On Thursday, 12 September 2013, a 50 strong police contingent drawn from the Maharashtra Police Force, the Delhi Police Special Cell and the Maurice Nagar police thana, raided the residence of Dr. Saibaba, an Asst. Prof. in English at Ram Lal Anand College. They brought computer technicians with them. Dr. Saibaba, his wife and their minor 15-year old daughter were detained for about four hours from 3.00 PM onward for an investigation into the use of his residence “as a place for the deposit of stolen property”. Immediately, the iron main gate of the house and the house door itself were locked from within and physically barred by police personnel, and phones of all including the driver were seized.
The driver’s phone was destroyed, and all other phones were seized. At the end of the search, two phones were returned after the teachers in DU protested about leaving the family with no means of communication. Dr. Saibaba was not allowed to contact his lawyer, or his colleagues to ensure that the “investigation” would be a fair and transparent one. Teachers who reached the spot volunteered to be observers. But they were not allowed into the premises. During the course of this wholly baseless investigation, the entire family was kept captive –sometimes individually – prevented from making or receiving calls, or meeting anyone who sought to meet them.
The police locked themselves into various rooms of the house for long periods of time. Two terrified local barbers were picked up by the police and brought in as “neutral observers” for some part of the raid. They were also coerced into signing on the seizure sheet as witnesses. The police left sometime after some DU teachers arrived, began questioning the police and informing the media about the incident. After much persistence, the teachers managed to get the terrified child produced. The police left after confiscated a large number of college documents, pen-drives, a laptop, a tablet microchip, mobile phones (including the minor daughter’s phone), debit and credit cards, and bank passbooks, none of which items were “stolen property”.
A day later, the Gadchiroli police claimed the following incriminating evidence against Saibaba to some press persons:
(1) that they have extracted a confession from the JNU student Hem Mishra stating that a microchip found in his possession was given to him by Dr. Saibaba;
(2) that they have records of internet “chat sessions” between Dr. Saibaba and several top Maoist leaders;
(3) that Dr. Saibaba was named in Mr. Kobad Ghandy’s “confession” as being a Maoist leader;
(4) that Dr. Saibaba stands incriminated by virtue of being General Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), which they alleged is a front for the CPI (Maoist). It appears that the police will use these, among other grounds, to frame charges against Dr. Saibaba, and arrest him as soon as possible. It may be noted here that:
(a) Mr. Kobad Ghandy’s alleged “confession” was set aside by the courts as being fabricated by the AP police and inadmissible;
(b) without dwelling on the police’s ludicrous imagination of the senior Maoist party leadership participating in “internet chat groups”, it may be noted that, by the police’s own account, these chat sessions are between persons named “Prakash” and “Chetan”, and the alleged “Maoist top leadership”;
(c) there is no mention of Dr. Saibaba by name;
(d) Dr. Saibaba has also categorically denied any knowledge of any microchip, or indeed of any contact on this matter with Hem Mishra;
(e) The charge of harbouring “stolen property” is particularly outrageous, baseless and despicable. The University community is deeply concerned that a pattern of targeting, thrashing, molesting and otherwise intimidating and bullying university students and teachers, including persons with disabilities (PwDs) has developed. It is a matter of grave concern that an employee of the university and a wheelchair-bound person with 90% disability has been subject to this manner of intimidation, invasion of privacy, and violation of civil and human rights.
The DU administration’s complicity in the hefty police presence on Campus per se, and in the increasingly frequent incidents of police brutality against students and teachers on campus, is now clear, as the police may enter the campus only with the knowledge and explicit permission of the University administration. This administration’s complicity stems from a gross and inexcusable failure on the part of the Vice Chancellor and his team to understand either the university as a space, or the task that they have taken upon themselves.
Rather than fostering the spirit and culture of critical inquiry and free speech, both of which fundamentally characterize the University as a space, the VC and his team have turned the University into a shameful, rankly sycophantic, anti-intellectual hub for police brutality, impunity, and the unapologetic violation of all human rights and norms of decency. While the police forces of the country are now best known for their track record of human rights violations and for vicious repression of any form of dissent in the name of national security, it is unforgivable that the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University, who took upon himself the responsibility of protecting the intellectual and physical space of the University from abuse, is himself the architect of its destruction.
At the Press Conference held in this regard on Saturday, 14 September 2013, many of these issues were addressed. Dr. Karen Gabriel, a professor of English in St. Stephen’s College and who conducted the Conference, began the proceedings by giving a broad account of the incident as well of the implications and the larger context in which it needs to be understood. Dr. Saibaba gave a detailed account of the traumatic experience of the search conducted forcibly by the police and intelligence forces.
Dr. Vijay Singh, a retired professor of History in DU, stressed on the complicity of the University administration in the search, while Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty, retired professor in Political Science of DU, noted that the event itself was a clear indication that Operation Green Hunt was now taking place in the university and in urban areas as well. Dr. Saroj Giri, a professor of Political Science in DU, pointed out that membership of an organization – banned or not – cannot in itself become the grounds on which to incriminate and arrest individuals, and that the media has a very important and proactive role to play in challenging such violations of basic rights.
Ms. Nandita Narain, newly elected President of the DUTA, noted that the DUTA will not brook such violations of democratic rights, and demanded that the Vice Chancellor step down, if he is unable to maintain the sanctity of democracy in the University. Prof. Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus of CESP, JNU, remarked that this was not a matter of concern for the University alone, but of civil society at large, since the threat to democracy was the same everywhere. Ms. Arundhati Roy commented on how this was a blatant attempt to criminalise even innocuous actions like internet chats that is part of a pattern of state action that was observed in the case of Binayak Sen as well.
Harish Dhawan, PUDR, offered instances from his recent fact-finding work in Gadchiroli and observed that the UAPA is the most dangerous threat facing the people of the country today. In response to a query from the media regarding the reasons for the raid Saibaba, Arundhati Roy, SAR Geelani, Manoranjan Mohanty and Karen Gabriel pointed out that it is well established that the police mislead the judiciary and do whatever they think they need to when the decide to incriminate a citizen.
We condemn the attempts by the police to fabricate a specious case against Dr. Saibaba in the strongest terms. We condemn the complicity of the University authorities in this outrage. No attempt should be made to arrest him. His fundamental rights must be upheld and safeguarded. We demand that the University administration prevent any further compromise of the university space in general, and the harassment of this unfortunate family in particular.
Issued by Dr Karen Gabriel Dr Anirban Kar Dr Hany Babu Dr Vijay Singh Dr Nandini Dutta Dr P K Vijayan Dr Jenny Rowena Rakesh Ranjan Dr Saroj Giri Dr Biswajit Mohanty
Contact: Karen Gabriel (9810567570); P K Vijayan (9871767570); Hany Babu (9811971166) (Note circulated in the Press Conference held on the 14th of September in Professor GN Saibaba’s house along with the report on proceedings)