Human rights activists attacked by Bastar police
The police and security forces of the state in Chhattisgarh have launched a vicious campaign to harass, vilify, intimidate, arrest and persecute all those who have been investigating the gross human rights violations of the adivasi people there, courageously bringing out the truth and fighting for justice and punishment for the authorities guilty of organizing and executing these crimes.
Recently it was reported that activists of WSS (Women against sexual violence and state repression), advocate Shalini Gera and her lawyer colleagues of JagLAG who were in Jagdalpur in connection with a case of false encounter of a young adivasi boy, faced much harassment and persecution at the hands of the Bastar police and authorities. They were following up on an order by the Chhattisgarh High Court for exhumation and a second post-mortem in the case. On the night of December 27, a police team entered the place where they were staying and accused them of trying to exchange demonetised notes on behalf of the Maoists. They were ordered to come to the police station for interrogation. Attempts were also made to forcibly search their rooms and belongings. When asked to produce a warrant, the SI in charge of the team became even more aggressive and abusive.
A day later, the SP of Bastar made a threatening phone call to advocate Gera from the private mobile phone of a member of AGNI, a vigilante group sponsored by the Bastar police. The SP claimed that he had received complaints accusing advocate Gera of being a Maoist agent, inciting villagers against getting Aadhar cards, changing old currency notes for the Maoists, spreading stories about police atrocities and other such random allegations. She was asked to go to Bastar for further “interrogation”, but she and her colleagues refused to be intimidated and follow the police orders. Copies of the police allegations were also circulated by the members of AGNI in an attempt to vilify the lawyers and human rights activists.
It may be recalled that in 2016, the Bastar police unleashed a campaign of threats and intimidation against local activists, media persons, human rights lawyers and others who were investigating and exposing the systematic violations of human rights, particularly sexual violence against Adivasi women by police and auxiliary forces. The courageous efforts of WSS activists to bring out the truth in the face of this intimidation resulted in the National Human Rights Commission being forced to send an investigation team to Bastar in March 2016. The Chhattisgarh government has not yet responded to the report of that investigation.
Meanwhile, the Bastar police under the command of Inspector-General SRP Kalluri has continued its attacks on human rights activists and media persons. Kalluri has arrogantly opposed the Supreme Court judgement in the case against the Salwa Judum. He has been instrumental in organizing vigilante groups like AGNI through which erstwhile Salwa Judum leaders continue to attack the adivasis and those who are organizing them to fight for their rights. When Kalluri was indicted by the CBI in the Tadmetla atrocity, where police fired on unarmed adivasis and set an entire village on fire, he retaliated by attacking rights activist Prof. Nandini Sundar, the petitioner in the Salwa Judum case, and attempting to implicate her in a murder case.
The recent attack on advocate Gera and her colleagues follows soon after the arrest of seven members of a fact-finding team from the Telengana Democratic Forum, including senior human rights lawyers, rights activists and student leaders, who were on their way to Bastar. They were summarily arrested, accused of exchanging demonetised notes for Maoists and charged under the draconian provisions of the Chattisgarh Public Security Act.
The state of Chhattisgarh, in particular the Bastar region, has been turned into a virtual war-zone in the past more than 10 years. A reign of terror has been unleashed by the Indian state and its police and paramilitary forces, against the adivasis, including arrests and abductions, custodial deaths and encounter killings, rapes and burning of crops, schools, hospitals and entire villages. Vigilante groups like the Salwa Judum (which was banned by the Supreme Court in 2011) and more recently AGNI have been organized, trained, armed and sponsored by the state, to terrorise the adivasis, in the name of ‘anti-Maoist’ and ‘counter-insurgency’ operations. Recent reports indicate that these operations have been greatly intensified, that the state has been secretly carrying out aerial bombing of entire villages and forests in the area, killing hundreds of people. Out of the 185 deaths by police firing reported during such ‘anti-Maoist’ operations in the country during this year, 134 have been in Bastar. Investigations have established that these were cold-blooded killings of unarmed people, giving lie to police claims that they fired in self-defence or that villagers were caught in cross-fire.
The Indian state has launched this war against the people of Chhattisgarh with the aim of terrorizing them out of the region or simply eliminating large numbers of them, so as to facilitate the entry of big monopoly capitalist companies, Indian and foreign, to plunder the rich mineral resources of the region and reap fabulous profits. To cover up its real intent, the state terror and the flagrant violations of human rights are being justified in the name of countering the ‘Maoist threat’ in the region. Those who are trying to expose this reality and protect the rights of the adivasis and people of the region are being attacked and intimidated.
CGPI calls for an immediate end to the brutal state terror in Chhattisgarh. Fascist laws such as the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act must be immediately repealed. Persecution of those fighting in defence of the rights of the people must be stopped and all those guilty of committing such horrendous crimes against our people, regardless of their official position, must be severely punished.