Assault on democracy

SANSAD News-release December 28, 2015

Judicial Assault on Democracy in India

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) deplores the revocation of bail for Delhi University professor of English, G, N. Saibaba and the charge of criminal contempt against renowned writer, Arundhati Roy by the single judge bench of the Nagpur branch of Bombay High Court comprising Justice Arun Choudhari, on December 23, 2015.

Prof. Saibaba is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic who suffers 90% physical disability due to post-polio paralysis in childhood. He began his career as an activist by campaigning for the rights of the downtrodden lower-caste people in his native Andhra Pradesh. Later he campaigned against the “encounter killings” of Maoists staged by the police in Andhra and the assassination of rights activists by the paid agents of the state. After moving to Delhi in early 2000s he took up the cause of the Adivasis in the tribal belt who were being intimidated, killed, and displaced by the state to access the resources in the forests and lands they inhabited. From 2009 to 2012 he campaigned against Operation Green Hunt, the military and paramilitary offensive in the tribal belt against the Maoists through his organization, Forum Against War on People.

Saibaba was picked up in May, 2014 by plainclothes police on his way home from the university, flown to Nagpur, charged under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and imprisoned for having contact with Maoists. He suffered acute distress and rapid deterioration of health because of the brutal condition of his imprisonment. After 14 months he was granted bail for three months to attend to his health by the Bombay High Court, and in September the principal bench of the Bombay High Court extended the bail fill December 31. The new order has reversed this and compelled Prof. Saibaba to return to Nagpur Central Jail, where his is being held in solitary confinement.

Justice Choudhari’s ruling also quotes extensively from an article by Arundhati Roy criticizing the denial of bail to professor Saibaba, “Professor P. O. W,” published in Outlook magazine in May to institute proceedings against Roy for criminal contempt for “bashing the Central Government, the State Government, the Police machinery so also judiciary” in “nasty” language.  Clearly it is not the critics of the abuse of justice in India but such judgements that bring disrepute and ridicule to the judiciary in India, which is the ostensible reason for the charge of criminal contempt.

G, N. Saibaba is a well-known champion of democratic rights and civil liberties in India and Arundhati Roy is a writer of international renown, but the judicial assault on them is a part of the ongoing and increasing attack on activists, writers, and journalists who criticize governments and the state in India by hired killers or the repressive state apparatus of draconian legislation, police, and the judiciary. In another recent example journalists Santosh Yadav and Somaru Naag were arrested in Chhatisgarh in September and July, respectively,  under Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), one of the several draconian laws in the arsenal of the Indian state. Such laws are freely used to terrorize citizens into docile subjection. We condemn such laws and their use to silence those who stand up for their rights and those who dare to defend them.

—Thirty—

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