International Women’s Day: Why There’s No Vasantha Without Sai Baba

The ex-professor’s wife spoke about their journey as friends to life partners, the ordeal she went through after his arrest and how she put up a brave fight in the pursuit of justice.
International Women’s Day: Why There’s No Vasantha Without Sai Baba

New Delhi: “Justice finally prevailed after 10 years of struggle” was the first reaction of happy crying Vasantha Kumari soon after her husband, GN Sai Baba, was released from Nagpur Central Prison on March 7.

On March 5, the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur bench cleared him and five others of terrorism-related charges. The former professor at Delhi University (DU) professor is over 90 percent disabled and confined to a wheelchair. He is unable to move even an inch without assistance — which was allegedly denied by the jail officials who believed to have left no stone unturned to torture him.

The 56-year-old academician was arrested in 2014 and booked under stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 for his alleged links with the banned CPI (Maoist). He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 by a court in Gadchiroli with four others — Pandu Narote, Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, Mahesh Tikri and Prashant Rahi. 

Narote, who was just 33 at the time of conviction, died in August 2022 after following a serious illness while being in jail. The sixth accused — Vijay Nan Tikri — was sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

After the conviction, DU’s Ram Lal Anand College terminated his services without citing any reason from the afternoon of March 31, 2014. He was placed under suspension soon after his arrest.

On October 14, 2022, the Bombay High Court had discharged Sai Baba and the rest five and ordered their immediate release — observing that the due process of law cannot be sacrificed at the altar of “perceived peril to national security”.

The next day, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court’s order — placing reliance on the prosecution’s argument that the discharge order was passed on the ground that the requisite sanction was not sought and not on merit. The top court’s decision had elicited scathing criticism from legal experts.

A Saga of Torture

“I can’t go to the toilet, I can’t take a bath without support, and I lived in jail without any relief for so long,” he said in his first and a brief media interaction since his release.

During such a long period of incarceration, what stood out was the courage and determination of his wife, who stood with him rock solid and took the challenges head on.

“It was a very difficult period. At the time of his arrest, he suffered injuries on his left hand because of shoving and assault by the police. The injury was not taken care of in the jail. As a result, the hand suffered paralysis. Still, the prison officials did not find it necessary to give him proper medical care. The infection gradually spread to his right hand, which too is not functioning properly. It has partial movement,” she said, claiming both his hands were perfectly fine at the time of his arrest and he used to push his wheelchair in motion — using them.

Even this pathetic condition, she alleged, did not melt the heart of the officials who continued to keep him in anda cell — which was created by the British as a means of torture. Sai Baba spent almost seven years in the oval cell, she said.

Wheelchair-bound Sai Baba had suffered a polio attack when he was five. He had no muscle growth below his waist. He cannot walk and even stand. Over the past decade, he had to endure further complications.

“He got a cardiac ailment and developed hypertension. He usually has back pain. And he also has a cyst in his brain. Then, there is a lump on the left of his stomach and one of his vertebrae is bent. He cannot sit in his wheelchair for long or even lie down for too long,” she said.

She said he used to write her letters that were pages long earlier. She would receive a letter from him once a week. “The frequency of late declined to one letter every two or three months because his right hand was steadily becoming weaker. He was living in hell-like conditions,” she narrated.

She said his health deteriorated so much that she often felt that at any moment, she would get news like Stan Swamy (a Jharkhand-based Catholic priest, tribal rights activist and oldest person to be accused of terrorism who died in state custody). 

“The feeling used to give me sleepless nights. Even Sai had written to me once, saying I would have to do something to get him out of there. I was often scared of the lawyer’s sudden phone calls, wondering what I would have to hear next,” she narrated the ordeal.

‘Punished for Ideology’

There was a robbery in the Aheri police station area in Gadchiroli. The police said they had information that the stolen goods were kept at the residence of professor Sai Baba in Delhi. So, they came to search the house for the stolen goods. This is what the search warrant stated.

“What were those stolen goods? Who did they belong to? None of it was ever brought up during the trial. But in 2017, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, without evidence and crime. He was punished only for his ideology,” claimed Vasantha.

And what is his ideology? “First and foremost, we are all human, and that is what should unite us. All religions should live in harmony. We must speak up against state violence and anti-imperialistic policies. This is his ideology and philosophy of life that land him in jail and punished,” she said.

'No Vasantha, Without Sai’

Sai Baba had a humble family background. “They lived in a small hut. They did not even have electricity. He studied under the light of kerosene lamps till his degree (undergraduate college),” she said.

At a very young age, she continued, he began giving tuitions to students and managed to study with whatever fees he earned. “Even then, Sai never charged students who were poor and could afford the fees. He would teach them for free,” she said.

Vasantha first met Sai Baba during class 10 tuitions. “Even then, Sai was good at English, which he taught me as well. And that is how our friendship started,” she narrated the beginning of their love story.

The first time she saw him at the tuition, he was wearing slippers in his hands as he was unable to walk because of the polio attack. 

“However, I found him fascinating since he was intelligent and an excellent student. That’s when, in intermediate (senior school), I fell in love. We got closure and became more intimate,” she described while blushing. 

In 1991, she said, she left home and came to Hyderabad to meet her love. “I did not return and stayed with him forever. There is no Vasantha without Sai, and vice versa. This is our situation,” she said, with a smile on her face but tears rolling down her face.

She said their ways of thinking are similar. “Sometimes, before he could say the words, I would tell him what was on his mind. Love unites us, we have never felt the need for anything,” she said.

Vasantha has known Sai Baba since the age of 15. And since then, there was never a day when the duo did not speak to each other. But his incarceration separated them for a long 10 years.

“I could see him, talk to him, hug him and shake hands. This has never occurred before. When I visited him in jail, there used to be a fiberglass between us, with our only means of communication being the intercom,” she recalled, adding that “I had the feeling that a single hug from him would dispel all of my sorrow like cotton in the wind”.

When asked about the suffering of Sai Baba’s family, she said seeing his deteriorating health, his mother got very worried. Her health also worsened rapidly because of all this pain, and she breathed her last.

They asked if we could show Sai Baba his mother’s funeral through a video call, but the jail authorities did not even allow that.

Asked which poem of her husband she likes the most, she said, “I like all of his poems, but one is my favourite.” 

It goes like this:

I still stubbornly refuse to die,

the sad thing is that they don’t know how to kill me, 

because I love the sounds of growing grass…

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