The Jan Sunwai That Never Was : Listen to the Voices from Chhattisgarh!

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights

Press Release 7.1.2010

In Dantewada yesterday a team of around 30 activists from NAPM and other organizations, Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey among them, were heckled, pelted with eggs and sewage and attacked by a large gang of tribal youth, accusing them of being Maoist sympathizers. The activists were simply walking peacefully to the SP’s office to ask him about the on-going repression in the area. Instead of curbing those who perpetrated the violent and unlawful assault, the police focused on sternly reprimanding and pushing back the social activists who were carrying out legitimate activity and demanding the restoration of basic constitutional rights. This impunity enjoyed by these attackers from the so called custodians of law has to be strongly condemned. This impunity is symptomatic of the bizarre situation that has been developing in Chhattisgarh, which seems out of bounds for all fundamental rights and principles of natural justice. Ironically it is the state, the supposed protector of these rights that has been the biggest offender in this regard. This state of undeclared emergency in Chhattisgarh is destroying the basic fabric of democracy in the country. It has to be exposed immediately and stopped firmly.

In November 2009, the central Home Minister declared in a meeting with Mr. Himanshu Kumar of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) that he was willing to visit Dantewada on 6 January 2010 and listen to people to learn the truth about atrocities committed against them by the Salwa Judum. This is how the state went about hearing its people, and the lessons that were taught.

1. How to make a victim and witness of police excesses into a police witness

Sodi Shambho, one of the victims and witnesses of the Gompad killings by police and SPOs on 1st October, 09 and a petitioner in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 103 of 2009 in the Supreme Court, was on a bus from Dantewada town to Raipur. On the night of 2 January 2010, she was on her way to Delhi for further treatment of her leg which had been shot. The doctors in Delhi who had treated the 20 day old pus filled wound, had asked Shambho to return at the end of the year for further operations for joining the fractures on the main lower leg bone occurring as a result of the bullet

After her bus was surrounded thrice by the police, Shambho’s companions brought her back to Dantewada. The next morning when Himanshu Kumar of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram escorted Shambho, a vehicle with policemen followed their vehicle and when they stopped for food at around noon in Kanker town, the Kanker police took them to the PS. After two hours of detention, Himanshu was then told he was free to go, but Shambho was taken to Dantewada for questioning by the Dantewada police, supposedly regarding the affidavit recorded by her against the Dantewada police when she was in Delhi. They reached Dantewada only at about 6.30 pm on 3rd evening. When contacted by PUDR on 4th morning the SP Dantewada said that she had been handed over to her parents /relatives and examined by a doctor as a medico- legal case needed to be made. She had been sent to Raipur for this purpose.

There are many apprehensions however, regarding the real motives of the police, given that the investigation is being conducted by the very same police against whom Shambho has complained; that she should have been detained overnight for questioning; that in violation of S.160(1) CrPC she, a woman witness, should have been made to attend at the PS rather than the police going to where she is available. Moreover for over a month now Shambho had been staying in the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in Dantewada town, away from home and family because her wound required regular disinfecting and dressing, facilities for which were not available in her village. But the police did not question her all this while, when she was in Dantewada.

On 5th January the police informed the press that SP Dantewada had received a complaint from some relative of Shambho that Himanshu Kumar of VCA had abducted Shambho and held her in captivity for the last two months- a complaint that not surprisingly only came into being once the Dantewada police picked up Shambho! Himanshu Kumar significantly is petitioner no.1 in the writ petition filed against the Dantewada police, in the Supreme Court. The period of Shambho’s captivity is the very same period during which Shambho had been treated by doctors in Delhi. Her alleged abductor and captor is Himanshu Kumar who had taken Shambho to Delhi on seeing that her 20 day old wound was festering, when the security forces who had shot her and against whom she has complained had left her to die.

Shambho is to the best of our knowledge currently in a Hospital in Jagdalpur where the kind of specialized treatment required to join the bone, and prevent shortening of the leg are not available. Her condition is very vulnerable as her leg is held together by metal pins as 3 inches of the main bone in the lower leg is missing. It needs regular disinfecting and all stress on the leg needs to be avoided, else it could lead to irreparable damage.

Who meets her is being regulated by the police. Journalists from Indian Express and Tehelka have been prevented form meeting her. The SP Dantewada informed PUDR that as the complaint is against the police, only the state and no outside agency can pursue it. This as per the SP means that only those whom he and the government find suitable will have access to Shambho – a free, adult, Indian citizen seeking the rights to life, liberty and justice! *We are glad that the Supreme Court has today ordered the state to not obstruct Shambho from getting further surgery and medical care in Delhi in continuation with her on-going treatment. We hope the state will refrain from similarly harassing and intimidating other witnesses.

2. How to Destroy All Democratic Rights Activity and Dissent

Don’t suspend fundamental rights but beat down, threaten, imprison, file false cases against all those who mobilize and protest against the state’sexcesses and policies. All rights are being violated by the Chhattisgarh government, with the consent of the Center – what exists is an
extra-legal state of emergency with suspension of all political and even legal rights.

Thus the fate of the month long programme organized by VCA, starting on 14 December with a padyatra to the affected villages to tell people about the proposed visit by the Home Minister, a satyagraha for the government to see the truth, and a public hearing where victims and their families could depose before the public. On 10 December Kopa Kunjam, a senior activist of the VCA was arrested and charged with murder. On 12 December, police forced the cancellation of the dharamshala booking where people coming for the padyatra were to stay. On the night of 13 December people were prevented from reaching Dantewada and those in Dantewada faced threatening mobs of the Salwa Judum. The entire programme was thus cancelled. More recently pressure has been brought to bear on the landlord on whose premises the Ashram is housed to get them to vacate within the month, and activists of VCA are being threatened and pressurised.

About 25 to 30 Adivasi villagers who had come to VCA for the Jan Sunwai have been taken away by the police to an unknown location on 5th January.

Meanwhile, four women from Samsetti village in Dantewada who had suffered rape at the hands of Special Police Officers two years ago and had shown the courage to file a complaint which was to come up for hearing on 10thDecember were made to put their thumb impressions on blank papers. Himanshu Kumar sent protest messages but the next day the four women were again picked up by the police and illegally detained for five days, and their villages threatened with dire consequences.

In the meantime security has also been withdrawn from CPI’s Manish Kunjam who had been at the forefront of exposing the Salwa Judum and has had threats on his life.

3. How To Prevent All Access to Information

Surround them with armed SPOs, tell hotels not to give them rooms, stop and detain them for long hours, don’t allow them to sleep, are some of the ingenious tactics being used by the police to ensure that outsiders don’t try and discover to the world outside what is occurring in Bastar. Nandini Sundar, sociologist from Delhi University and one of the petitioners in the SC case against the Salwa Judum, together with Ujjwal Kumar Singh Professor of Political Science, Delhi University, respected academics and rights activists, who were visiting Chhattisgarh around the 29th- 31st of December, 09 were subjected to all of this in the name of protecting them from Maoists. As a result they could not reach Samsetti village and the interiors and were forced to return.

Even more recently on the 5th of January, 2010 Satyen Bordoloi and Priyanka Borpujari , journalists from Bombay who had been highlighting violations by the state, and the VCAs struggles, in the print and electronic media and Suresh Deepala, law student and AID volunteer from Hyderabad , Nishtha, student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences who were visiting Himanshu for the jan sunwai were surrounded by 25 armed police and SPOs and prevented from leaving, placing them under virtual house arrest. They were assaulted and their cameras taken away. After public pressure forced the administration to let them free, they were then detained again at the police station on false charges of assaulting journalists. An FIR was filed against them for assaulting journalists. They were at the PS till late at night. They filed a counter complaint.

Clearly what exists in Chhattisgarh in the heartland of the country is a total clamp down where anyone who threatens to expose or challenge either Operation Green Hunt or the prevailing police state, can neither go in or come out. All such persons are being subjected to the violence of the state in its multifarious forms. News to the outside world about the ravages of the military offensive are stifled and a deliberate policy of quelling all reportage from the area barring officially sanctioned information is enforced. What scope then for democracy, Mr. Home Minister?

PUDR demands that:

1. In accordance with the Supreme Court order of 7 January, 2010, the state must stop obstructing Sodi Shambho’s access to medical care besides other fundamental rights, so that her treatment can continue.

2. The Dantewada police be restrained from approaching or otherwise pressurizing her. The state must stop harassing or intimidating her or any other witness involved in any of he incidents concerning the state.

3. The Samsetti case be tried in a court outside Chhattisgarh with the state bearing the expenses of the petitioners.

4. All cases against Himanshu Kumar, Kopa Kunjam and other activists and journalists be dropped.

5. The VCA be allowed to carry on with its activities unimpeded.

6. Rights groups and the media be allowed free access to the region.

7. All those guilty of threatening, attacking, otherwise intimidating local people and organizations, and visiting activists be punished.

Moushumi Basu (9810371257)
Asish Gupta ( 9873542422)
Secretaries, PUDR