More than 400 students, faculty members, and alumni from various science and technology institutes in the country have signed a petition to the Central government, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, demanding bail and medical care for Varavara Rao and GN Saibaba, who are in jail for their alleged Communist Party of India (CPI)-Maoist links, and the release of other political prisoners.
Rao (81), an acclaimed Telugu poet and a human rights activist, is booked in the Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case and is undergoing treatment at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital in Mumbai after he had tested coronavirus disease (Covid-19) positive in July.
Saibaba, who is 90% physically handicapped, is a Delhi University (DU) professor and was convicted in 2017 along with five others for their links with Left-wing extremist (LWE) organisations and for waging war against India.
The petition, signed by the researchers and scientists from various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), makes three specific demands.
The petitioners are seeking immediate and proper medical treatment and bail for Rao and Saibaba.
The petitioners are seeking the release of all political prisoners arrested in the Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case in Maharashtra and anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, protests in New Delhi following a spike in Covid-19 cases in prisons across the country.
They are also seeking the repeal of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPAA), 2019.
“The government, in a bid to stifle dissent, is using the pandemic as an opportunity to arrest political activists such as Dr. Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Dr. Kafeel Khan, and Pinjra Tod activists Natasha and Devangana. They have been arrested, as they were active in the anti-CAA protests,” said a researcher from IIT-Bombay and a signatory to the petition.
“The government is putting their lives at grave risk amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in prisons,” he said.
Delhi Police had arrested students of Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University following the communal riots in north-east Delhi in February and during the anti-CAA protests last year.
Pregnant Jamia student Safoora Zargar and IIT-Bombay alumnus Sharjeel Imam are among the prominent activists, who have been arrested by Delhi Police.
Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, both students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), were slapped with the stringent UAPAA, 2019, which empowers the government to take action against activities that are against the integrity and sovereignty of the country.
“We can clearly see that the government is continuously attacking activists, writers, poets, lawyers, students, and professors, who are critical of its anti-people agenda. As socially-conscious citizens associated with some of the best institutions of our country, it is our duty to make our society more equitable. We must raise our voice in solidarity to demand the release of all political prisoners,” read the petition.