New Delhi, April 20: Delhi University Teachers' Association president Nandita Narain borrowed English poet John Donne's lines "ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee" as she joined a meeting today to seek justice for fellow professor G. N. Saibaba, sentenced to life for Maoist links.
Attending the meeting of the "Committee for the Defence & Release of Dr. G. N. Saibaba", Nandita drove home the point that the Gadchiroli court order sentencing the wheelchair-bound Saibaba for life was an "ominous message that there is no space for dissent in our times''.
Saibaba, a Delhi University professor who is 90 per cent disabled, was sentenced to life along with four others by the Gadchiroli sessions court in Maharashtra on March 7. A sixth person was handed 10 years' rigorous imprisonment.
"The judgment repeatedly points out how wrong it was for Dr. G. N. Saibaba and others to hold certain views that were in opposition to that of the state and the dominant groups. It is ironic that even while holding these six people are so dangerous that they should be incarcerated for a major part of their lives, the 827-page judgment fails to point out even a single instance of violence that these people have been conspirators in or lent logistics support to," the committee said in a statement.
The committee - Narain is one of its members - today released a detailed critique of the judgment. It is titled "When Prosecution's Case Becomes the Judge's Onus: Miscarriage of Justice on Saibaba". An appeal has been filed and noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani has agreed in principle to fight Saibaba's case, committee chairperson G. Hargopal said.
Hargopal said "democratic values are on trial". "Is democracy on its deathbed?" the professor of Hyderabad University asked journalists and activists who attended the meeting called to release the critique.
"People were persecuted for ideas in the medieval period and that is happening here now. This is not just a legal battle but a fight to protect democracy. We have to speak up. If this can happen to Saibaba, it can happen to any dissenting voice," Hargopal said.
Saibaba's colleague Sachin pointed out how despite recent protests at Delhi University for freedom of expression, the central university had been silent in Saibaba's case. "Right from the stage of framing charges against Saibaba, there has been a conspiracy of silence in Delhi University and the university authorities were part of the effort to silence the dissenting voices in this case. We have to break this silence."
Pankaj, a lawyer, said the Saibaba order was a classic case of a judgment going way beyond the prosecution's argument.
Keshav Dutt Mishra, father of Hem Mishra, a student convicted along with Saibaba, said media attention and such meetings were fine but the campaign needed to be backed up with grassroots activism. "It is difficult but not impossible," Keshav Dutt said.