Jangal Do Ya Phaansi
Chhatisgarh in the Midst of a Do or Die Battle
14 Mar 2016
Soni Sori in Dantewada today, alleged torture and intimidation by sections of the police continues
Photos showing Arvind Gupta, Lingaram Kodopi, Soni Sori and Rinki Thakur in front of the new and old circuit house in Dantewada today, awaiting the SIT that never showed up
Lingaram, Soni Sori's nephew has threatened to end his life:
Will India prevent another institutional murder on March 23, 2016, intervene and prevent alleged continued atrocities and torture by sections of the authorities?
UPDATED STORY AT 3.53 p.m. MONDAY, March 14, 2016
The family of Soni Sori, accompanied by her and her lawyer, Shalini Gera have been at Dantewada since the morning. They decided that they will present themselves before the SIT and give them a letter saying that they do not have any faith in the way the investigation is proceeding and request the DGP to either take their statements himself or to constitute an independent team to do the job.
A visibly tense Town Inspector (TI) Geedam has been present in the morning, trying to ensure that the family meets the SIT on time, that is at 11.00 am at the Circuit House. With these letters in hand, the family has now been in Dantewada waiting for the SIT for over three hours but there is no sign of the SIT.
Ms Shalini Gera has called the City Superintendant of Police (CSP) Deepmala Kashyap. The CSP informed Ms Gera that they should wait and that the family and lawyers of Ms Sori would be informed through the TI Geedam when and where the SIT would meet them. Meanwhile the TI, on being contacted says he does not have any information, Ms Gera told SabrangIndia.
The family meanwhile has addressed a press conference and stated that the SIT is scared to confront them. Letters by Ms Soni Sori and her family have been faxed to DGP Upadhay and the National Human Rights Commission.
All eyes should be on Chhatisgarh as Soni Sori the Adivasi leader attacked with chemical acid on February 20, 2016 returns to the battleground that is Dantewada, Bastar to carry forward the battle against alleged rights abuses.
Several persons, including neighbours and family members of Soni Sori have been served with notices to appear before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed soon after the attack on her. Soni and many others, including her family and other villagers are likely to appear but refuse to give statements to a team of officers they have no faith in. They are reportedly likely to say that they have recorded statements before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and are fully willing to cooperate and record statetemts before the Director General of Police Chhatisgarh, AN Upadhyay but not before a SIT they have no faith in. The past three weeks since Soni had to be taken to Delhi were torturous with threats from the authorities increasing, Shalini Gera, advocate for Soni told SabrangIndia today. Gera is with Soni Sori in Dantewada.Notices have been served on, at least, Soni Sori, Rinky, Lingaram and Arvind Gupta the original complainant about the attack on Soni.
Adivasi leader and rights activist who returned to Chhatisgarh the day before yesterday is in Dantewada today after her family and several Adivasi women and men were continually threatened allegedly by sections of the police. Linga (Lingaram Kodopi), her nephew announced on March 12 that he will hang himself due to the constant torture and harassment by the Chhatisgarh police.
Just a day earlier, on March 11, 2016 lawyers for Soni Sori had in a strongly worded letter to the DGP Chhatisgarh, AN Upadhyay outlined the allegedly illegal and coercive actions by IG Kalluri. In a letter to DGP Chhatisgarh, AN Upadhyay, her lawyers have outlined the threats to her father and detailed how her sister and brother-in-law have been taken to undisclosed locations.
The letter spoke about the harassment to including Mr. Ajay Markam and his wife, Ms. Dhani Markam, by police officials of Bastar Range (sister and brother In law of Soni Sori). Ms. Soni’s brother-in-law, Mr. Ajay Markam, has been held in police custody for a day and a half, with no intimation to his family about his whereabouts and the reasons for his detention and his wife and Ms. Sori’s sister, Ms. Dhani Markam, has also been picked up today by Bastar police and taken to an undisclosed location.
An SIT comprising of ASP Sukma Mr Santosh Singh, CSP Jagdalpur Ms Deepmala Kashyap and ASP Bijapur IK Elesela was set up to investigate this attack on Ms. Sori.
On March 12, Lingaram gave the following statements that was reported in The Times of India, “I am tired and sick of routine threats. I am being tagged as Maoist sympathizer, my phone is constantly on surveillance, and I am being tracked and followed everywhere I go. I have lost the freedom to live and earn. Now, I have decided to end my life on March 23," he says. In a whatsapp message circulated by Linga around midnight today, he alleged that he and his family were being hounded by police and that he was fed up with the continuous threats by the police who would anytime drag him out if "I don't appear before them for interrogation in Soni Sori's attack case".
March 23 is witnessed as Martyr's Day, when Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh was hanged, Linga says, adding, "Let me decide the date of my death myself. I won't allow Bastar IG to decide that. It's better to kill yourself instead of being shot at by police's gun who would consider me a Maoist or attacker of my own aunt."
1. Police threatens Soni Sori family, takes them to undisclosed Location: Lawyers
2. न नक्सल, न पुलिस, हम जनता के साथ हैं: सोनी सोरी https://sabrangindia.in/interview/%E0%A4%A8-%E0%A4%A8%E0%A4%95%E0%A5%8D…
3. Where every human rights activist is labelled a Maoist: Chhatisgarhhttps://sabrangindia.in/article/where-every-human-rights-activist-label…
4. Soni Sori's nephew Lingaram alleges police pressure, threatens to end his life on March 23 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/raipur/Soni-Soris-nephew-Lingar…;
5. Chhattisgarh Police Form Special Team To Probe Attack On Soni Sori
Police threatens Soni Sori family, takes them to undisclosed Location: Lawyers
Soni Sori’s lawyers have outlined the allegedly illegal and coercive actions by IG Kalluri. In a letter to DGP Chhatisgarh, AN Upadhyay, her lawyers have outlined the threats to her father and detailed how her sister and brother-in-law have been taken to undisclosed locations
Text of the Letter
March 11, 2016
Mr AN Upadhyay
Director General of Police, Chhattisgarh
Naya Raipur, Chhattisgarh
Subject - Repeated Harassment, Intimidation and Persecution of Ms Soni Sori’s relatives, including Mr. Ajay Markam and his wife, Ms. Dhani Markam, by police officials of Bastar Range*
This is to bring to your notice serious incidents of intense harassment and intimidation of various relatives of our client, Ms. Soni Sori, by different police officials within the Bastar Range. Most urgently, as of today evening, Ms. Soni’s brother-in-law, Mr. Ajay Markam, has been held in
police custody for a day and a half, with no intimation to his family about his whereabouts and the reasons for his detention.
His wife and Ms. Sori’s sister, Ms. Dhani Markam, has also been picked up today by Bastar police and taken to an undisclosed location.
As you are aware, Ms. Soni Sori was attacked with some corrosive chemical by three unidentified men on a motorcycle, while she was returning home around 10:30 pm on 20.2.2016. An SIT comprising of ASP Sukma Mr Santosh Singh, CSP Jagdalpur Ms Deepmala Kashyap and ASP Bijapur IK Elesela was set up to investigate this attack on Ms. Sori.
Instead of conducting a genuine inquiry into a serious matter, the police under Mr. Kalluri have turned this investigation into an excuse for harassment of Ms. Soni’s relatives, as detailed below –
1. Mr. Ajay Markam s/o Mohan Markam, is Ms. Sori’s brother-in-law and a close associate living in Geedam, Dantewada. He was taken in for questioning on March 1st, 2016, and extensively interrogated by ASP Sukma, Mr. Santosh Singh, in the presence of other SIT officials at PS Geedam, Dantewada. During this questioning, he was repeatedly told by the interrogating team that the police would arrest him for orchestrating the attack on Ms. Sori. He was asked to give his phone number to the investigators – a request with which he complied.
Later that evening, he received a call from an unknown number on his phone, where a caller whose voice Mr. Markam did not recognize, spoke to him in Halbi, insinuating that Mr. Markam had ordered the chemical attack on Ms.Sori. As a responsible citizen, Mr. Markam gave full information about this mischievous call to the Town Inspector of PS Geedam verbally on March 1
st itself. The next day, he took a letter with detailed information about this call to PS Geedam, but was advised to give that information to Kuakonda PS, since he was within the jurisdiction of PS Kuakonda at the exact time when he had received this mysterious call on his phone. He complied with this request also, and submitted written information about this call to PS Kuakonda on March 3, 2016.
Then, on the 09.03.2016, Mr. Markam was picked up by TI of Kuakonda PS, Mr. Sharat Chandra and taken to the Kuakonda PS, kept there till late at night, and interrogated for the entire duration. Again, yesterday, on 10.03.2016, Mr. Markam, was picked up from his house in Geedam by the Mr. Sharat Chandra, TI of Kuakonda, and taken in for questioning in Jagdalpur. He has not been heard from since, and no information has been forthcoming to his family as to the reasons for his prolonged detention. Since this detention is well beyond the 24 hours limit, it is clearly illegal and violative of Mr. Markam’s fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 22(2) of the Constitution, and Section 57 of the CrPC.
2.Today, concerned family members of Mr. Markam, including Mr. Mundra Ram Sori (Ms. Sori’s father and the father-in-law of Mr Markam), and Mr Markam’s mother Ms. Pali Markam, and his sister Jyoti Sori went to speak with the IG of Bastar Range, Mr. SRP Kalluri, to express their concernsabout the well-being of Mr. Markam and to seek information about his detention. However, Mr. Kalluri treated them with utter disrespect, spoke to them in vulgar, abusive language and openly threatened and intimidated the family members that he (Mr. Kalluri) will destroy all of Ms. Sori’s family.
He specifically mentioned that he will ensure that Mr. Markam will be not be released from police custody, and the rest of Ms. Sori’s family will also be made to suffer for her indiscretions in questioning Mr.Kalluri. He specifically threatened Mr. Mundra Ram Sori that his daughter, our client, Ms. Soni will be killed and that his grandson, Mr Lingaram Kodopi will also be jailed. This type of grossly offensive and threatening behavior towards an old, invalid person, who is also an ex-sarpanch and a victim of Naxalite violence, and other women family members, by a senior
police officer is utterly shocking and painful.
3. Ms. Dhani Markam w/o Mr. Ajay Markam, is the sister of our client, Ms. Soni Sori. She studies nursing in Adawal- Bodli, Bastar and resides in the nursing training institute’s hostel. Bastar police visited her hostel yesterday and wanted to take Ms. Dhani Markam away, but the warden of the institute did not allow them take Ms. Markam without proper warrants etc. A three-member police team again visited the hostel today and has reportedly taken away Ms. Markam from the hostel with them, without giving any information to the family or to the hostel authorities. It is a matter of serious concern to the family members that a young woman has been taken by the police to an undisclosed location and this is against all legal procedures of interrogation or detention.
We request you to take note of these illegal activities of the Bastar police purporting to fulfill their investigative role. This type of open harassment and intimidation of the family members of our client is causing intense emotional strain on her and making her fearful of her own safety and that of those close to her. It is clear that through such intense persecution of all those associated with our client, the police wish to silence her and pressure her into withdrawing the serious charges of atrocities that she has leveled against them – if that happens, it will indeed be a very severe blow to the democratic framework of our nation.
We request that you intervene at the earliest, restore Ms and Mr. Markam to their families, and stop further harassment of Ms. Soni’s family members, in order to instill a sense of safety and security amongst the residents of Bastar division.
Adv. Shalini Gera
Adv. Isha Khandelwal
Copies have been sent to –
1. Mr. DM Awasthi, Special DGP (Anti Naxal Operations), Chhattisgarh
2. Ms. Chhaya Sharma, DIG; Mr. Sanjay Jain, Sr SP, Ms Sumedha Dwivedi,
Sr SP, Investigation Division, National Human Rights Commission
3. Mr. AK Parashar, Focal Point of Human Rights Defenders, NHRC
Where every human rights activist is labelled a Maoist: Chhatisgarh
Is the Government really winning the war against Maoists in Bastar, asks a former diplomat and NHRC member
The government of Chhattisgarh says it is winning the war against the Maoists with means that are just and humane, but the terrible reports coming out of Bastar again show that neither claim is true. The pity of it is that these searing accounts of killings, rapes, tortures and false arrests are so familiar. The even greater pity is that they have been told for so long. And the greatest pity of them all, is that the “nation” seems without a care, indifferent to what is being done in its name, though the Adivasis who are the victims are among the most vulnerable of its citizens and need help, support and solidarity the most. They might ante-date the nation but they are not “anti-national”.
In 2013, when the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) held hearings in Raipur, two of us, Justice B.C. Patel and I, flew first to Bastar. From visits to other districts in the red corridor, I knew they had no-go areas, like Jamui in Bihar, for instance, where the SP said the Maoists might attack me if I went unprotected to the tribal villages, but if he sent a police escort, they certainly would. In Chatra in Jharkhand, the SP did take me to villages from where the Maoists had withdrawn deeper into the forest, but we went in a convoy, with a road-opening party sent ahead. The Commission’s work took me to swathes of our country, up its spine and in the north-east, where the writ of the government does not easily run.
Nothing though prepared me for Bastar. We had asked to go to villages in Bijapur and Sukma where massacres had been reported, but in Raipur the DGP pleaded with us to reconsider. This was the heart of Maoist territory, he said, and if we insisted, he would have to deploy 1500 men to ward off the inevitable attacks. We decided it was pointless to go under these circumstances: the villagers we wanted to talk to would either have fled into the jungle or have been locked away, leaving behind only those the State wanted us to meet.
We went only where the State could take us in Bastar. That was on the metalled roads, in bullet-proof SUVs, surrounded by heavily armed convoys led by huge mine-protected vehicles, with armed police deployed on both sides of our route.
I first saw those mine-protected vehicles in South Africa in 1991 in the black townships, where they were the sinister and hated symbols of apartheid; I had never thought I would ride behind one in India. And I had been driven at speed once before, with tense soldiers on both sides of the route, backs turned to our convoy, fingers on triggers as they watched out for possible attacks. That was in Pakistan in 2007, when I was taken with some other Ambassadors to Gwadar through the moonscape of coastal Baluchistan, where it was clear the government hardly had control. Then, I had felt rather superior. It was chastening to relive the experience in India.
The maps we were shown made it clear that the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) and police had garrisoned defendable strong points, from where they sallied forth for operations against the Maoists. What happened in the villages before and after these operations, we asked. We heard brave words in Raipur, but in Bastar the District Magistrates (DMs) confessed that the only government programme that ran well in the villages was the PDS (public distribution system), because this suited the Maoists, who took a share for themselves. Schools, health centres, anganwadis, MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) sputtered at best because civil servants could not enter areas where the Maoists were dominant.
Which was ironic, really, because the Maoists had established themselves by offering services which, for generations, the State had not. This of course is not unique to Chhattisgarh. It is a problem the NHRC saw throughout the villages of the red corridor.
In Jharkhand, for instance, a team we sent to investigate a complaint that food distribution, child development services and primary health centres had been shut down in Operation Green Hunt, had to trek through jungles for two days, because there were no roads, spent two nights under canvas in the forest, and found, when it got to the villages, that it was true that the Adivasis had been denied these services, but not by the counter-insurgency operation. They had never had them. That, we heard, though we could not get there, was also true of the remote villages in Bastar which were now Maoist bastions.
We went only where the State could take us in Bastar. ...And I had been driven at speed once before, with tense soldiers on both sides of the route, backs turned to our convoy, fingers on triggers as they watched for possible attacks. That was in Pakistan in 2007, when I was taken with some other Ambassadors to Gwadar through the moonscape of coastal Baluchistan, where it was clear the government hardly had control. Then, I had felt rather superior. It was chastening to relive the experience in India.
In the briefings that the DMs gave us, and in our tours around the district headquarters, we heard about and then visited the cluster schools for Adivasi children. These were large new structures in the heart of these towns, well protected, where boys and girls studied and lived from the age of seven until they graduated, when there were vocational training centres next door for those who could not make it to college.
We saw thousands of children in these schools, well-fed, well taught, but this brilliant initiative has a very dark side. The children are deracinated, alienated from tribal culture. Most met their parents very rarely, if at all; none wanted to go back to the village after they graduated. The State was solving the Maoist problem by ensuring that, in a few years, there will be very few young people in the adivasi villages to indoctrinate and recruit. But the Adivasi way of life, its traditions and culture, will also die out. (When we heard thatthousands of needless hysterectomies had been performed on healthy young adivasi women in Chhattisgarh by unscrupulous doctors to claim fees under the RSBY (Rashtra Swasthya Bima Yojana), I wondered if this had been just greed or if the State’s campaign to deny the Maoists a new generation of cadres had taken an altogether more diabolic turn.)
The DMs told us the State would shut down schools in the villages which were the catchment area for the cluster schools. I was not surprised to read that in 2015 it closed 782 schools in Bastar. For Adivasi parents, therefore, the choice is between sending their children off to these schools, when they drift away from them, or to the schools set up by the Maoists to become their foot-soldiers, or have them grow up illiterate. Since the government and the Maoists fight over these villages and those who live there, it is moot how much of a choice the parents (or the children) have.
If the plan works and produces well-adjusted young men and women, accepted by and integrated in the wider society, the government can argue that the price was worth paying. The danger is that our caste-ridden, insular system will keep them at arm’s length as not quite us. In Europe, many young Muslims, brought up as Europeans but not accepted as such, have turned violently against the society and values their parents urged them to embrace; the first rebels turned to Marxism but abandoned it swiftly to return to what they thought were their roots, embracing a distortion of Islam and pledging their violent allegiance first to Al-Qaeda and now to ISIS. We can only hope that the social engineering of Chhattisgarh does not replace the Maoists with something even worse.
They already have a Frankenstein, the Salwa Judum, killed off by the Supreme Court in 2011 but revived by the State in the avatar of an auxiliary police, the Parthasarathis to the COBRAS. We met some of them in the refugee camps. They were the prosperous families in their villages in the Abujhmar, they told us, and therefore the first victims of the Maoists. They live in the camps nursing their loss, have no hope of returning to their homes, and the fight against the Maoists is for them deeply personal, fought savagely and for revenge. (It is a pattern seen throughout the world: the Hutu refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, breed the Interahamwe, the militia responsible for the worst atrocities in its civil war.) Since the Abujhmar, true to its name, is still terra incognita, the government perhaps does not have the ability to rehabilitate these refugees, but neither does it have the incentive to try when the camps give it a ready supply of young Adivasis, at home in the jungle, and eager to comb through it to take revenge on the Maoists and their supporters.
The Salwa Judum makes no distinction between the Maoists and the villagers on whom they batten. What surprised me then and does now is that the State government also seems to believe that anyone who questions their policies, or tries to temper the impact of their mistakes, is a closet Maoist, who must be silenced, through fair means or foul.
Binayak Sen and Soni Sori are the names the rest of India now knows, symbols of resistance and victims of the rancorous cruelty of the State, but we met many others who said that they had had to evade roadblocks set up by the police to stop villagers coming to meet the NHRC, some who told us that ever since they had sent a written complaint to us, they had been harassed by the State, others who said in despair that any protest against a local functionary’s despotism or corruption meant that the protester would have to suffer. We wondered why a government run by an educated and able Chief Minister should let itself be ruled by such vicious and self-defeating paranoia.
Tragically, from the latest reports in the media, the government is now even more insecure and intolerant, persecuting anyone who draws attention to the sufferings of the Adivasis or stands up for them. The list includes some of their most able and committed defenders - Bela Bhatia and Malini Subramaniam, who have apparently been threatened and told to leave, and the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, who have been hounded out.
Soni Sori, whose refusal to be cowed seems to bring the worst out in the State, has been threatened with eviction, and has now been attacked, something corrosive rubbed on her eyes and face by cowards to blind and disfigure her. She has endured worse, much worse, as I know from reading the reports of the doctors who examined her in Kolkata after she was first arrested, and from what she told the NHRC officer who met her in jail. It is foolish of the State to think this will deter her.
The Maoists are a cure worse than the disease; they are no one’s saviours. The Adivasis deserve better. Elsewhere in India, State governments seem to have woken up at last to their needs, and are trying to address them. But not, it seems, in Chhattisgarh, where the more things change the more they remain the same.
(The writer is a former Indian diplomat. He served as India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, and as a member of the National Human Rights Commission)
Why Adivasi leader Soni Sori was attacked: Complaint against IG Kalluri
Soni Sori was on the verge of filing an FIR against IG Kalluri when she was attacked
One of the main likely reasons why Adivasi leader, Soni Sori was attacked on the night of Saturday, February 20 was that for a week-ten days before the attack she was trying to get an FIR registered under ST/SC atrocities prevention act against IG, Police Chhatisgarh, Kalluri.
Soni Sori reportedly made two attempts, one was at Dantewada ST/SC thana and another was at ST/SC Thana Raipur. But both the times, the thana (police station) refused to even accept her complaint. At Dantewada, she was misinformed and given an absurd reason that Kalluri is an Adivasi and thus a complaint against him cannot be filed at this particular thana.
Thereafter, Soni Sori and her lawyers tried to look into the veracity of the claim It was found to be untrue. Later, it was confirmed that he is not an ST. Kamma’s World¸ a web portal that can be viewed at http://kammasworld.blogspot.in/2010/09/kamma-ips-officers.html proudly has him as IPS officer from this caste at serial number 31.
Over the next few days, she got busy with the Mardum encounter case, where she was helping the family raise the issue of the fake encounter in Mardum thana in Bastar district, in which Hidma was killed.
Her second attempt to file an FIR against Kalluri himself was on February 15, 2016, when she took Hidma’s wife and seven children to Raipur for a press conference. In Raipur her complaint was refused saying the incident did not lie within their geographical jurisdiction [This is a stock response of the police despite rulings of the Supreme Court of India repeatedly maintaining that a criminal complaint can be filed outside the geographical area from where it is crimes are alleged to have taken place.]
Soni Sori then decided to go directly to the SP Dantewada for filing this compliant when she was attacked. Sabrangindia has accessed a copy of the Complaint she was trying to file in which she clearly says how she fears for her life because of him, Kalluri a senior police officer of the Chhatisgarh state.
The copy of the FIR with attached media clippings as evidence can be read here.
Her team of lawyers are now considering lodging a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes which takes up cases of atrocities against STs and also pursue the question of registering an FIR against Kalluri.
Meanwhile, letters to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders are also being sent by supporters and many protests being held across the country in protest against the attack on Soni Sori. Draft Letter to OHCHR(UN)
Please also see NHRC intervenes as BJP govt. hounds defenders of Adivasis' rights in Bastar
Soni Sori flown to Delhi, fears for her children's safety
NHRC intervenes as BJP govt. hounds defenders of adivasis' rights in Bastar
Shortly after we published the story below by Parijata Bharadwaj, we received the following email message:
We are happy to inform you that two complaints in the cases of Ms. Shalini Gera, Ms. Isha Khandelwal and Ms. Malini Subramaniam have reached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Focal Point for Human Rights Defenders in NHRC informed me that yesterday itself there were some complaints received in this regard, and notice has already gone to Director General of Police, Chattisgarh.
However, because of intervention by Justice Murugesan, Member, NHRC this morning, Ms. Chhaya Sharma Deputy Inspector General of Police (Investigation Division) is personally looking into this matter and directly speaking with the police officials. The complaint is also copied to her.
These two files are being placed before the acting chairperson of NHRC right now to order investigation by NHRC, immediate police protection and urgent action at their end.
Honorary National Working Secretary
Lawyers, journalists, activists highlighting the grievances of adivasis are being terrorised into leaving the district
The developments in the national capital following the crackdown at JNU have once again brought the authoritarian, fascist nature of the current regime into sharp focus. While the intensity of the attack unleashed by state actors and Hindutva’s vigilantes has come as a surprise for some, it is important to note that this is not an aberration. It is but an extension of what is being faced by the adivasis, Dalits and other marginalised communities of this country on a daily basis.
One such target of the unrelenting repression is, and has been, the mineral rich land of Bastar. While this in itself as an old, ongoing story, taking advantage of the fact that public attention for the moment is riveted on developments in New Delhi, the police and district administration have moved swiftly and deviously to force lawyers and journalists highlighting adivasi grievances out of the district.
The aim is simple: to wipe out any resistance to the neo-liberal ‘development’ agenda. While the earlier UPA governments were also wedded to the same agenda, it is now being pursued more aggressively under the new dispensation at the Centre.
With the prolonged conflict between the Indian State and the Maoists in adivasi regions, the former has perfected a simple you-are-either-with-us –or-them script. Anyone who blindly conforms to the diktats of the state actors is a nationalist. Anyone who fails to toe the line, dares deviate even by a millimetre from the official line is dubbed an “anti-national” and worse, a “Maoist”.
It is this very definition which is currently being applied by the local administration against the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) – run by Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal to safeguard the constitutional rights of the socially and economically deprived sections of Bastar – journalist Malini Subramaniam and an independent researcher of considerable repute, Bela Bhatia.
On the night of February 17, 2016 the local police at Jagdalpur summoned the landlord who had rented his house to Shalini and Isha to the police station and detained him at the thana for two hours to pressurise him into asking his tenants to quit within a week. To add weight to their threats, the police seized the landlord’s sole means of livelihood – his taxi – on some pretext.
Taking advantage of the fact that public attention for the moment is riveted on developments in New Delhi, the police and district administration have moved swiftly and deviously to force lawyers and journalists highlighting adivasi grievances out of the district
At the same time, the police detained the female domestic worker of Malini and kept her in the police station till late in the evening, in gross violation of the law. The situation deteriorated further on February 18, 2016 when the police once again summoned the domestic worker of Malini and refused to let her leave the station. Malini’s husband who had gone to enquire the reason for the detention of their domestic help was also detained.
Finally, the police released both of them but by then Malini too had been given a written eviction notice by her landlord, forcing her to vacate the house with her family the same day.
Things did not improve for the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group which became the target of sloganeering of the police-friendly Samajik Ekta Manch during the day. In the evening (February 18) JagLAG’s landlord was once again called to the police station and detained for hours. On his return, it was apparent that the police had forced him into asking JagLAG to vacate the rented premise within 24 hours.
JagLAG and Bela approached the local authorities seeking an end to this persecution but none of the visits have resulted in any effective change in their eviction status.
Why is the local administration hell bent on getting rid of them? What is it that the Chattisgarh’s BJP government so afraid of that it is resorting to such tactics?
The answer is simple: they cannot tolerate the presence in the district of anyone who draws attention to, or works for, the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the adivasis and holds the administration accountable.
With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power at the Centre, Bastar has witnessed a sustained escalation in the violence unleashed by the State against the local adivasis under the garb of its military campaign against the Maoists.
The heavy militarisation in the region has led to increased restrictions on the basic freedoms of the people. Para-military forces with absolutely no knowledge about the local culture or landscape in the region, which have been pressed into service in the region, function on the assumption that every villager is a Maoist unless proved to the contrary. This has resulted in an increase in the number of villagers being arrested, illegally detained, even being killed in fake encounters.
JagLAG, Malini and Bela’s ‘fault’ lies in their refusal to remain mute spectators to the growing deprivation and increasing oppression of the adivasis. They have been working with local adivasi activists like Soni Sori, Linga Ram Kodopi, Sukal Prasad Nag and the people fighting for the recognition of the dignity and rights of adivasis. Thanks to their combined efforts, since end-2014 Bastar has seen several peaceful movements by the local people demanding the enforcement of their rights.
In one instance, thousands of villagers peacefully assembled outside the Kukanar thana, to demand that the police release Sukdi. She had been kidnapped by the police to coerce her husband Ayata, a local leader, to comply with the demands of the police. Then there was the large rally of people from the village of Revali who peacefully demanded that the district collector order an inquiry into the fake ‘encounter’ death of Nuppo Bhima.
In both instances, the adivasis had adopted peaceful means while placing their demands before the state officials. The presence of JagLAG, Bela and Malini during the rallies ensured legal support, detailed documentation, and media coverage of the demands.
The above were the first of many such peaceful gatherings of villagers seeking justice before the State officials. Here was opportunity for the state personnel to show they were concerned about the well-being of the people, open to listen to their grievances. Instead, the rallies were labeled as being motivated by Naxalites and villagers who had played a leading role in the rallies were threatened, or arrested by the police and implicated in false cases.
Why is the local administration hell bent on getting rid of them? What is it that the Chattisgarh’s BJP government so afraid of that it is resorting to such tactics? The answer is simple: they cannot tolerate the presence in the district of anyone who draws attention to, or works for, the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the adivasis and holds the administration accountable
The presence of JagLAG and Bela in the region had created a space for students, journalists, filmmakers, academicians and others to visit the district and witness for themselves the ground reality. Since its presence in the Bastar, JagLAG has been instrumental in facilitating several fact finding trips of activists, academicians and researchers into different areas of the region. The last few months saw visits by two fact-finding teams into Bijapur and Sukma to probe complaints of sexual violence by the security personnel. The fact-finding teams uncovered the extensive violence unleashed on the villagers, especially the large scale sexual violence against adivasi women.
In one of the fact findings, the team went to five villages in Basaguda block of Bijapur – Pegdapalli, Chinna Gellur, Pedda Gellur, Gundam and Burgicheru. In all these villages women narrated harrowing tales of sexual violence by the security forces. They complained of being stripped and assaulted. Even their nipples were pinched ostensibly to establish whether the claim of being a breast-feeding mother was true or not. Several women had bruises and injuries on their person.
The women agreed to accompany the fact-finding team to the collectorate and police station seeking action against the security forces. Despite the initial reluctance, because of the serious nature of the alleged offences and the pressure on the administration, an FIR was reluctantly registered against the security forces.
Meanwhile, separate fact-finding teams of the adivasi mahasabha and the Congress party also demanded action against the errant troops. Despite this, there were two further instances of large-scale violence against women by security forces in Bijapur which was recently highlighted by the Congress party.
In all these incidents, Bela played an instrumental role in not only working to find out the experiences of the adivasis but also continuously and tirelessly working with the various teams to ensure that the pressure on the police to take cognisance of these offences is maintained. JagLAG is representing several people implicated on charges of being Maoists, including Soni Sori, local journalists Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav and other villagers, seeking justice in the matter of the extra-judicial killings in Sarkeguda.
The Chattisgarh government is thus faced with activists who do not shy away from taking up the issues of the people, lawyers who fearlessly fight for the rights of their clients and journalists who courageously report the disturbing facts. Here are human rights defenders (HRDs) whose presence ensures support to the local people to continue to strive for justice. Instead, of using this opportunity to establish itself as a pro-people regime, the government has taken recourse to its age-old tactics: labelling, threats and warnings.
It started with ‘friendly warnings’ about three years ago. But in the last 18 months the friendly warnings have turned to threats. From veiled threats to restrictions on the right to practice law, the objective is to remove from the scene anyone attempting to hold the State accountable.
The threats varied in nature depending on the person being targeted. Malini, Bela and Soni were subjected to sloganeering by local vigilante groups. The house and property of Soni and Malini were vandalised. On one of their visits to a village, Bela and Soni were hounded by a mob labelling them as naxalites. For JagLAG, the threat has been in the form of a local mob aggressively attempting to prevent them from appearing in Court.
Contrary to the State’s expectation the threats did not deter the HRDs from continuing their work in the area. It is because of this that the police have chosen to go after those who are more vulnerable: domestic help, landlords. The aim of the BJP government is clear: to isolate and attack.
With a flurry of MOUs being signed in the region the State has started aggressively implementing its ‘clearing’ operations to milk the mineral rich resources for profit. The last few months have seen an intense military campaign against the locals with the aim of clearing out the area, making it safe for ‘development’.
It is immaterial to the State that this process has led to a drastic escalation in the number of arbitrary arrests, staged ‘surrenders’ and fake ‘encounter’ deaths in the region. What does make it angry is the documentation and transmission of information. It is for this reason that it has become imperative to force Malini, Bela and JagLAG out of the region.
Malini has already been forced to leave and pressure on JagLAG and Bela is being built-up by the hour. Now is not the time to be silent but to unite and challenge a repressive regime which under the garb of nationalism has unleashed a reign of oppression and tyranny.
(The writer is a lawyer, who was with the Jagdalpur legal aid group from 2013 to 2015. She is presently practising at Bombay High Court)
Attacking the Defenders of Freedom, Chhatisgarh: Lawyers and Journos being Forced Out
Attacking the Defenders of Freedom, Chhatisgarh: Lawyers and Journos being Forced Out
Days after Scroll contributor Malini Subramaniam at Bastar in Chattisgarh came under pressure from local groups and the police following to her reportage on police atrocities, Isha Khandewal, the lawyer representing Malini and a member of legal aid group JagLAG, has said they are being forced to leave Jagdalpur. JagLAG (Jagdalpur Legal Aid group), a non-profit that has been providing free aid to tribal communities in south Chhattisgarh’s five Naxal-affected districts, chose to legally represent Malini Subramaniam following a physical assault on her property in Bastar on February 8.
Malini Subramaniam, a journalist writing for scroll.in has been served an eviction notice by her landlord while her husband Ashim is still being held inside the police station and not let out. The landlord of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid group, who’s arms have been twisted by the local police by seizing his sole vehicle that is a means of livelihood, may also have to give in to the pressure. The message is clear. Freedom of Association, Movement and Expression are being openly throttled in the Bastar region, yet again. The state government is the same that controls the reigns at the Centre. The Chhatisgarh government wants the Jagdalpur legal aid group, an intrepid group of women lawyers who have been working in the Bastar region for three years, ensuring some legal rights for the Adivasis, out.
Sabrangindia has been consistently carrying reports of the resistance by Adivasis and the repression in Chhatisgarh. Here we reproduce a public appeal made by the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, a few minutes before the midnight hour on February 18-19, 2016.
Things are taking an ugly turn in Jagdalpur.
First there were whispered threats, 'Don't go to Bijapur, the police will arrest you if you go there again'. Then, there was a whole week of public lynching of JagLAG as defenders of "blood-thirstly Naxalites" by the Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante group formed by the police. At the same time, the local Bar Association again renewed their campaign to stop our practice by harassing the local lawyers standing with us.
Then, late last night, police visited our landlord - who is a driver by profession, and took him away to the police station. He was kept there till wee hours of this morning, and dropped back in a police vehicle; his car having been impounded. Our badly shaken landlord informed us at 2:00 am this morning that he has no option but to ask us to vacate our house and office within a week.
Things have been rocky for us in Jagdalpur for a while now. For a year and a half now, we are being hounded out by the local police. From giving thinly veiled threats at press conferences that the police are closely monitoring NGOs providing "legal aid to Naxalites", to informing our clients that the police are about to arrest us for our Naxalite activities, to claiming before visiting journalists and researchers that we are merely a "Naxalite front", various officials of the police have been out to get us.
We have had police diligently investigating "anonymous" complaints that we are "fraudulent" lawyers. For which, we had to make multiple trips to the police station with all our impeccable certificates and sound credentials. Then the local Bar Association, clearly prompted by the police, took out a resolution prohibiting our practice in the local courts. We countered this by challenging this resolution in the State Bar Council and obtaining an interim order allowing our practice. Unable to get at us any other way, now, the police are resorting to pressuring our landlord and his family.
The timing of these events does not escape our notice. This is coming at a time when the whole countryside of Bastar is on fire. Under the guise of anti-Naxal operations, the security forces are indulging in rape, pillage and plunder. With teams of women activists, we have documented at least three cases of mass sexual violence in the past three months itself, where security forces have run amok in the villages, stripping women, playing with their naked bodies and indulging in gangrape, looting their precious food supplies, and destroying their homes and granaries. The number of so-called "encounters" is at an all-time high, people are simply "disappearing" from villages in large numbers, only to show up in the list of "surrendered" or "arrested" Naxalites several days or weeks later. The local police and administration are talking in one voice of "clearing" the area within one year.
In this scenario, all who are challenging the official narrative, are being silenced. Social mobilizations are being orchestrated by the police to provide a cover to their illegal harassment of journalists, lawyers, activists. When mass gangrapes in Bijapur were being uncovered, a group calling itself the "Naxal peedit Sangharsh samiti" under the leadership of the ex-Salwa Judum leader Madhukar Rao, took out noisy belligerent rallies against Soni Sori, Bela Bhatia and "outside NGOs", threatening all of us with physical violence if we entered Bijapur again. When Malini Subramaniam wrote about the fake surrenders of Maoists, or the fake encounters, a motley group led by the nephew of the local MLA, calling themselves the "Samajik Ekta Manch" launched a vilification campaign against her.
When we tried to get her complaint of stones thrown into her house registered, the Manch publicly declared us as their next target, for defending "khoonkhar Naxalites" ( खूंखार नक्सली - dreaded naxalites) and going to villages inciting people against the state.(राज्य सत्ता के खिलाफ भड़काते हैं).The local Bar Association also renewed their fatwa against local lawyers working with us..
Unable to stop us from continuing our work here, the police have now resorted to threatening others associated with us. Prachi, the young household help working at Malini's, was summoned to the police station twice yesterday for interrogation, and kept there for hours. Despite the clear letter of the law that women witnesses can only be examined at their place of residence, she was taken away to the police station late at night for questioning, much to the alarm of her family. She has been taken to the police station again this morning and is still there. Malini's landlord,who lives in Raipur, was also summoned to the thana this morning, and by now has also issued an eviction notice to her. Malini's husband, Ashim, who was called inside the thana in the afternoon, is also now being held inside and not being allowed outside.
Our landlord, a person of very modest means, is also a member of the minority community, and vulnerable in this climate of pervasive fear. Our landlord's family have always had the greatest love and concern for us, which we return in equal measure. We understand that they had no choice this time but to ask us to vacate. We also understand that it would be exceedingly difficult to find another rental place in this time of inflamed passions and provoked agitations. We are still trying.
We take solace in the despair apparent in the highest echelons of police, who have had to stoop to such crude levels of indecency to throw us out of Jagdalpur.
Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal have issued this statement.
Whither Freedom: The Chhatisgarh attack on journalists
Smashed rear window of Malini's WagonR. [Photo courtesy: Malini Subramaniam]
Two days after the attack on the house of Scroll.in contributor Malini Subramaniam, the Chhattisgarh police finally filed a First Information Report in the incident on February 10. Subramaniam's lawyers have, however described the FIR as "inadequate" since it does not account for the events leading up to the attack and fails to name anyone.
It was on Sunday (February 7, 2016) evening, that a group of 20-odd men from the Samajik Ekta Manch, a newly formed group that claims to be working to counter the spread of Naxalism in Bastar region, staged a demonstration outside Subramaniam's house. She has identified two of the men, since they had visited her house on January 10 and warned her against writing articles that tarnished the image of the police. Later that night, around 11 pm, the police had turned up at her house for questioning.
The month-long process of intimidation had culminated in an attack on Subramaniam's home in the early hours of Monday. Around 2.30 am, stones were hurled at her house, shattering the rear window of her car. The local police initially refused to file an FIR.
After reports of the attack appeared in both local and national media, and there was widespread condemnation of the incident, the police registered an FIR was filed against unnamed persons for the offences of house-trespass and "mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees and more".
Isha Khandelwal, Subramaniam's lawyer, pointed out that the FIR had several holes in it. "While registering the FIR, the police has ignored the incident that took place in the evening before the assault. The police has, in effect, refused to accept the obvious fact that what happened in the night happened as a result of the incident of the evening, thus making both incidents part of one single continuous transaction.
Also, the action of the Samajik Ekta Manch's action in the evening on its own amounts to an illegal act under Sections [of the Indian Penal Code] such as 117, 143,147,153 [relating to unlawful assembly, promoting enmity between classes and other charges] which are all cognisable. Then why was an FIR for that incident where Malini has recognised people not been registered? Also the sections they have put up for the incident that took place in the night are ones that attract simple imprisonment even though offences under Section 440, 451, 452, 457 [relating to house trespass] have been clearly made out.”
Meanwhile, in a press conference, members of the Samajik Ekta Manch denied any involvement in the attack and claimed they were simply protesting against Subramaniam's writings in a "democratic manner". The press release of the Samajik Ekta Manch can be read below. See also our earlier story at https://www.sabrangindia.in/article/nwmi-condemns-attack-malini-subrama…
Statements in support
Support has continued to pour in for Subramaniam. The Editors' Guild of India issued a statement expressing concern over attempts to intimidate her. The human rights organisation Amnesty International also issued a statement, calling at the attack "another indicator of the increasingly hostile atmosphere in which journalists and human rights defenders operate in Chhattisgarh. The government of Chhattisgarh must not just sit on its hands and watch journalists being threatened and harassed," said Makepeace Sitlhou, Campaigner at Amnesty International India. "They must act on their promise to protect journalists from being attacked simply for doing their work.”
Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a non-profit in the state, has also issued a statement asking the government to ensure such attacks do not take place. It said an attempt was being made to create front organisations that would cover-up for the police.
Full text of the Editors' Guild statement
The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned by the intimidation of a contributor/stringer of the online magazine Scroll.in, Malini Subramaniam, currently based in Jagdalpur town of Bastar region in Chhattisgarh.
On Monday, February 8, a group of unidentified persons allegedly hurled stones at her home in which the rear window of her car parked in the compound was shattered. The incident took place within hours of a mob of 20 people who are part of a social group called Samajik Ekta Manch, which comprises of political workers of all major parties in Bastar and some former Salwa Judum activists claiming to be anti-Maoists, gathering outside her home Sunday evening and protesting against her writings as being pro-Maoists. They even accused her of being a Maoist sympathizer. Ms Subramaniam has been living with her daughter in Jagdalpur for four years now. While she is working as a stringer/contributor for the online news site Scroll.in for a little over one year, she was previously working on a project for the International Red Cross in Bastar. It was perhaps in the context of a series of her recent reports in Scroll.in that were perceived to be against the police that the Samajik Ekta Manch activists recently met her at her residence last week – this came after several inquiries and questioning of her by the local police themselves.
Bastar has been in the throes of an armed conflict. Two local stringers working for a newspaper have been arrested by the police on charges of aiding the Maoists and are languishing in jail. The Manch activists reportedly took objected to her reportage saying it was in support of the Maoists and against the development of the region and that she was not giving the others versions. While the activists and the police are free to place their point of view, even counter the stories that she has written, the physical and mental intimidation of the Scroll.in writer, Ms Subramaniam, and the attempt to stop her from reporting from the region is not acceptable; it’s a crime to attack someone’s home. The incident is highly condemnable and against the tenets of the freedom of the press. That the local police have not deemed it fit to register an FIR in this incident, smacks of partisan behaviour. The Editors Guild of India urgently calls for the intervention of the Chattisgarh Chief Minister and hopes that he would ensure a free and fair probe into the matter.
On February 10, 2016, the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists has also issued the following statement:
Indian authorities should immediately investigate the harassment of and threats against journalist Malini Subramaniam, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Assailants on Monday pelted Subramaniam's home in Bastar, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, with rocks, shattering the rear window of her car, according to news reports. Subramaniam, who has reported on human rights abuses and the conflict between Maoist groups and the state in Chhattisgarh for the independent English-language news website Scroll.in, told CPJ that a group of about 20 men demonstrated outside her house on Sunday evening, accusing her of supporting Maoist groups and chanting, "Death to Malini Subramaniam."
"Chhattisgarh police must send a firm message that vigilante attacks and mob violence against any citizen, any journalist, are unacceptable," said CPJ Asia Program Senior Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. "Authorities must fully and immediately investigate this attack on Malini Subramaniam, make sure the perpetrators face justice, and preserve the safety of all journalists."
In an interview with Scroll.in, Subramaniam said she recognized two of the men from the group, and that they belonged to major political parties in the state. She also said she recognized men from the crowd as members of the anti-Maoist group Samajik Ekta Manch who had previously visited her to discuss her coverage of the decades-old, low-intensity conflict between Maoist rebels and the government.
The group of men urged her neighbors to join them in pelting her home with stones, alleging that Subramaniam had been supplying arms to Maoists and that she could plant explosives in neighboring houses, according to reports.
In the last month, police officials have come to Subramaniam's home several times, once late at night, to interrogate her about her reporting, she told CPJ. "There is pressure to cover their version of the story," she said.
Subramaniam told CPJ that while police allowed her to file a complaint, they initially refused to file a First Information Report, a necessary step to set in motion a police investigation. On Wednesday, police finally did register a First Information Report, but Subramaniam told CPJ that it was weak because it did not name any individual and because the charges related only to trespassing and damage to her property.
The online directory for Chhattisgarh police was unavailable at time of documentation. When CPJ reached the superintendent of police in Bastar district, R.N. Dash, at a phone number provided by local journalists, he declined to comment and declined to pass CPJ on to someone else for comment.
Reporting from the region poses serious challenges: According to CPJ research, police often pressure, harass, or abuse journalists in an effort to silence critical reporting or to compel them to serve as informants. Meanwhile Maoists have attacked journalists they accuse of being informants for police, according to CPJ research. In 2015, Chhattisgarh police arrested two journalists--Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav--on unsubstantiated allegations that they were aligned with Maoists. Both Nag and Yadav remain jailed.
Brute Violence by Men in Uniform: Chhatisgarh
Adivasi Women in Chhatisgarh have complained of brute sexual violence against them by officers of the police during search operations conducted on January 12, 2016. Eight specific brute incidents of gendered violence by men in uniform have been reported in a collective complaint by them to the Commissioner, Bastar.
- Hadme w/o Deva Kartam was stripped by the police, her “waist string” was broken, her upper cloth was removed and police sat on her and abused her with filthy language.
- Kartami, the wife of Bhuiyan was badly beaten, her right hand was injured, right thigh and lower back has got swelling.
- Hadpi, the wife of Lakhma had her blouse torn, and was made to do sit ups. She was asked why she does not have children, and told that if she slept with them, she would have babies. When she started crying, she was beaten with a thorny stick.
- Kartami Kosi, the daughter of Budhva was stripped by the police. They made fun of her breasts and then beat her badly.
- Podiyami Jogi, wife of Ganga was dragged out of her house. She has injuries on her face and body. Her husband and children were picked up and taken to Gadiras Camp. When she said her child is small, she was told to milk her breast. A policeman came and milked her breast. Her necklace, ear rings and Rs. 1500 were snatched away.
- Apart from this, many other women were also beaten and insulted. Rice, hens, cash and ornaments were also looted. A grenade was also thrown so there was a fire.
- First 29 people had been taken into custody by the security forces, three were released, they are also badly injured.
- Police has claimed that there was an encounter in the village during which one police man was injured. Actually when that policeman entered a house, his foot got entangled in a sack and his weapon went off accidentally injuring him. All the villagers are aware of the incident.
Soni Sori, a social activist and convenor of the Aam Admi party has presented the Bastar Commissioner with a collective complaint of this gendered violence, along with the affected women of Village Kunna, Pedapara, Block Chhindgarh, District, Sukma. The Commissioner has given a written notice to the IG, SP and Collector on the complaint and directed them to conduct an immediate enquiry into the incident. In the complaint a demand has been made for a judicial enquiry and medical help has also been sought.
Earlier, on November 1, 2015, affected women of five villages including Pedagelur and Chinnagelur of Bijapur district had registered an FIR concerning rape and sexual violence during search operations. Till date no action has been taken on this FIR. In fact, senior police officers, without even investigating into the FIR, are commenting on the reliability of the complaint. Under these circumstances there is little likelihood of an unbiased police enquiry and hence the Chhatisgarh unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has demanded a high level Judicial Enquiry into both the above incidents. Over the past two-three months more and more incidents are coming to light where sexual violence has become a part of the anti-Naxal operations. The United Nations and other international human rights organisations have expressed concern that wherever wars are going on the world over, violence against women has been used as a weapon to humiliate and subjugate that society. Such an attitude towards the Adivasi communities of Bastar is unjust, reprehensible and unconstitutional, and will only alienate them further from the government.
Has India betrayed its indigenous peoples, the Adivasis?
Soni Sori Courtesy: feministsindia.com
On November 26, 1949, the Constitution Council signed and passed the Constitution of India. Sixty-six years after we gave ourselves the Indian Constitution, the right to life and dignity of India’s indigenous peoples, the Adivasis are being threatened not just by militarisation and state violence but also by a failure of the nation to enforce the Constitutional Scheme contained in its Fifth and Sixth Schedules. Sudha Bharadwaj makes a strong plea to recall the Constitutional mandate
Of late, an interesting phenomenon is occurring in Bastar. Thousands of villagers are gathering at police stations to protest against illegal arrests, detentions and tortures – at Kookanar, Kuakonda and Tongpal. In many of these peaceful mass demonstrations, Soni Sori, who herself suffered custodial sexual violence and long incarceration on false charges, and today dons an AAP topi is the organizer. In the past few months she has exposed the fake encounter of Nuppo Bhima at Revali, of Podia Hemla at Nahadi and of Bhima Mandavi at Nilvaya. An irate IG (Naxal Operations) Kalluri has addressed a press conference urging people to socially boycott her. Recently he had also been embarrassed by her press conference, which revealed that out of the 300 Naxal surrenders boasted by the police, 80% turned out to be unarmed villagers.
Democratic voices in Chhattisgarh have been repeatedly demanding that the way to de-escalate violence in the Bastar region would be to rehabilitate people in their villages, allow them to rebuild their ravaged agrarian and forest based economies, restore the civil administration and whole heartedly comply with the Forest Rights Act and PESA Act to give the adivasis of the area substantial rights. Rights to land, livelihood and life. Decisions to carry out large scale mining and set up industries in that area can only be effective if carried out after a genuine consultation with the people. It is only this, that can reduce the polarization between security forces on the one hand and the adivasi people at large on the other, and can prevent imminent genocide in the name of counterinsurgency.
It is time, then, to recall the Constitution of India.
Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Indian Constitution
It was the prolonged and fierce resistance of the tribal peoples in large tracts of British India that had forced the British administration to accept that the areas dominated by tribal populations must be treated as “excluded” or “partially excluded” areas (that is areas excluded from the general laws); and also to bring in special laws – the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, the Godavari Agencies or Ganjam and Vishakhapatnam Act, the SanthalParganas Tenancy Act or special provisions in existing Acts such as in the Bombay Land Revenue Code.
The intent was this: in these areas, through such provisions, the tribals (adivasis) were protected from exploitation by money lenders; their rights and title to enjoy the lands in their occupation were to be assured, and their culture and methods of self-governance to be preserved. The infiltration of non-tribal people, and the purchase of lands by them, except with the prior sanction of an officer appointed by the government on its behalf, was prohibited.
All this was not done borne out of any generosity of the imperial masters. These protective provisions stemmed from a realisation that nothing else was sustainable.
Post-independence, the “partially excluded” and “excluded” areas were more or less incorporated into the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution. While the tribal areas of the North East were covered by the Sixth Schedule which provided for autonomous district councils, the Fifth Schedule was conceived of as an area governed directly by the Union through the Governor who, in consultation with the Tribes Advisory Council, had powers of a quasi-legislative nature to repeal or modify, in the interests of peace and governance of the Scheduled area, any legislation of the State Assembly or the Parliament. Most of the tribes recognized by the British administration were listed as the Scheduled Tribes in various different states. (Of course there were tribes left out of the schedule, and areas left out of the scheduled areas and those communities are struggling to assert their identity and autonomy even today.)
A very large proportion of Chhattisgarh’s geographical area - 60.57% - is covered under the Fifth Schedule. Districts which are fully under Schedule are – Surajpur, Balrampur, Sarguja, Koriya, Jashpur, Gariyaband, Kanker, Bastar, Kondagaon, Sukma, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Beejapur. With the passage of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 the Constitutional principle recognizing the special way of life, customary governance and autonomy of tribal people was implemented in statutory law. This constitutional guarantee became statutorily enforceable only forty-nine years after we attained independence.
The terse Act establishes the centrality and powers of the Gram Sabha. It empowers the Gram Sabha to safeguard community resources, approve development plans and projects, enforce prohibition or regulation of sale of intoxicants, and restore unlawfully alienated land. Consultation with the Gram Sabha is required prior to acquisition or resettling of project affected persons, and its consent is mandatory for mining minor minerals.
Most importantly the Gram Sabha can exercise powers over institutions and functionaries in the social sector, and the Panchayati Raj institutions at higher levels are forbidden from usurping its powers. Acts inconsistent with PESA were to have been appropriately amended or repealed within a year - by 24th December 1997. In other words the PESA Act provided a template to exercise a substantial measure of grass-root democracy and autonomy and could have been the mechanism by which the tribal people could have engaged on their own terms with the juggernaut of ‘development’ – the mining and corporate land acquisitions that were to follow.
Of late, an interesting phenomenon is occurring in Bastar.. Thousands of villagers are gathering at police stations to protest against illegal arrests, detentions and tortures – at Kookanar, Kuakonda, Tongpal. In many of these peaceful mass demonstrations, SoniSori, who herself suffered custodial sexual violence and long incarceration on false charges, and today dons an AAP topi is the organizer. In the past few months she has exposed the fake encounter of NuppoBhima at Revali, of Podia Hemla at Nahadi and of BhimaMandavi at Nilvaya.
Tragically that was not to be. As laid out, powerfully and simply, by Dr. BD Sharma in his work “Unbroken History of Broken Promises”, the laws for the scheduled areas were never effectively implemented. Governors failed to exercise their legislative powers. Even though they were not bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, they continued to act as if they were.
The Tribes Advisory Council has been rendered a formality in Chhattisgarh. It is headed by the (non-tribal) Chief Minister. Many Governors did not submit their annual reports regularly, and those who did, hardly conveyed the growing crisis in these areas. In Madhya Pradesh (and therefore in Chhattisgarh) despite a specific notification dated 31.01.2000 laying out in detail the manner in which the Gram Sabha is to be consulted prior to land acquisition, the interpretation that “consultation” is not “consent” have rendered the Gram Sabha powerless in even modifying, let alone nullifying developmental projects. (It is quite another matter that while interpreting “consultation” in the appointment of judges, the Supreme Court has been quite clear that consultation is indeed consent!).
It was the historic ‘Samatha’ judgment - that held that private companies being “non-tribal” could not be permitted to mine in the Scheduled Areas, rather only government companies or co-operatives of the adivasi people could do so – that had provided an opportunity to organise adivasi co-operatives and support engagement of the tribal people with the developmental process on a level playing field. However the “Samatha Committee” formed in Chhattisgarh does not appear to have interfered at all, not even at one place, in the grant of mining leases to private companies, in order to assert tribal rights. While the Samatha judgment has not been modified/ overturned by a larger bench of the Supreme Court, disparaging remarks have been made by co-ordinate benches of the Court, not dealing specifically with the issues raised therein, thus eroding its credibility without a direct challenge.
The Preamble to the Forest Rights Act, 2006 proclaims that it was passed to correct a historic injustice and to provide rights – both individual and communal - to tribal people and other traditional forest dwellers to live in, cultivate in, gather forest produce in and maintain nistari rights in forests - which since the British era had in the legal framework become “State property” and in which framework, the adivasis, who had lived in and co-existed with the forests for centuries, had become “encroachers”. While the critics of the Act rightly point out that the Act tries to limit and to privatize/ individualise ownership of forest lands, there is no doubt precious rights have been sought to be recognized by this Act.
Chhattisgarh claims to be the “No. 1” State in FRA (Forest Rights Acts) implementation, however the ground reality reveals something else altogether, in fact yet more injustice, namely:-
1. More than 50% of all claims filed have been rejected and the total land for which pattas have been granted are less than estimates made of forest encroachments in the erstwhile State of Madhya Pradesh 20 years ago. Clearly the pattas granted have been of very small parcels of land, sometimes, like for the baiga primitive tribe, just homestead land, on which they cannot survive.
2. Very few applications for community rights over forests have been accepted or processed, and if granted, often contain unacceptable provisions making such rights subject to plans of the forest department. In fact even the special application forms for rights on communal resources were not made available in most blocks in Chhattisgarh, and deadlines were repeatedly quoted for not accepting forms, despite clarifications from the Tribal Welfare Ministry.
3. The centrality of the Gram Sabha in the process of granting of forest rights; and the fact that, in the Act, the Gram Sabha is the investigating and certifying authority with regard to whether a forest dweller has been settled on a certain parcel of land, the acceptability of evidence necessary for establishing this, and the period and extent of such settlement; has been completely disregarded. As a result it is the Forest Department that has de facto been the verifying or certifying authority, leaving the adivasi at its mercy yet once more.
4. The provisions in the Forest Rights Act that explicitly lay down that the determination of the rights must be carried out prior to any displacement even when a Forest is declared a Reserve Forest/ Eco-sensitive Area, is also being violated with impunity. Even otherwise, the explicit provisions prohibiting eviction of forest dwelling communities during the process of determination of Forest Rights have been ignored in a large number of cases, where “dabang” (powerful) communities have evicted primitive tribal groups and dalits with the tacit support of the authorities.
Which way - Indigenous Rights or Genocide?
In the Bastar division, a proposed ultra-mega steel plant in Dilmili is facing mass protests, even as Tata waves goodbye to the land at Lohandiguda acquired through coercive Gram Sabhas more than 5 years back. Recently the people of 25 villages blockaded the roads to the NMDC Bailadila Iron Ore Complex (district Dantewada) to protest its proposed expansion. They were angered by the fact that so few local adivasi youth had been employed, even though the Shankini and Dankini rivers have been running red with iron ore fines for the past few decades.
The Polavaram dam, which threatens to inundate scores of villages of Chhattisgarh- Odisha- Andhra, is being constructed without Gram Sabha consultation, proper survey or rehabilitation of the project affected, as the padayatra of the Adivasi Mahasabha (affiliated with the CPI) has exposed. Approximately 7443 hectares of land in Kanker, Narayanpur and Dantewada alone have been given out in prospecting leases to various private companies as per the Government website, yet in villages falling within the proposed Rowghat iron ore mines in Kanker district, when villagers and community workers mark their community forest boundaries with GPS machines, they are illegally detained by the Border Security Force. The Government, that is forever exhorting the tribals of Bastar to shun extremism and join the mainstream, refuses to engage with these peaceful mass movements, raising eminently legal issues, and only responds by treating all dissent as Naxalism.
The Government of Chhattisgarh admits that after Salwa Judum in the year 2005, 644 villages of the then Dantewada district, whose overwhelmingly adivasi population was about 350000, had been emptied out. While a lakh of people might have fled to Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana, a large proportion of this population has gone deeper into the forests.
With the withdrawal of educational and health services of the State as well as ration shops from these so-called “Naxal” stronghold areas, a situation has arisen in which several lakh adivasis have been automatically “outlawed”. This population is being deprived of basic needs. Anti Naxal operations in such an area could result in a virtual genocide and killings of unarmed civilians and non-combatants on a large scale. Additionally, the State program of bringing adivasi children to study in roadside porta-cabins and ashrams (where incidentally cases of food poisoning, medical negligence and sexual violence are being reported regularly) and separating them from their families is repeating the “historical mistakes” committed by the Australian government on its indigenous peoples, for which the Australian Prime Minister recently rendered a public apology.
The Indian state claims that Naxalism is the “greatest internal security threat” and is justifying levels of militarization akin to occupation and war. On the other hand, it has refused to accept the situation, as defined in international human rights law, as one of “internal armed conflict” since that would mean permitting international observers such as the UN Special Rapporteurs, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International or Medicines Sans Frontiers to visit and ensure that all parties to the conflict abide by the Geneva Protocol. It would also mean ensuring the safety and welfare of non-combatant civilians caught up in the conflict. India is a signatory to the Covenant on Indigenous Rights that does not permit military occupation without consultation.
Historically, worldwide, capitalism has come in to societies riding on the back of indigenous genocides. But a recent meeting in Bolivia, where indigenous people from all over Latin America gathered, and where they resolved to save Mother Earth, is perhaps the new direction the world needs to move towards, in order to survive.