“You’ll understand when you grow up. These talks are for elders”
Around twenty years ago, I had attended a dinner at the house of my civil servant uncle. He sat on his couch and told us about his views on the public policies of the country. His eyes sparkled with sadistic glow, as he cherished telling us the stories of custodial brutalities towards those who defy State. Everyone in the room listened to him with a sense of servitude. My uncle was very influential. Therefore, when I tried to debate him, the entire gathering disliked my resistance. I was conditioned to believe that questioning the powerful was a sin. And children are not supposed to ask questions. The answers appear magically on growing up.
On March 7, 2017, Dr Saibaba, former Professor, of the Delhi University was convicted by the Gadchiroli Trial and Sessions court, under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1927, read with, Section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code. Dr Saibaba is 90% disabled. Yet, the Court found no ground to show any kind of compassion towards him. The elaborate judgment went on to discuss the gravity of the situation. To the Court’s opinion, Saibaba deserved harsher punishment and a life term was in fact, a lesser sentence.
Sometimes, there are certain minds that do not wait for societal gratification to express their ideas. They follow their conscience. However, in a world that is constantly shrinking itself to create a space only for conformity, such audacity can be dangerous. Dr. G.N Saibaba and his intellect therefore, needed to be muzzled soon. Yet, the questions lie on what really is the meaning of being faithful to a country. And what does a country stand for? Does the sentiment of a country overlook the well being of its countrymen? What is the value of a country without its citizens?
Millions of years ago, before mankind evolved, we lived under the ‘Rule of jungle’. It was the reign of the fittest. Each moment was a fight to exist. There was no time to think. There was no protection for any one. There was no space for creativity. Human Beings lived as beasts. Yet, we painted our stories on the cave walls and created culture instinctively. We built our world and progressed with civilsation. We built a society with ‘Rule of Law’. Unlike the jungle, ‘Rule of Law’, promised the protection of individuality. Even the weaker, could rightfully survive under this rule. We agreed upon a social contract, under which, we could nurture our inherent inclinations. In return, we would accept the perceptual authority of the State and its institutions. These institutions derived power from us. Now, we needed a foundation to observe the performance of the terms of the contract between the State and its people. And hence, we founded the institution of judiciary and laid down a legal system to nourish the most important term of the social contract- Justice.
The case of Dr Saibaba is perhaps, not just another unfair judgment. Instead, it contains an impression of our present struggles with dissent in India. Sadly, the society that was founded upon a promise of freedom has been vitiated with prejudice. The Court, while hearing the case, chose to deny the retraction of the confessional statement by the Accused 1 and Accused 2, even after they alleged that the statement was extracted from them under torture and intimidation. Even though, the evidence act, in section 24, clearly makes any confession under fear of torture, inadmissible, the statement was found to be valid in the court. Repeated allegations of custodial torture by the police went ignored. The prosecution, instead, received the indulgence of the court, when the crucial witness testifying the illegal search of Saibaba’s house was rejected. Mr Jagat Bhole, testified that, when the search took place, both, himself and Saibaba were made to stand out. Mr Bhole, was a witness taken by the police during the search and seizure. The Court believed that the witness was an illiterate man and may have been too troubled by the court atmosphere to speak nonfiction. The primary evidence that lead the judgment were certain articles that may have been accessed by Dr Saibaba from his computer and the copy of a newspaper that may be use used to establish contacts with the Maoists. It is rather hilarious even to a student with basic knowledge in civics that a mere slogan about political prisoners, was found to easily serve as evidence to prove his Maoist affiliations. Dr Saibaba, being a disabled man with a body paralysis is under tremendous pain for speaking his mind. The court denied him medical care and the Prison authorities; too, continue to deny him proper treatment. The court and the authorities have acted in a way; most of us, in the society are behaving today.
While trying to discuss about Dr Saibaba, with some students around me, I had found a similar disconnect. I faced comments like “Oh! That Naxal guy? Why are you supporting him?” and “How can we demand medical help for a Maoist?” Few others simply chose to stay away from the issue because “We must not talk about certain things. Why should I get in trouble for a jailed dude?” Amidst our fears of the unknown, and disinterest to know our people, the voice of justice remained diminished. Now, the question remained, what do people like Saibaba really do to enrage our society so much? Why is he so formidable for us?
The National Human Rights Commission Report of 2017 declares that the police had raped over sixteen girls amongst many other abuses of human rights in Chattisgarh in 2015 alone. One of such incidents that scarred our history was the torture and rape of Soni Sori by Police Superintendent Ankit Garg. Soni Sori was brutalized and stones were inserted into her genitals which were later presented as evidence. Mr Ankit Garg was never punished. He was honored with the President’s medal on the Republic Day Parade of 2012.
Soni Sori never made it to the headlines, of our media. Neither did Madkam Hidme, who died under ‘suspicious circumstances’ in Sukma Village of Bastar. She too, was allegedly, kidnapped, killed by the security forces and as the grounds of a Public Interest Litigation observed, her ‘Naxal cadre’ uniform, post encounter, was perfectly ironed without any trace of a possible gunfight. She too, awaits justice. The police usually does not allow lawyers, writers or activists to visit these areas of conflict. We seldom find out the happenings here. Journalists and Lawyers, trying to make an effort, often end up in jail under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Public Securities Act. None of these acts comply with the International standards of Human Rights.
As Ms Arundhati Roy writes, in these jungles of central India, near the Indrāvati River, the area is controlled by Maoists and the police call it ‘Pakistan’. Women in lock ups are raped and the villagers, common civilians, live in constant fear. The ‘Operation Green Hunt’, believed to have begun in the year 2009 has emptied villages. The Adivasis, nearly starve in torture and meager earnings, as the multinationals like Vedanta grab their lands and resources. With indigenous rights ignored and promises of the constitution violated, Chhattisgarh like areas, remain as conflict zones. With such repeated attacks on the indigenous people of the Adivasi lands, the situation is often referred to as ‘genocide’, as described under Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crime of Genocide, 1951. As the helpless Adivasis continue to battle against the States on one side and armed non state actors on the other, their rights and sustenance stay crushed. These are areas with least improvement in terms of Human Development Index. Education, healthcare, Sanitation and other basic amenities stay shattered amidst the tears of oppression. Yet, this unspoken emergency situation of India remains unheard amidst the noise of glamorous malls, soaring GDP growth and majoritarian impositions.
Speaking of majoritarian impositions, one really wonders, who is this majority in India? As Professor Amartya Sen, writes, in his book, The Argumentative Indian, it is very hard to speak about any one majority group of Indians. In fact in a society as plural as ours, there is possibly no majority social group at all. Yet, our minds are bombarded each day with cacophony of majoritarian slogans and a miniaturized representation of history, culture and society.
The Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes Population of India, is over 25% of the Indian population. Yet, the Supreme Court of India has not appointed a single Dalit judge this year. Amongst the 20 High Court judges of Delhi, not one belonged to the Schedule Castes. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes report that only around 8.4% of the A grade officers belong to the Scheduled Castes, when the figure should be 15%. The Media is largely controlled by family owned private bodies, who are either Brahmins or Baniyas who also own electricity, mining, education and other businesses. Yet, any kind of positive discrimination or affirmative action in the form of reservation is found to be unfair for the Upper Caste elites of India, who control most public offices and believe that they are racially higher in descent. Even after sixty four years of abolition of untouchabilty by the constitution, a survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and University of Maryland, U.S.A, reported that one in every four Indians practice untouchabilty.
The realism of our primitive mentality came out of its veil, recently, when the protests of Dalits took place in the Una Azaadi Kooch, under the leadership of Jignesh Mewani. When the Dalits, refused to clean the carcass of dead animals, the country, in this era, was left with no alternative to clean its dirt! Manual Scavenging, particularly by Dalits and women, is the reality of ‘Swatcch Bharat’. Of course, no media had covered the anti caste march and Mr Mewani, too was intimidated and vindicated.
But then, the questions persist, who is the real Indian?
Unfortunately, our text books, never answered the question for us. But Dr Saibaba did. India is defined by her legacy of public debates and cultural discourse. Dr Saibaba had given us certain views. We could have disagreed too and delivered some better lectures. All he wanted from us was a consideration of ideas. Yet, our minds were shackled with taboos. As Dr Ambedkar had warned us, chained minds are the worst kind of slavery. We are slaves even without chains. Our slave mentality is afraid to utter words of freedom. We failed Saibaba. As Tagore called it, the ‘Nightmarish’ description of our history has distorted our minds with hatred. We have erased the struggle for liberty that created this country.
Dr Saibaba is a man of learning. He feels the pain of those who cry. He spoke about the agony of not being allowed to dream. Is that so criminal? Does the constitution, not promise the protection of individuality? Was he violating the Social Contract? Or is he the only one performing it?
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act allows the arbitrary arrest and detention of people without a trial. Ironically, we are the same nation which fought against the Rowlatt Act by British. And Saibaba has been found guilty under sections of UAPA. He is also accused of Criminal Conspiracy against the nation, under, sections of the IPC, which were created by the British to silence words of the freedom movement. He languishes in the jail, today, with a grave risk to his health. International Organizations, like the Amnesty International, continue to demand medical attention for him. Also, India, being a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and UN convention against torture has an International obligation alongside, her constitutional impositions and prison guidelines, to provide immediate medical attention to Dr Saibaba.
I am twenty three years old today. I have still have not found the answers that were supposed to appear magically to me. I do not have the courage of Dr Saibaba. Speaking the truth comes at a premium price in our times. Saibaba is paying that price. Saibaba had not realized that by appealing to the conscience of the country and its legal system, his mere words, could disintegrate the nation. He did not know that the nation and its solidarity were so brittle. He was perhaps, the only one to understand the terms of the social contract as stated through our Constitution, which only wanted to empower human intellect and conscience. Perhaps, Saibaba grew up to be able to gather courage to ask his questions. Perhaps, by growing up, they meant, the maturity of the strength of one’s character. Saibaba had found that courage and our society has none of it. Maybe, that is why, we cannot look into this man’s eyes.