“The fight was long but I was sure he would be acquitted one day,” said Vasantha Kumari, the wife of Gokalkonda Naga Saibaba, after the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court acquitted the wheelchair-bound former Delhi University professor of alleged Maoist links on Friday.
Saibaba, who suffers 90% disability due to post-polio paralysis since the age of 4, was arrested in 2014 from his government-allotted quarters in north Delhi by the Maharashtra Police on charges of having “links” with left-wing extremist organisations and for “waging war” against India. Five other persons — Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, former journalist Prashant Rahi, Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote, and Vijay Nan Tirki — were also arrested in the case.
All of them were booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA and were sentenced to life imprisonment by a sessions court in Maharashtra in March 2017. Narote died at a government-run medical college in Nagpur in August this year after contracting swine flu.
On Friday, a division bench of justices Rohit Deo and Anil Pansare struck down the conviction and life term handed down to Saibaba and the five others for shoddy paperwork and faulty procedure adopted by the trial court.
Vasantha Kumari said she was at her Hill View Apartments flat in Vasant Vihar with her daughter when a relative based in Nagpur telephoned to inform her about Saibaba’s acquittal order.
“I had been waiting for his good news for a long. I am thankful to everyone who supported me in my struggle. I am also grateful to the judges for passing such a great judgement and providing us the much awaited justice,” she said, adding had booked a train ticket for Nagpur to bring her husband back to Delhi.
Vasantha Kumari said, “My husband lost his career and eight good years because of this draconian UAPA. He developed 19 health problems after incarceration. His left hand is paralysed and his right hand is partially working. The jail authorities did not give him proper medical treatment. They admitted him to the hospital only when his condition was serious or we moved to court for the same. He needed regular physiotherapy but was never given.”
She alleged that despite being wheelchair-bound, jail authorities had put Saibaba in the high-security “anda cell”, where he was kept under 24×7 CCTV surveillance. Even the toilet area was kept under CCTV surveillance to torture Saibaba, she claimed, adding that her husband had to sit on a hunger strike against the same.
Saibaba, who was an assistant professor at Ram Lal Anand College, had been receiving half his salary since his arrest but his services were terminated in March last year. After his services were terminated, Vasantha Kumari said the family faced a financial crisis. “We had to sell our car, and asked our driver to go, apart from making adjustments with our daily expenses. We travelled in buses or occasionally in autos to save money,” she said.
Although the acquittal order delighted her, Vasantha Kumari said a part of her was sad because Narote had already died while incarcerated.
“I would have been happier had Narote been also released alive and reunited with his family. I am feeling sorry for his family members as they also went through a lot like me. I can understand their pain and trauma,” she said.