being convicted for life after being branded as Maoist sympathizer.
He is among several known scholars and human rights defenders who are being detained for merely standing up for the poor and marginalized, especially the Adivasis (Indigenous peoples).
They continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state.
Maoist insurgents, fighting a class war, have been active in tribal areas, where Adivasis often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. Many Adivasis see them as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state.
Saibaba’s only crime was that he has been raising his voice for the indigenous peoples of India and religious minorities.
Even though UN human-rights experts have urged his immediate release on compassionate grounds, Indian authorities continue to oppose any attempt to bail him out.
Earlier this month, he lost his ailing mother after his lawyer's unsuccessful attempt to get him released to see her.
Saibaba requires a wheelchair for mobility.
There are concerns about his deteriorating health, particularly in the midst of the growing threat of COVID-19 in overcrowded Indian jails.
His mother, 74-year-old Gokarakonda Suryavathi, was suffering with cancer.
Yet his lawyer failed to get him to see her through video-conferencing. He had informed the jail authorities about her condition and her wish to see her son one last time, but they did not even reply.
All this is in sharp contrast to what Indian prime minister Narendra Modi stated at the beginning of the campaign against COVID-19.
He called for battling "corona" (COVID 19) with "karuna" (compassion). But seeing what Saibaba and his family are being forced to go through, Modi's actions do not certainly match his words.
If Saibaba’s condition does not evoke karuna, then what does?