It’s the 100th birth anniversary of Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. A man, who was incarcerated for 27 years for advocating liberal values. For fighting against apartheid in South Africa. Today we celebrate his sacrifice as United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners popularly known as the Nelson Mandela Rules but we still treat political prisoners with the same disregard. Do we not learn from the past? We tend to forget that what may be disgusted today, may be celebrated tomorrow.

Mandela who was political prisoner and was ill-treated at the prison, used his words to sway the prison officials proselytized with apartheid. He once wrote to a senior prison official,

“But even when the clash between you and me has taken the most extreme form, I should like us to fight over principles and ideas and without personal hatred, so that at the end of the battle, whatever the results might be, I can proudly shake hands with you because I feel I have fought an upright and worthy opponent who has observed the whole code of honor and decency. But when your subordinates continue to use foul methods then a sense of real bitterness and contempt becomes irresistible.”

This reminds me of the ideological battle that the Mahatma talked about. Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Nehru all were prisoners at one point and now we have a wheel-chair bound academic turned activist, Dr. G.N. Saibaba, who in jail advocating for the erstwhile forgotten tribals. He too like Mandela was speaking for someone’s rights. He was imprisoned for violation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for connections with the banned Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), an organisation linked with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). He may be wrong, his ways might not be correct. I am not arguing on that. But does he not deserve right to dignity per Article 21 of the Constitution? Every prisoner doe! Our jails are sadly not equipped enough to imprison differently abled. Per Rule 1 of the Nelson Mandela Rules,

“All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. No prisoner shall be subjected to, and all prisoners shall be protected from, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification”.

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones and if our nation cannot respect an educated citizen who is critical of the nations’ policies then we need to bring about a change. Dr. Saibaba has appealed the order of the learned District Court and in the spirit of the change we wish to see in our society I request the readers to click here and sign this online petition (started by M. Katju, former S.C. Judge) for the release of Dr. Saibaba on bail pending the disposal of his appeal as the renowned academician given his critical health situation considering he is already 90% paralyzed.

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Author: Pranav Bhaskar Tiwari

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