On Adivasis and Moolvasis facing trials in Jharkhand

February 13, 2016

Ranchi, February 6, 2015: It was supposed to be a book release function organized by Bagaicha in Ranchi. However, it turned out to be a far more solemn occasion. At the end of it, you could call it a mini-symposium.

It began with the screening of a poignant song and dance enacted by young artistes of Jharkhan Abhen, the group involved in arousing the masses in Jharkhand for a radical change, “Moke ugravaadi banaye dehlae re” being watched with rapt attention. Advocate Xavier Soreng, Director of Bagiacha, had made an apt beginning by playing the dance-drama on two big screens. It showed how the creation of embryonic forms of peoples’ power in the villages of Jharkhand amidst the pursuit of rich mineral deposits by rapacious corporates had brought on the wrath of the state. How the might of the police and paramilitary, and the courts and jails had set in. Displacement, impoverishment and brutal suppression of the adivasi and moolvasi populace with threats, beatings, cold-blooded murders and incarcerations by the hundreds and thousands – all that had commenced less than a decade into the formation of the small state. And this continued unabated to this date.

Seated on the dais was one of the main creators of this significant dance-drama, Jitan Marandi. Having once been on the death row, he was found – after a long legal battle right up to the Supreme Court – to have been falsely implicated. At the centre was Dr. Joseph Marianus Kujur, Provincial Superior of the Ranchi Jesuits, the chief guest. He was flanked by the host, Father Alex Ekka, Director of Xavier Institute of Social Service; activist, Dayamani Barla; senior journalist, Faisal Anurag; and doyen of the Jharkhand peoples’ movement, Stan Swamy.

Stan Swamy set apace the discussion with an introduction on how newspaper reports of a disproportionately large number of adivasis jailed as naxalites had raised eyebrows among concerned citizens some years ago. The initiative was then taken to commission a study. 5 Provincial Superiors of Jesuits from Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh had come forth with the necessary finances. Bagaicha was assigned the task. And with the help Dr PM Antony, a researcher having specialized in political science and currently posted at Chaibasa in the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, and some key victims and observers of this judicial persecution in Jharkhand, a scientific socio-political research with a semi-structured set of questions and impromptu interviews took shape at Bagaicha. Within months, a few more writers, activists and lawyers had joined up to form a proper team to compile some preliminary information even while helping handle a few pressing cases of under-trials facing naxal cases at the Sessions and High Court levels.

With the audience, Dr Antony shared – through a succinct power-point presentation – the salient points of his collectively organized research on under-trial naxals in the state, and its findings in a nutshell.

As many as 97% of all respondents appeared to have been arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and 17, Criminal Law Amendment Act under entirely fabricated charges. About 57% were arrested from their homes; 30% from nearby towns or while travelling; 8% had surrendered at the court and the remaining 5% arrested on being summoned to the police station. 93% arrests were made since 2001, the majority over the last 5-6 years. 69% were adivasis, 7% dalits and 22% other backward castes. Only 2% were from the so-called upper castes. Many other analytical inferences were presented.

The respondents were interviewed in their villages after having been released on bail, largely from the districts of Khunti, Giridih, Garhwa, West Singhbhum, Gumla, Pakur, Dumka, Ranchi, East Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharsawan. Hazaribagh, Ramgarh, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Latehar, Lohardagga and Simdega districts also appeared have a sizable number of naxal under-trials still under detention.

Jitan Marandi and Aparna Marandi, two well-known political victims who suffered incarceration on trumped-up charges, then narrated some of their experiences, exposing the injustices meted out to them at the hands of an anti-adivasi, anti-people state. In the remote areas of Jharkhand every awakened and politically conscious participant in the process of radical social change was perceived as particularly vulnerable.

Thereafter, Prashant Rahi, an activist working for the release of such prisoners since late 2011, spoke about the various forms of persecution of these prisoners that his team had so far encountered during visits to different jails all over the state, and through meetings with their respective lawyers. 8 different forms of persecution at the hands of a distorted criminal justice system skewed in favour of the rich and powerful were presented on the basis of the findings of his team.

Having presented some of the major facets of the problems faced by the under-trials facing 17 CLA Act and UAPA cases, whether released on bail or not, the book, Deprived of Rights over Natural Resources, Impoverishment Adivasis get Prison: A Study of Undertrials in Jharkhand,” was formally released by the honored guests all together on the dais.

But not before a rendering of the foreword in both English and Hindi by the honoured Chief Guest, Dr Joseph Marianus Kujur, SJ.

Dr Kujur congratulated the Bagaicha research collective for taking the tribal development discourse out from the closet of “economic growth” to human development, wherein the rights of the adivasis and moolvasis, being the first settlers of the land, necessarily ought to be integral.

Ruing the shedding of the welfare-ist cloak by the Indian state, the Provincial Superior worried about the paradoxes and inner contradictions of everyday life of the less privileged majority. The study of the under-trials in Jharkhand framed as extremists contested the very idea that the Indian state was just or unbiased, he said.

Dr Kujur expressed concern about the crumbling down of the institution of dialogue in our country, one of the most important pillars of democracy. People’s voices even asserting for their fundamental rights were suppressed. Among the reported cases, a large number pertained to adivasis booked under various offences only because they had asserted their rights vis-à-vis projects that brought about large-scale displacement in the garb of “national interest” and “development.” The state unilaterally favoured the perpetrators of various dehumanizing, discriminating and exploiting practices, turning a deaf ear to the aggrieved victims of displacement and forced migration.

It was, therefore, that the underdogs of our society, primarily the adivasis, were asking: “whose development?” and “why only they should pay the price of so-called national interest?” Our democracy apparently had different yardsticks for the elite and the underdogs. Hence, the under-privileged languished in jails for years without valid reason, while the political and economic powers-that-be went scot-free.

According to the Head of Ranchi Jesuits, it were the unjust structures of society that were undergoing democratization and this only served corporatization which was growing rampant and indiscreet as ever. Hence, the democratic space was shrinking. Feudal practices of the past were returning with a vengeance under the pretext of upholding democratic institutions. Feudalism was being democratized and democracy feudalized.

It was in this context that the study of undertrials and the violation of their human rights was also a critique of the reigning development paradigm which denied the adivasis the right to live with dignity and self-esteem. It was clear from the report that there was gross misuse of draconian anti-people and anti-adivasi laws, such as 17, CLA Act and UAPA.

In his speech, Dr Kujur sought to dispel the notion that taking the above stand on such issues did not amount to advocacy of any violent solutions. On the contrary, the study by the Bagaicha team contested violence, including the structural or institutional violence perpetrated by the state under the pretext of tackling the “internal security threat.”

He hoped that the research study would go a long way towards compelling policy-makers, administrators and all those who dealt with sensitive issues in adivasi-populated areas to address the question of “extremism” concretely and realistically.  The issue of the undertrials accused as extremists was part and parcel of the larger discourse on development possibilities for the adivasis in the country.  That this issue was researched with a sound methodology in a scientific and systematic manner was what made the Bagiacha team’s achievement credible.

The book was made available to all today at half its price. Later, it could be had from Bagiacha, the publishers, for Rs. 100. It is in 129 pages of A4 size with a blue-colored cover carrying the logo of PPSC (Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee), denoting a prisoner with a raised fist of resistance and struggle.

Stan Swamy and Adv Xavier Soreng introduced the audience to the PPSC, accompanied by a brief introduction of its recent formation and of its broad, current tasks.

This was followed by an open question-n-answer session, during which a number of suggestions were placed before all for their consideration. A few of these suggestions found broad acceptance.

Some of the main suggestions discussed were: making available Hindi, Santhali and such other language translations of the study so that it could impact a popular audience; taking it to international fora such as the United Nations institutions like Human Rights Watch, UNHRC, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the context of the UN HR Declaration and the relevant covenants; filing PILs and Writ Petitions in the Apex Court and High Courts on some pressing issues in certain cases with due discretion; conducting a survey of the jails that need to be surveyed along with detailed interviews with their respective lawyers; documenting all such further findings; studying/monitoring some of the cases pending trials at the Court of Sessions as well as those pending bail applications and appeals to a Higher Court against the few convictions; and engaging in further deliberations at various levels to increase the awareness on the issues at stake.

Among those in the audience who expressed willingness to work together to take up some of these tasks, a group of students and faculty members from the National University of Study and Research in Law, Nagri, Ranchi appeared to be quite promising.

Referring to the first of the many recommendations of the book released at the XISS auditorium, one can only hope that the tasks of providing legal and financial aid to all alleged Naxalite prisoners who may have been deliberately persecuted, tortured and harassed, and thus evolving a mechanism to ensure speedy justice to these persecuted prisoners, helping award them due compensation for the amount of unnecessary harassment, persecution and impoverishment, and ensuring that the perpetrators of the fabricated cases could be duly and lawfully punished for their inhuman and criminal acts shall be taken up one after the other without further delay.

bagaicha_report_release

‘Guilty until proven innocent’! -the norm followed in arresting innocent Indigenous Adivasis as ‘naxals’ in tribal central India-

An independent study on the Undertrial Prisoners in Jharkhand by Bagaicha Research Team, Ranchi, Jharkhand

The study brings out the startling fact that of the 102 undertrials interviewed, only 2 (3%) had any relation/contact with any extremist movements. All the others (97%) have been booked under faked up charges. Can there be a greater injustice than this to the Indigenous Adivasi? In terms of the social strata, 69% were adivasis, 7% dalits and 22% other backward castes. Only 2% were from the so-called upper castes.  

The study attempts to bring out how the creation of embryonic forms of peoples’ power in the villages of Jharkhand amidst the pursuit of rich mineral deposits by rapacious corporates had brought on the wrath of the state. How the might of the police and paramilitary, and the courts and jails had set in. Displacement, impoverishment and brutal suppression of the adivasi and moolvasi populace with threats, beatings, cold-blooded murders and incarcerations by the hundreds and thousands – all that had commenced less than a decade into the formation of the small state. And this continues unabated to this date.

The study raises crucial questions such as the underdogs of our society, primarily the adivasis, were asking: “whose development?” and “why only they should pay the price of so-called national interest?” Our democracy apparently had different yardsticks for the elite and the underdogs. Hence, the under-privileged languished in jails for years without valid reason, while the political and economic powers-that-be went scot-free.

The study reveals how the unjust structures of society are undergoing democratization and this only served corporatization which was growing rampant and indiscreet as ever. Hence, the democratic space was shrinking. Feudal practices of the past were returning with a vengeance under the pretext of upholding democratic institutions. Feudalism was being democratized and democracy feudalized.

For those who wish to know more about the contents of the study… it is available at:
Bagaicha, ATC campus, Namkum P.O., RANCHI – 834 010, Jharkhand.
Requested contribution: Rs. 100 p/copy (postage free!).
Contact person: Administrator Ph.08757488329;  email: mminjsj@yahoo.co.in

Download (PDF, 38KB)