In the recent news about dear departed Father Stan Swamy, it has been concluded that there indeed was a conspiracy to frame him. There has been conclusive evidence that incriminating content was planted in his device in order to criminalise him. Father Stan Swamy was even refused a sipper in his final days as he struggled to drink water. The State, with its homicidal agenda against opposing voices, hated Father Swamy to the extent that they wanted and succeeded in killing him mercilessly through its administrative machinery.
Another of the BK17 (as they have come to be known), Professor G.N. Saibaba languishes in his solitary confinement as I write this. Some months back, his poetry collection Why do You Fear My Way So Much was published. In his titular poem, Saibaba writes,
I’m not an atheist
for I don’t preach ungodliness
as my profession.
I’m not an agnostic
for I don’t carry a basketful
of doubts on my head.
I’m not your secularist
for I don’t stand
at the crossroads of all religions.
I’m not a rationalist
for I don’t use
the logic of pure reason.
I’m not a heretic
for my business isn’t
to chase after your orthodox ways
to worship and life.
He’s a messenger of love for people
Why do you fear my way so much?
Professor Saibaba wrote this poem on 20th November 2019 to Udaymitra. In this precise poem, he exposes and critiques all that Modi and his government stand for. By quoting Kabir, Saibaba takes us back to the time when we had the freedom and agency to think, write, and teach without fear of being labelled criminals. Kabir represents the worst nightmare of the powers that be. He ruthlessly cuts through established thought and religions to make the listener aware and question injustice. In his poem, by opening with the lines mentioning the words Pundit and Mulla, Saibaba identifies the main culprits behind his arrest. He is full of rage and doesn’t spare words, even while the carceral system of the land does its best to mute his voice. Using few words, Professor Saibaba is able to reveal the nexus of religion and politics that has tried to muzzle him.
This is not the only poem in the collection where Dr. Saibaba quotes Kabir. The latter is someone he goes back to time and again to articulate his views. In the poem Love isn’t in Shrines he writes,
Love can be found
neither in shrines nor in scriptures,
It can’t be achieved
through yoga or meditation.
Listen to me, O grievers,
The world of love takes shape
in your acts of struggle for it.
Saibaba wrote this poem in the first week of November in the same year as that of the poem previously quoted. In this poem, as in the poem mentioned before, he dismisses shrines and scriptures that claim to be fountains of love. Instead, he writes, love is in our struggle, in the path of struggle that leads to it. In this way, we understand that love is not something static and fixed. It is in the pursuit of love that we are able to experience it. Love is something that fills our hearts in the actions that we commit to; it is in the choices that we make every waking minute.
Although I personally did not have the privilege to study under Professor Saibaba in the Delhi University college that he used to teach in (for he has been dismissed from his job just before the collection was published), I did complete my studies in the same university and was supervised by Professor Dr Hany Babu in Faculty of Arts. As Dr Saibaba, Professor Babu too, in his activism for the marginalised, taught us students and researchers to always raise our voice if need be. Just as Dr Saibaba wrote in his poem, Professor Hany Babu too believed in the idea that love reflects through our choices and actions. By putting behind bars both of these intellectuals (and fifteen others along with them), it is clear that the ruling government’s ideology isn’t just to supress dissent, it is to criminalise love in all its forms.
However, the State should remember that the anti-intellectual power that it wields is not for all eternity. There will a day when those in question will have to answer for their attempts to kill intellectuals and activists. I’m certain that the time is not far when they and their ideology of hate will be rejected by the people of the country. Through his book, Professor Dr Saibaba has raised our consciousness and given readers a window to the state of his current existence. As people of conscience, it is the duty of all of us to agitate for his release from prison as soon as possible.
Chanchal Kumar is from Jharkhand and currently lives in Delhi, India. His poems have previously appeared and awarded in The Sunflower Collective, Hamilton Stone Review, Welter Journal, Name and None, Young Poets Network, UK including others. Recently, his poems were translated to Bengali by Harakiri Journal. He is pursuing M.Phil at University of Delhi.