G.N. Saibaba, professor of English at Delhi University, scholar, writer and human rights activist, has been deemed a dangerous threat to the State by the Indian government, accused of ‘waging war against the nation’. His appeal against his incarceration has been pending in the Nagpur High Court for five years, while he languishes in jail, branded a ‘terrorist’ for taking up the cause of the Adivasis in Andhra Pradesh, victims of poverty and state violence.
The poems and letters in Why Do You Fear My Way So Much? convey his resilience. As Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o puts it, ‘He is talking of the death of the spirit, the result intended by those who cage progressive intellectuals and writers in prisons. But opposed to the death of the spirit is love. The love he talks about is…very personal…but also the love of struggling people, that comes through in all the poems. His personal anguish at his being uprooted from his family and community becomes also that of the farmers and Adivasi people uprooted from their lands to give away to mining corporations. His poetry is on the side of unity, love and life as against division, hate and death.’
Excerpted below is a section of his wife Vasantha’s poignant letter to him in prison, along with two of his poems.
The next incident was on 9th May 2014, when they picked you up from your car while you were coming back from college. You were taken directly to the airport without informing the family or anyone. They later declared that you were arrested but by that time I was out of my mind with worry, wondering what had happened to you and went to our local police station to file a missing complaint. Many of our friends do not know all these details. You were forcibly taken to Nagpur and then to Gadchiroli. You later told me that they took you to Gadchiroli in big anti-landmine vehicles in which scores of commandos were fully armed with ultra-modern weapons. Escort vehicles surrounded the van that you were in left and right. There were nearly twenty vehicles with armed commandos aiming their weapons in all directions. They made such a big show of things to give the impression that they had arrested a hardcore and dangerous terrorist, not a handicapped professor. They deliberately spread the false news throughout the Marathi media that they had caught hold of a Maoist leader. When they took you to the trial hearings, they resorted to the same pomp and show with the escorts and armed commandos, often causing lengthy traffic jams for the locals. Even when you were taken to the Nagpur Government Hospital, there used to be at least two dozen commandos guarding you. They were making all this fuss to induce fear among the people and give them the impression that you were a traitor. Though the NIA tried its level best through the Marathi and Godi media to demonise you, the rest of the media throughout the country helped to inform people about your illegal arrest, your commitment to your profession and the social welfare activities you were involved in. Many people across the country and across the world immediately reacted and held protest demonstrations and issued press statements condemning your arrest.
My heart convulsed when you told me how they picked you up from the wheelchair and threw you in that big vehicle as if you were a sandbag; they did not let you urinate for more than seventy-two hours and did not provide essential BP medications. I was in a state of panic when I learnt that you were bleeding from your nose and ears, and there were blood bumps all over your head. The police force and the commandos did not know how to deal with a differently-abled person and handled you very crudely. Your wheelchair got damaged and it took me some months after this incident to get it repaired. More than that, the nerves in your left hand got hurt and bruised when they picked you up and tossed you. You were in constant agony at this time, but all they did was give you painkillers instead of taking you to a doctor. I’m sure this was a ploy to weaken your willpower. But this willful negligence by the authorities caused permanent damage and semi-paralysis to your left hand. In 2019, we came to know that the infection in your left hand had spread to the right hand because no treatment was given to the persistent swelling you reported. Your right hand was partially damaged due to this neglect and lack of treatment. Because of this, you are now unable to write more than two-three pages a month and it pains you tremendously when you write even half a page. So now we have to live without your frequent letters which were the one source of solace in our lives. It was your hands that gave you the strength of a mountain. It was the strength of what you wrote and your intellect that carried you across the world; you attended many international academic seminars and conveyed your ideas to many people. You never let your disability serve as a hindrance to your intellectual pursuits but now the state has locked you up in the anda cell and has rendered you inanimate and immovable.
—From ‘Letter to Sai’ by his wife A.S. Vasantha Kumari
Poems by G.N. Saibaba
Tell me, O Monk
Tell me, O Monk, how did you renounce the worldly things?
When you gave up your garments, you changed into fine silk saffron ones
When you started preaching against greed, you occupied vast lands, and accumulated uncountable wealth
When you famously declared shunning of all passions, you began to spread hatred among the communities of people And finally, you grabbed the seat of power in the name of the Almighty
Kabir, the servant of people, says, Does this son of a monster ever relinquish his greed for the chair? My wayfarers, if you still have any questions in mind, see the atrocities perpetrated by the seat he so firmly clings to.
15 February 2020
Why Do You Fear My Way So Much?
O Pundit, O Mulla, I’m not an atheist for I don’t preach ungodliness as my profession,
I’m not an agnostic for I don’t carry a basketful of doubts on my head,
I’m not your secularist for I don’t stand at the crossroads of all religions,
I’m not a rationalist for I don’t use the logic of pure reason,
I’m not a heretic for my business isn’t to chase after your orthodox ways to worship and life. Kabir says, He’s a messenger of love for people Why do you fear my way so much?
20 November 2019 (Written to Udaymitra)
Featured photograph from back cover flap of print edition.