Gurpreet Singh: Mr. Trudeau, the incarceration of a disabled Indian scholar is no less than an attack on democracy

G.N. Saibaba is serving a life sentence for speaking up for the rights of Indigenous people who are resisting corporate incursions onto their traditional territory

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      The Canadian prime minister’s strong words against the arrest of a Belarusian journalist is laudable, but his silence over the ongoing assault on free expression in the world’s so-called largest democracy must not go unnoticed.

      Roman Protasevich was recently arrested by the Belarus government in a highly dramatic manner.

      He was detained after the flight he was in was diverted on the pretext of being threat.

      The dissident journalist had reported on the disputed election of President Alexander Lukashenko in 2020 and his crackdown on protesters.

      Sharply reacting to the events, Justin Trudeau described the whole episode as “a clear attack on democracy” and rightfully so, but he has chosen to look away when it comes to India.

      After all, the Canadian government has failed to speak out against the incarceration of a disabled Indian scholar in spite of many demonstrations for him in the country, which is celebrating National AccessAbility Week from May 30 to June 5.

      A former Delhi University professor, G.N. Saibaba, was first arrested in 2014 on trumped up charges for merely raising his voice for poor and marginalized.

      Saibaba, who relies on a wheelchair for mobility, had been defending the rights of the Adivasis (Indigenous peoples of India). They're being forcibly evicted from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian state.

      Saibaba was convicted of having connections with the banned Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ties to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). He was sentenced to life in 2017 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer.

      He has been detained under inhuman conditions since then. As communist insurgents are active in the tribal areas, anyone who stands up for the rights of the Adivasis is frequently labelled as a Maoist and thrown in jail.

      The Indian government remains adamant and has refused to release Saibaba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds in spite of the fact that he is suffering with multiple ailments and recently contracted COVID-19. Calls for his immediate release by United Nations human rights experts were ignored.

      Last year, he was not even allowed to visit his dying mother, who later succumbed to cancer. Notably, supporters of the current right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government who have been involved in crimes against minorities have been repeatedly released on medical grounds.

      It’s a shame that Canada, which claims to be the human rights leader in the world, has maintained silence over the mistreatment of Saibaba and several other scholars who are being incarcerated to suppress any voice of dissent by the Indian establishment.

      While it goes to the credit of Trudeau for speaking out against the recent police violence against Indian farmers who have taken to the streets to oppose controversial farm laws that threaten their livelihood, his government has conveniently ignored protests for Saibaba and the petitions asking for Canadian intervention into the matter.

      If one journalist’s arrest can make Trudeau angry. why he is not outraged over the brutality suffered by a physically challenged scholar in India? Whatever may be the logic behind this selectivity, the least he could do is speak out for someone disabled below the waist and who hardly poses any danger to Indian society.