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‘It Is Only by Chance That I Came Out of Prison Alive’: G.N. Saibaba

'I can’t go to the toilet, I can’t take a bath without support, and I lived in jail without any relief for so long,' the former Delhi University professor said in his first press briefing since his release from Nagpur Central jail.
G.N. Saibaba was released on March 7, 2023. Photo: X@Nihalsingrathod

Mumbai: “It is only by chance that I came out of prison alive,” 56-year-old former Delhi University professor S.N. Saibaba said in his first press briefing since his release from Nagpur Central jail on Thursday (March 7).

The Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court on March 5 acquitted him and five others on “terrorism” charges. Saibaba, who is wheelchair-bound and is over 90% handicapped, said he can’t move an inch without others’ help. “I can’t go to the toilet, I can’t take a bath without support, and I lived in jail without any relief for so long.”

On this day in 2017, a local court in Gadchiroli had convicted him and four others – Prashant Rahi, Mahesh Tikri, Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, and Pandu Narote – to life sentences. The sixth accused, Vijay Nan Tikri, was sentenced to 10 years of rigorous punishment. Narote, who fell seriously sick while in jail, died in August 2022. Narote was only 33 years old at that time.

Saibaba suffered greatly while in jail. His wife, Vasantha Kumari, and his lawyers had, on several occasions, complained of ill-treatment meted out to him while in custody. Vasantha had even made several desperate appeals both to the court and the state government seeking his release. She feared he would die if not released immediately. Saibaba, while addressing the media on Thursday, said his condition has further deteriorated in prison.

This is the second time in two years that the high court has acquitted him and others of all charges. On October 14, 2022, a division bench, comprising Justice Rohit B. Deo and Anil Pansare, overturned the Gadchiroli session court’s judgment. The state immediately moved the Supreme Court, and eventually, the high court’s verdict was overturned. Justice Deo resigned soon after. The case was freshly heard on the apex court’s direction, and once again, the very same court, comprising Justice Vinay G. Joshi and Justice Valimiki S. Menezes, acquitted Saibaba and others.

The trial in the lower court was handled by Nagpur-based human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling. Soon after the trial was completed in the Gadchiroli sessions court, Gadling was arrested in the Elgar Parishad case. Saibaba, on Thursday, said that his lawyer Gadling was targeted only for handling his case.

“A lawyer who has all along fought for justice, who has represented hundreds and thousands of Dalits and Adivasis from the region in court, and such a man is in jail. If justice has to be fully achieved in my case, then Gadling should be released,” he said.

Saibaba also thanked his team of lawyers who defended him in the high court. “Not once but twice they (the lawyers) had to defend me in the high court. It has not been easy for them,” he said.

Since Saibaba was released only a few hours before the press conference, he said that he did not have the chance to read the judgment in his case. When asked if he would legally demand compensation from the state, Saibaba said, “My health condition is not good. I have not thought about this.”

Saibaba also spoke about Narote who died because of lack of adequate medical care in prison. “A young man, who belonged to the most primitive tribe, had to languish in jail with us. He had a young daughter. He suffered so much. Is justice really done?” he asked. Narote was diagnosed with Swine Flu and his lawyers and family members had accused the prison authorities for not attending to him on time, leading to his death.

Although the high court passed the judgment on March 5, Saibaba was released from prison only today. His lawyer Nihalsing Rathod attributed the delay to the “high handedness” of the Nagpur Central prison authorities.

“We had to first finish paperwork at the Gadchiroli court and then submit the release papers to the jail authorities. When we submitted it around 6:15 pm on March 6, we were told that the release time was over for the day,” Rathod told The Wire. Other prisoners, not related to this case, however, were released from jail even as late as 8 pm. Rathod had to submit a written complaint to the superintendent of Nagpur prison.

On March 7, however, the release formalities were completed, and Saibaba and Rahi were released in the morning. Mishra, who was lodged at the Kolhapur prison, was released by afternoon. Formalities for Vijay and Mahesh’s release continued until late in the evening.

Mishra’s parents, who traveled from their hometown in Dehradun, had made a pit stop in Mumbai before heading to Kolhapur. “When they found out that their lawyer Gadling would be produced before the NIA court in Mumbai, they decided to make a short detour to meet him and thank him. After the brief visit, they headed to Kolhapur,” said one of the accused persons in the Elgar Parishad case.

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