Monday, July 5, 2021

How Chhattisgarh has stalled a historic judgment

Ten years ago, on July 5, 2011, Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar delivered a historic judgment banning Salwa Judum, a vigilante movement started in in 2005 and sponsored by the Chhattisgarh and Central government, ostensibly to fight against the Maoists. The judges also ruled that the use of surrendered Maoists and untrained villagers in frontline counter-insurgency operations as Special Police Officers (SPOs) was unconstitutional. It directed that the existing SPOs be redeployed in traffic management or other such safe duties. Other matters, especially prosecution of security forces and others involved in human rights violations, and rehabilitation of villagers who had suffered violence, were left pending, since the State had been asked to submit comprehensive plans for this.

Ten years on, nothing has been done to implement the judgment. Instead, the State government has merely renamed the SPOs. They are now known as the District Reserve Guard (DRG). Conversations with DRG members have revealed that most of them are captured or surrendered Maoists and are given automatic weaponry as soon as they join the police force. Some of them get one-three months of training, and some not even that. They commit the most excesses against their former fellow villagers, suffer the most casualties in any operation, and are paid much less than the regular constabulary, all the reasons the judges had outlawed their use. A contempt petition filed in 2012 is still awaiting hearing. Although ‘final hearings’ commenced in December 2018 before another bench of Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta, the judges retired soon thereafter and there has been no hearing since.

Friday, March 26, 2021

When Universities Become Objects of Counterinsurgency

 While the involuntary resignation of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University may appear different from the persecution of Dr Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh, there are important similarities. It goes without saying that both these men, through their courageous critique, have threatened an authoritarian state or else they would not have been targeted.  And both cases reflect larger structural emergencies – the wholesale attack on academic freedom in the present case and the destruction of adivasi lives and resources in Chhattisgarh in the other.  

Friday, December 18, 2020

For Those Dividing Indians in Order to Rule Them, Adivasis are Clearly Not Farmers

 The Bharatiya Janata Party’s first response to any dissent is predictable. Union ministers go on the offensive, calling the dissenters anti-nationals, Maoists, jihadis etc. Sadly, by now, what is equally predictable is how the media amplifies this propaganda. 

The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) decided to mark December 10, International Human Rights Day, by remembering several prominent activists arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act (UAPA), especially those arrested in the name of Bhima Koregaon, and the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The release of these activists has been a long-standing demand of the Ugrahan group, though it is not part of the minimum common program of the farmers unions, which is focused on the repeal of the Modi government’s three farm laws. 

The BJP has predictably, used this occasion to issue dire warnings about the infiltration of the farmers’ movements by “leftists”, “anti-nationals”, “Maoists”, the “tukde tukde gang” and so on. As of now, they have not had the guts to call the thousands of army veterans returning their medals in solidarity with the farmers, the “award wapsi gang”, but that may be only because the media has not highlighted this out of consideration for the pro-army image the government is trying to cultivate. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

SC’s Shaheen Bagh Order: Fundamental rights for Commuters, No Country for Protestors

 For the last two years, while driving from Delhi University in north Delhi to my home in the south, I find that if I miss the small unmarked turn on the left off a flyover to go to ITO, there is no way I can reach central Delhi without considerable backtracking.  The government claims that the Pragati Maidan makeover that has blocked the road is for the public good, even if that claim has been contested, both by way of public petitions and legally. But whether or not it is indeed for the public good, can I assert that my rights as a commuter matter more than the project, especially since like many other projects, it is taking indefinite time? In a city that is increasingly bisected by flyovers, cyclists and pedestrians are routinely inconvenienced and blocked.  Are they not commuters too? In the government’s eyes they may be c-class citizens who need not be factored in while making urban plans, but technically they are still equal citizens even if not equal commuters. But would the courts even entertain their petitions?

Remembering Swami Agnivesh

Remembering Swami Agnivesh Swami Agnivesh’s office – at the back of the old united Janata Dal office - was an open house. Centrally located, accessible to people who came to protest at Jantar Mantar, the office consisted in the main of a large table. Whenever I would drop in to consult Swami Agnivesh on some issue related to our case against Salwa Judum, there would be different people sitting with him. But the wide circle of Swamiji’s acquaintances only fully struck me when I attended his 80th birthday celebrations organized by the Arya Samaj at Pyare Lal Bhavan almost a year to this day. The hall was filled to overflowing with people. On the stage sat other Swamis, while in the audience were women who had been part of the Beti Bachao Andolan encouraged by Swami Agnivesh, people who had accompanied him on a long march to Deorala to protest after the sati there, people who had benefitted from the Bandhua Mukti Morcha that he set up. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Press Release, 6th August 2020: NHRC Orders Chhattisgarh Government to Compensate Human Rights Defenders Rs 1 lakh each “for Mental Agony and Violation of Human Rights” caused by false charges and arrests


The National Human Rights Commission has directed the Chhattisgarh State Government to compensate human rights defenders Rs 1 lakh each for false cases filed against them, with compliance within six weeks.

 

On 5th November 2016, the Chhattisgarh police lodged an FIR against us under various sections of the IPC, Arms Act, and UAPA for the alleged murder of one Shamnath Baghel of Nama village, Sukma District. The case was supposedly filed on the written complaint of Shyamnath Baghel’s widow, Vimla Baghel. However, she is on record saying she did not name anyone. On 15th November 2016, the Supreme Court gave us protection from arrest. In 2018, since the Chhattisgarh police had not taken any steps to investigate or close the matter, we filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Following Court directions, the Chhattisgarh government investigated, and finding there was no case against us, dropped the charges in February 2019. The NHRC had also taken up this matter in 2016, along with the police burning our effigies and IG Kalluri threatening to stone us if we entered Bastar.

 

In February 2020, taking note of the Chhattisgarh Police admission that there was no case against us, the NHRC noted:

 

 “In our considered opinion, these persons would have certainly suffered a great mental pain and agony as a result of registration of false FIRs against them by the police, which is a violation of their human rights and for this the State Government should compensate them. Therefore we recommend and direct the Government of Chhattisgarh through its Chief Secretary to pay a sum of Rs One Lakh each as monetary compensations to the six persons namely Prof Nandini Sundar, Ms. Archana Prasad, Shri Vineet Tiwari, Shri Sanjay Parate, Ms. Manju and Shri Mangla Ram Karma, whose human rights were gravely violated by the Chhattisgarh police.”