September 13, 2013
The Maharashtra police, along with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Delhi Police Special Cell, made a surprise search at the house of Delhi University professor GN Saibaba. They refused to entertain pleas by the wheelchair-bound professor-cum-activist to contact his lawyer or colleagues. Saibaba is a joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) and the convenor of several forums against Operation Greenhunt and the persecution of adivasis and tribal people in Central India. He teaches English at a DU college.
“Around 20 days ago, former JNU student and activist Hem Mishra was arrested. The police are trying to tie me up to that case. They came in and snatched away the cellular phones of my wife, my daughter and myself and refused to let us call or notify anyone of the search. None of us were allowed to leave, nor was anyone allowed to come in. We were detained in our own house,” Saibaba told TEHELKA. Saibaba claimed that the police told him that the search was in relation to the Hem Mishra case in Gadhchiroli. Mishra was arrested for alleged Maoist links. This is not the first time that an activist has been persecuted or arrested for activism in the forests of Central India.
The police showed a search warrant (a copy of which is with TEHELKA), which was issued by a magistrate in Gadhchiroli under sections 93 and 94 of the Indian Penal Code to search for stolen goods in his present residence in Gwyer Hall in Delhi University’s north campus and two of his former residences in the national capital. This does not match with their statement to Saibaba where they said that they were conducting the search in relation to the Hem Mishra case.
“The search continued for around three hours and some of my colleagues started assembling at my residence door, but none were allowed in. Only when the crowd grew did they start winding up their search,” said Saibaba.
Led by Gadhchiroli Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shashi Kumar, the search was conducted by about 15 officers of the Maharashtra police, seven Delhi Special Cell policemen, seven local police station officers and a few NIA officers. The Special Cell and NIA officers refused to give their names or ranks.
Several items were seized including three SIM cards, three external hard drives, a defunct hard drive of a desktop computer, some books, a DVD of a Hindi version of the Sanjay Kak film, Red Ant Dream, CDs of public protests against Operation Greenhunt and copies of RDF publications. “The police seized three SIM cards belonging to my mother, my mother-in-law and my daughter and a micro-chip and micro-SIM from my tablet computer. If they were looking for stolen property, why did they seize my personal property?” demanded Saibaba.
DU teachers and other activists have condemned the sudden search at the residence of the professor.
Saibaba has been agitating against Operation Greenhunt, which is supposed to be the government’s war against Maoism in the tribal hinterland of Central India. Several thousands of innocent tribals are in jail despite the lack of evidence against them. Such incidents are more frequently heard of in extremism-hit states such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha, where activists are arrested by the police, their residences searched without proper warrants and they are harassed and branded Maoist supporters, conduits and couriers.
Last week, two ‘cultural activists’ Utpal Bhaske and Ispat Hembrom were arrested by the Jharkhand Police for allegedly being CPI (Maoist) supporters. The police claimed that they work for Maoist frontal organizations in the state. However, the two work for an NGO called Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) (People’s Development Struggle against Displacement). The arrest sent shockwaves through the activist circles in the state. Bhaske had been under the police’s radar for being close to Jiten and Aparna Marandi. Jiten Marandi had been falsely accused and given a death sentence for allegedly killing former Jharkhand CM Babulal Marandi’s son. However, the Jharkhand High Court found him innocent and overturned the conviction. Bhaske had helped Jiten’s wife Aparna in the agitation for Jiten’s release. This invoked the ire of the Jharkhand police, who were awaiting a chance to nab him.
Dandapani Mohanty, an Odisha-based activist, was also arrested and is still in jail for several cases from the past. The warrants for these cases were pending for several years and were not served even when he was an interlocutor in the kidnapping of a district collector, a BJD MLA and two foreign tourists. When Mohanty’s son entered politics and announced that he would join the Odisha Jan Morcha, which is against the ruling BJD, he was promptly arrested for being a Maoist conduit. Mohanty was picked up for protesting against his son’s arrest. There are many such cases in Jharkhand and Odisha where activists land in jail for old cases when they become troublesome for the ruling government.