Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba is an Indian scholar, writer, human rights activist and professor. Saibaba was wrongfully imprisoned for speaking on people’s rights and advocating for the most vulnerable populations in India. He is currently serving a life sentence in India, convicted on the grounds of alleged involvement in “anti-national” activities despite a lack of credible evidence.
Now, Saibaba has been held in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment for years, despite suffering from 19 medical conditions, including post-polio syndrome, life-threatening pancreatitis, impacted gallbladder stones and COVID-19. The court continues to reject Saibaba’s plea for immediate release even in the midst of the pandemic.
This imprisonment is not an isolated event; in India, anyone who dares to openly express political disagreement against the Modi government risks going to prison. The current government is led by the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is part of a fascist group that is actively trying to eliminate non-Hindu minorities. They believe that Hindu culture is identical to Indian culture and any deviation from their platform is punished.
For example, the passage of the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act sparked peaceful protests across the country as it excludes Muslims from maintaining Indian citizenship, while allowing Hindu migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to acquire citizenship. These protests resulted in the arrest of scholars, students and any peaceful protesters who were simply exercising their right to freedom of speech.
With the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, there is no longer the need to actually prove that an activist is a member of a terrorist group. Simply having a book written by Karl Marx or working for an environmentalist group is enough evidence for any citizen to be locked up. Human rights defenders, including students, journalists and artists who criticize the government are perceived as a threat to the Modi government and are immediately silenced and thrown in prison without charge or trial.
The current catastrophe in India caused by the government’s reckless response to the COVID-19 pandemic risks plunging the Modi regime’s assault on India’s human rights defenders into oblivion. Back when the United States and Canada were suffering the worst spikes of COVID-19 infections and deaths, Modi boasted about India’s superior infrastructure and preparedness. Now, the clear lack of preparedness in India is causing bodies to pile up and oxygen shortages everywhere. This is all denied by Modi and the rest of the Hindu nationalist government, who responded to public outcry with “Let’s try and not be a cry baby … so far we have ensured that no one in the country was left without oxygen.”
While there are currently over 25 million cases and nearing 300,000 deaths (many cases uncounted as people die in their homes), the Modi government is focused on silencing the voices of minorities and organizing a festival for Hindu pilgrims to be blessed. There is a long precedent of human rights abuses by the Modi government no matter the circumstances, particularly against Indigenous people and Muslims.
“Operation Green Hunt” is just one of those instances. This mission is a coordinated government effort to clear the tribal groups who live in the forests of India in order to mine those areas. 120 million Indigenous people live in these forested areas that were never fully conquered by the British and also never fully controlled by the Indian government.
On paper, these areas are protected, but these laws that were simply recycled from colonial rule are not abided by. In order to mine the forests, they need to be clear cut, forcing the removal of Indigenous Indian people.
Saibaba was a main player in exposing this abuse internationally. He even visited and learned from these tribal groups and wrote about the comparison between this Indigenous genocide in India to the Trail of Tears and Native American removal in the United States. This exposure put pressure on the government, and they changed the name of the operation.
Much of the discourse used by the Hindu nationalists in power is akin to Nazi Germany, including terminology like “sanitizing” or “disinfecting” the population. Concentration camps have been used, Muslim people are murdered and raped in the streets, and civil rights organizations have been banned simply for asking the government to respect basic human rights. Saibaba has been used as an example by this fascist regime to ensure the people know just where they stand.
This is why it is so important to not lay down and be quiet but to spread our condemnation of these human rights abuses to the international stage and put pressure on the Modi government. We need to use our voices to show that we are watching and that we care. The myth of India being a democratic leader that follows the ideals of Gandhi is entirely untrue, and it’s time for the world to know.
Julia Everson and Josephine Quock urge everyone to raise awareness for Saibaba by signing the Scholars at Risk petition found at this link.