Do We Also Have the Democratic Rights?

July 11, 2011

by Gladson Dungdung

On July 5, 2011, the Adivasis of Munda Khutkatti areas – Khunti, Murhu and Arki blocks of Khunti district – gathered in Kachary Maidan of Khunti, which is situated at a distance of 31 kilometres from the state capital of Jharkhand. In fact, the Khunti district administration had given them permission to hold a rally and mass meeting against police atrocities. However, when the villagers started arriving to Kachary Maidan, Manoj Kaushik the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Khunti also reached the venue and questioned Birsa Munda, the leader of the Mundari Khutkati Ewam Bhuihari Parishad : “Why you have brought so many people to protest against the police?” Birsa responded that “villagers are facing police atrocities therefore they have come to express their pains and sufferings to the Deputy Commissioner”. The SP went back to his office after hearing Birsa’s response.

Meanwhile, the inspector of Khunti police station, P.K. Mishra, also started inquiring about the programme. In addition to the police of Khunti, Arki, Murhu, Rania, Torpa and Karra stations, the riot controller vehicle and the paramilitary forces reached the venue. They assumed that a rally and mass meeting of the Maoists was to take place and hence expected an encounter between the police and the Maoists. In fact, the police and administration consider all rallies, mass meetings and protests organized against police atrocities as programmes of the Maoists. On arriving, the police began restricting entry into Khunti; they stopped three buses at Arki, and two buses and three Jeeps at Murhu block. However, 30 vehicles (buses and jeeps) were able to reach the venue and many people came by bicycles and by foot as well. More than 5,000 people attended the gathering, including at least 100 victims of police atrocities.

The rally and mass meeting was organized by the Mundari Khutkati Ewam Bhuihari Parishad, which is a traditional organization of the Adivasis and has legal validity under the laws of 5th Scheduled Area. At 1 pm the villagers began walking toward Khunti town by raising slogans against atrocities by police and paramilitary forces, which have become part and parcel of their lives. The raised the following slogans: “police atyachar band karo” (stop police atrocities), “nirdosho ko jail se riha karo” (release the innocent from the prison) and “maowadiyo ke name per gramino ko pratarit karna band karo” (stop torturing villagers in the name of Maoists).

I participated in the rally and mass meeting. After hearing slogans against the police, the Police Inspector of Khunti police station, Mr. P.K. Mishra, and his guards stopped the villagers and asked them not to raise slogans against the police. P. K. Mishra questioned, “Why don’t you organize a rally against the Maoists, when they kill our police forces?” The villagers replied that they would raise their voices against all parties that perpetrate violence against the villagers. However, P.K. Mishra didn’t hear the villagers and repeatedly asked them to desist their slogans. The villagers continued their rally but the police stopped them three times and asked them to go back to their villages. The villagers were not ready to do so.

I was part of the rally; I therefore intervened and told the Inspector P.K. Mishra that he should not restrict the democratic rights of the villagers. I introduced myself as a human rights activist and a member of the Assessment and Monitoring Authority under the Planning Commission of India, and showed him my visiting card. Looking like a wounded lion, Inspector Mishra snatched and threw my card on the ground, humiliated me and threatened : “Shut up! If you don’t stop, I’ll tear down you and dry up. I don’t bother about losing my job”. Meanwhile, four bodyguards of the Inspector got down from the vehicle and abused and started beating me but when the crowd intervened, they stopped. The rally resumed after sometime and headed back to Kachahari Maidan.

At the Maidan, a mass meeting was held and villagers shared their plight. Since the launch of the anti-Naxal Operations, known as Operation Green Hunt, in these areas, innocent villagers have been facing police atrocities. On August 5, 2010, police and paramilitary forces went to Birbanki village of Arki block where they abused and beat villagers, and scattered belongings. They also caught two innocent villagers, Daud Samad and Lukin Munda, both well-known social workers in the region, and accused them of providing food to the Maoists. Similarly, on October 30, 2010, police and paramilitary forces caught three female students of Narang village – Jasmani Soy, Magdali Purty and Juliyana Purty (ages between 15 to 16 years) – and put them in jail for more than 45 days for allegedly being members of CPI Maoist. When they were eventually set free, no policeman was punished for detaining the innocent girls.

On 27 November, 2010, the police and paramilitary forces entered Basudih village of Arki block and tied up villagers and beat them severely. The police arrested innocent villager Soma Marsal Purty and put him in the jail after branding him a Maoist. On June 4, 2011, on their way from Bankira village in Arki, police arrested Johan Hansa and Karma Singh Munda of Kuita village and put them in the jail. On June 5, 2011, police went to Ittihasa village and beat Sanika Munda, Laka Munda and Durga Munda severely for allegedly sheltering Maoists in the village. The police had no proof backing these accusations.

The police and paramilitary forces also torture villagers during prayers. On June 5, 2011, police surrounded the church in Sareyad village of Arki block during Sunday Mass. On hearing orders to shoot the villagers in the church, chaos ensued and few villagers exited the Church. The police and paramilitary forces beat them severely. Thereafter, they asked the villagers to prepare a meal for them. After eating, they also beat the person who cooked their food. On the same day, police surrounded villagers of Kudunba village, Arki block who had gathered for prayers at Bankira at 8 am. Men and women were asked to sit separately. They tied the hands of 25 men with the ropes used to tie cattle and beat them severely. Under the pretext of carrying out search operations they took these 25 men and four girls – Seteng Nag, Hanna Nag, Mariam Kandir and Jaiwanti Nag – to the forest. They were kept in the forest for 2 days without food and water. Finally, two of those captured – Mansid Nag and Masih Nag – were put in the jail for allegedly being Maoists. Mansid Nag works as a tailor and Masih Nag is a part-time teacher and also works as a traditional medicine practitioner.

During the mass meeting, a delegation met the Deputy Commissioner of Khunti, Mr. Rakesh Kumar, and a memorandum was submitted to him. Surprisingly, he said, “I’m hearing about the police atrocities first time”. He assured the delegation, “I know about the laws of 5th Scheduled Area and will take action”. The Deputy Superintendent of Police, Khunti, Mr. Anil Shanker, on the other hand was eager to send the villagers back to their villages and asked me several times, “Please send the villagers to their villages”.

Meanwhile, as villagers were sharing their pain, suffering and sorrow at the mass meeting, a chopper of the Boarder Security Force (BSF) suddenly appeared in the vicinity and flew two rounds over the Kachary Maidan and likely returned to Ranchi. Perhaps the top cops of Jharkhand were inside the chopper and had come to see the Maoists in the mass meeting. Since inception of the state, the police have killed 550 people and arrested 4,090 villagers in Jharkhand on accusations of being Maoists. However, the police have yet to substantiate these accusations.

Of course, there is a tendency in the police and administration that anyone who raises voice against the police atrocity is either a Maoist or their supporter. The most pertinent questions are do the villagers have democratic rights? Do we really live in a democratic country? And do we also have democratic rights that other people of this country enjoy? Where should people go to plead for protection of their democratic rights? On talking to the villagers, many said that they are against the Maoists. However, if police atrocities does not stop and power only comes from the barrel of guns, then they will also take up arms. I believe that this is the last warning for the Indian state. Therefore, instead of shutting down democracy, the Indian state must hear the pains, sufferings and sorrows of the people and deliver justice to them.