Exclusive Interview: GN Saibaba's wife Vasantha Kumari on his health, time in jail and hopes for future
The truth of love will conquer the hatred: Vasantha Kumari
Vasantha Kumari (VK), a photographer and wife of Prof. GN Saibaba is at her Delhi University quarters in New Delhi. On the eve of Valentine's Day, she received the news that her husband, who had been detained for the last six years in Nagpur Central Jail is infected with Coronavirus. Amidst her haste to reach the authorities and officials to ask for help and writing them with a request to shift her beloved Sai to a good hospital, she shared her bond with Saibaba and their enormous struggle to end the suppression from the system and authorities. Their tale of love and affection across the bars revealed how the unity of the essences of two human beings create a new world. On the occasion of valentine's day, here are excerpts from the conversation she had with Indie Journal.
How is Prof. Saibaba now? Where is he receiving treatment?
VK: We have written letters to the Home Minister, Additional Police Commissioner and Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Yet we have received no response for any of the letters. I am asking them, at least, just for permission to transfer my husband to a private hospital. As he is ridden to the wheelchair, he needs to be in a hospital accessible for handicapped people. The Government Hospital of Nagpur remains inaccessible for the use of a wheelchair. There have been reports in the media that the Government Hospital in Nagpur had stray dogs roaming inside during the pandemic.
Did you get any chance to talk to him?
VK: He had called me this morning. He was not able to talk properly, as there was severe pain in his throat. He was coughing severely and told me that he has a fever. He said he is noticing cramps in his hands. His health condition is so critical that he needs specialist doctors, however, the jail authorities are not shifting him to any good hospital. The current hospital conditions are unsuitable for physically challenged people, as there are no wheelchair-accessible toilets. He would need help using the toilet. I used to help him, now I wonder who would be helping him in such a tiny cell. He needs immediate mental and family support for his well being. He has been complaining of fever, cough and cold since February 9th. He had told authorities that he was feeling body pain which is a COVID-19 symptom. However, the jail authorities didn't conduct any test. Even Saibaba's brother wrote a letter to jail authorities asking for the same. Still, no COVID test was conducted. After we built some pressure on the authorities, they at least allowed us to conduct some tests.
He had written about his illness and diseases previously in a public letter. Is he being treated for the other ailments?
VK: He suffers from 19 health ailments and has serious comorbidities, including heart and kidney issues that can lead to further complications under COVID. Currently, he has a very high fever with low oxygen levels which might drop further if he does not receive treatment or is in stressful environments. His heart condition (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy with left ventricular dysfunction) along with Hypertension can be aggravated due to COVID as it has been reported to cause strain on the heart to pump out more blood, leading to inflammation and blockage.
Have you contacted the jail authorities? What are they saying?
VK: Nowadays, the Superintendent does not respond to my calls or texts or any messages. I am trying to send them some messages but it is very difficult at this time. It happened even when his mother was sick a few months ago. It was COVID-19's peak period in India. We approached many government authorities requesting him to grant him bail at least for the funeral of his mother. I requested the jail authorities and the Home Ministry of the Government of Maharashtra, to facilitate some medicines and take preventive measures for him due to his illness and physical condition. I told them that 'Saibaba would not survive if he gets infected’. They did nothing.
Our family was worried about this situation and thus requested for parole in order to remove him from the prison, which had a severe outbreak last year. All the parole requests were rejected. Currently, he has a severe headache, constant breathlessness, a frequent bout of hiccups, blocked nose and throat with severe joint and muscle pains. On the phone call, he could barely speak to us.
He has been shifted to the Government Hospital in Nagpur. He had written about the poor facilities and situation at the hospital. Do you think it is safe to shift him there?
VK: Out of the 25 prisoners tested along with Saibaba in the jail, 10 tested positive, indicating the possibility of an outbreak at Nagpur Central Jail. In circumstances like these, Saibaba must have immediately been removed from the unhygienic jail premises that he had spoken of in his letters previously. Earlier, Sai was assigned two helpers, both of whom tested negative for COVID. So currently, he has no helpers to take care of his daily needs or help him in emergency situations, and has been kept in isolation. I am extremely concerned about this as there is no one to take care of him. Being a patient with active comorbidities that can be triggered due to COVID, he needs active treatment and care.
The Government Medical College Hospital, Nagpur is not an optimal place to shift him as it is highly infected and overflowing with patients. Recent newspaper reports indicate that the hospital is overcrowded. Most importantly, it does not have a wheelchair accessible bathroom which has previously caused Saibaba difficulty.
The family has requested the authorities to shift him to a good private hospital in Nagpur that has all the necessary medical facilities for proper treatment of a physically challenged patient in the next 24 hours. We have also sent a letter to the Chief Minister and Home Minister of Maharashtra requesting the same. His treatment should be monitored by family members and he should have the facility to talk to his lawyers when needed. He needs urgent care without which his safe recovery would not be possible due to the pre-existing comorbidities. We demand that the jail authorities keep us updated on his conditions. We have also demanded that Saibaba should be released on parole considering the circumstances.
Has he been given any parole since the last reports?
VK: No. Jail authorities had denied him parole even when his mother had died of cancer. Amma’s only last wish was to see him before her last breath, just once. But they denied him parole citing Hyderabad as a COVID hotspot. It is so inhumane and unconstitutional.
Since then, Sai is mentally disturbed. We all are feeling guilty and it has caused us immense pain. These last seven months have been brutal to us. I have been writing letters to him since last February when we last saw each other. As I cannot write in English or Hindi, I had written to him in Telugu. The Anti-terrorist Squad (ATS) confiscated the letters for scrutiny saying they had to look for objectionable content in the letters. The letters were sent to Gadchiroli first and then Nagpur. Letters that were written in October reached his cell in January. I requested them to hand him over the letters after taking photocopies with you, but they are treating us like we have committed some big crime, and harassing us for no real reason. Many other prisoners were given parole for marriage and other random reasons.
He had a small infection earlier. He complained about it but the authorities neglected it. The infection grew and his left hand is not functioning anymore. He was already suffering from his disability and now his hand isn't operational. It worries me a lot, I don't know how he must be managing everything in prison.
Police have never been sympathetic to us. When they abducted Sai from our quarters, our daughter was in class 12th and we were home. Police raided our house in civil dress and barred us from even moving. The trauma lasted long. They took away two hard disks with them. One of the hard drives had all photographs in them that I had captured while learning photography. All our family photos and our collections were taken away by the police. The other hard drive had future prospects and research work of Saibaba and schoolwork of our daughter. They took both drives with them. There was nothing else in our house.
So, where does the investigation go from here? Did the recent reports from the Washington Post have any impact?
VK: There were at least some documents on Rona Wilson's computer. They found nothing else other than the allegations from police about finding ‘Electronic Evidence’ in Saibaba’s drive. The police never presented what this evidence was, in court or any judgement. We never saw what that evidence was. In court proceedings, the defence lawyer is often denied the fair time to present their case. The media should have focused on the issue continuously where a professor with a doctorate degree from an esteemed institution is arrested.
But I still have hope. Sai and his commitment to the work is my spirit and inspiration. The love and affection for him is my strength. I know that we have done nothing wrong. The side of love and the side of truth is with us. I believe in the motto of Satyamev Jayate, that truth alone triumphs. Sai will one day be released from all allegations. He will return. But people should raise their voices for the same.