An Open Letter from 22 Right Livelihood Award Laureates forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
King of Saudi Arabia
WORLD:Open letter from 22 ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’ Laureates to the King of Saudi Arabia for freedom of poet Ashraf Fayadh
The poet, art curator and Palestinian refugee Ashraf Fayadh, was sentenced to death by beheading, on November 17, 2015, by decision of the government of Saudi Arabia, due to the critical, political, social and religious content of some of his poems, included in his book Instructions Inside, identified as blasphemous and instigator of atheism.
Arrested in January 2014, Ashraf Fayadh had been sentenced to 800 lashes and four years in prison, but his case was reviewed and a judge of the General Court later sentenced him to die beheaded. The miscarriage of justice has yet to be ratified by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia.
The case that triggered the rejection of international human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the World Poetry Movement, PEN Club International and thousands of poets and hundreds of organizations of poets, artists and scholars worldwide. The unjust sentence was overturned in part; the death sentence was suspended and instead was sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes.
Human life is more sacred than rules. Taking the life of a poet anywhere in the world because of the content of his poems, is to try to suppress human beings’ freedom of creation, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, defended in the United Nations Charter. It is threatening the dream and dignity of art and poetry, the legitimate desire of a higher life for humanity.
The International Poetry Festival of Medellin (Colombia), awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2006, has invited the poet Ashraf Fayadh to read his poems in the 26th edition of the event, to be held between 18 and June 26, 2016. If his freedom and participation in this event were possible, it would mean a triumph of goodness, love and solidarity among human beings, and confirmation that the Government of Saudi Arabia respects the life, liberty and dignity of poets, poetry and art, something that has happened since ancient times in Arab cultures.
The undersigned personalities, Right Livelihood Award Laureates, support the World Poetry Movement, in its clear request to the king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz, for an act of mercy for the poet Ashraf Fayadh, involving the immediate suspension of his prison sentence and the immediate granting of his freedom.
Bianca Jagger, Nicaragua (RLA 2004)
Angie Zelter, United Kingdom (RLA 2001)
Helen Mack, Guatemala (RLA 1992)
Sima Samar, Afganisthan (RLA 2015)
Swami Agnivesh, India (RLA 2004)
Paul Walker, United States (RLA 2013)
Manfred Max-Neef, Chile (RLA1983)
Chico Whitaker, Brazil (RLA 2006)
Anwar Fazal, Malasya (RLA 1982)
Martin Almada, Paraguay (RLA 2002)
Fernando Funes Aguilar, Cuba (RLA 1999)
Martin von Hildebrand, Germany (RLA 1999)
RuchamaMarton, Israel (RLA 2010)
Theo van Boven, The Netherlands (RLA 1985)
ZafrullahChowdhury, Bangladesh (RLA 1972)
Juan E. Garcés, Spain (RLA 1979)
Ibrahim Abouleish, Egypt (RLA 2003)
Fernando Rendón, Gabriel Jaime Franco, Gloria Chvatal, Colombia (RLA 2004)
Tony de Brum, Marshall Islands (RLA 2015)
Raúl A. Montenegro, Chile (RLA 2004)
Andras Biro, Hungary (RLA 1995)
AnneliesAllain, Malasya (RLA, 1998).
# # #
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.
Sanitary workers in Kotagiri Town Panchayat get a half a day holiday on Wednesdays and on Saturdays[no body know what is this rule that says half a day holiday]. Today the mid-day meal workers in Tamil Nadu went on a strike and these sanitary workers were called-in to work as cooks[just recall they are called anytime the government thinks needed], apart from keeping the town and the surrounding clean in the morning. When asked they said it is the District Collectors order.
Since most of the cooking places are far from the town, was keen to know how they were sent to those places. They said they were taken by the garbage truck and dropped in the spot where each one was allotted. However after the duty they were left there without any transport to return. All of them had to walk back.
Just few weeks back people were discussing about the sanitary workers being carried by garbage truck to Chennai. Actually that is the mode of transport available to the sanitary workers anywhere.
Secondly none of the sanitary workers are shown what rules they are recruited and what are the rules for their jobs. They are one government staff who literally dosent mean anything either to the Government nor to the public.
On Feb 3rd, 2016, more than 30000 Dalit Bahujan students from all over Karnataka part of BVS(Bahujan Vidhyarthi Sangha) conducted a peaceful massive rally and protest demanding Reservation in Private Sector and boycotting Global Investors Meet was met with huge police repression of students without any provocation and arresting 30 students charging various offenses and kept in subjail without bail or 3 days. The entire mainstream with the exception of few kananda media suppressed the news when they were pouring crocodile tears and extensive analysis on Rohit Vemula’s death and situation of Dalit students. Thanks to Dalit Camera Ambedkar for video footage of the protests and lathi charge and the interview taken of Hariram, Coordinator of BVS and Asst Professor of Political Science on the protest. watch it on the you tube –
Bijapur. 18th January, 2016.
Reports from Nendra and Pedda Jojer in Bijapur, and Kunna in Sukma reveal a new and brutal wave of systematic violence being carried out by security forces in South Chhattisgarh. On the one hand Chhattisgarh police proudly announces the launch of new operations and tactics, boasting of better coordination among forces and improvement in training. On the other, we have the bold but lesser heard voices of people who inhabit the lands to which the police is “laying siege” – revealing the bitter truth of the war the State continues to wage on its people.
The Coordination of Democratic Rights Organization (CDRO), a nation-wide platform of rights organizations, together with Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) and CPDR (Tamil Nadu) conducted a fact-finding in these areas between the 15th and 17th of January. Here are some of our findings.
In a chilling repeat of the violence we saw in Peddagellur and around, forces in large numbers entered Bellam Nendra, in the Basaguda thana area on the 12th of January 2016. They stayed for two nights – looted homes, used up food and rations, beat up several women and sexually assaulted several others. A young woman was covered with a mosquito net and gang-raped, another mother and her young daughter were forced into their homes and simultaneously raped by 5 security personnel. They hurled abuses and issued threats of extreme violence. There were also two rounds of blind firing into the forests surrounding the village.
At the same time, further away in Sukma district, forces in large numbers entered Kunna and surrounding villages between the 12th and 14th of January. Fearing the inevitable and baseless violence inflicted upon them by paramilitary forces, most of the men of the village fled into the forest. Once again, in what seems to be a part of the ethos of combing operations, those who remained were beaten up brutally and women were sexually assaulted. 5 women and 22 men were rounded up and taken to a camp in the area. After the intervention of human rights activists, the 22 men arrested were released. The five women who were picked up were stripped and brutally sexually assaulted. Besides these 27 persons, two of the women who were also assaulted in the village are now in hospital for medical care. Lalu Sodhi, from the village Kormagondi was brutally beaten up by the forces on the 13th of January who succumbed to his injuries the next day on the 14th January. Joga Sodi, who too was brutally tortured, is unable to walk now.
During their visit to the area, the team also learned of an encounter that had occurred in Chinna Jojer, Gangalur thana, Bijapur through local newspapers. On visiting the area, we found that what was reported to be an ‘encounter’ in which four Maoists were killed, was in fact a cold-blooded murder of villagers, including a 13 year old child.
Six young people from around Pedda Jojer were on their way to the market at Reddi early on 15th morning to purchase their daily needs, when they were fired at by paramilitary forces hiding in the forest. Majji Badram aged 20, Oyam Munna (24), Oyam Tulasi (13) of Pedda Jojer village accompanied by Madkam Pandu (20) from Akuwa Village and two other children aged 9 and 12 were among those who were fired at. Four of them were killed instantly, while two young girls managed to escape. The team also found that the bodies had bullet wounds behind the ears and forehead indicating that the group were shot at from close range. There was no panchnama conducted at the site of the crime, and the troops did not inform the families of the deceased. Instead, they had to make their way to the thana and demand the release of the bodies. District administration and police are yet to come out with any response to the incident.
The remarkable similarity in scale, magnitude and nature of these operations which have been conducted in places distanced not only by several kilometers but also in varied topographical locations marks the beginning of a new wave of State-sponsored violence. Rampant looting, blind firing, brutal beating, cold-blooded murder and sexual assault seem to have become a part of the fabric of routine combing and search operations, revealing the ways in which extreme forms of violence have been institutionalized by the State and it’s security forces.
In light of this new wave of terror being unleashed by the State, we demand:
- Stop ‘Operation Green Hunt’ at once.
- Immediate action against the gross atrocities committed by the security forces of the State under Sections 294, 302, 323, 354 (B), 376, 395 of the Indian Penal Code, POCSO (2012) and the SC/ST Atrocities Act (1989).
- Immediate provision of fair compensation to those affected by State violence.
- Immediate withdrawal of all paramilitary troops from the Bastar region.
Ashish Gupta, Chilaka Chandrashekhar
Rape, loot and plunder seem to define the grammar of combing operations carried out by security forces in South Chhattisgarh.
January 21, 2016 morning 9 a.m.
Rape, loot and plunder seem to define the grammar of combing operations carried out by security forces in South Chhattisgarh. In a chillingly similar repeat of what we saw in Peddagellur some months ago and in Sukma as recently as last week where seven women were brutally sexually assaulted, the people of Nendra village, Veerapur Panchayat, Basaguda thana were subjected to this cruel form of violence between the 11th and 14th of January, 2016. Several cases of rape, sexual assault, the loot of poultry and rations causing extensive loss, beating and constant verbal abuse were reported by people of the village.
Sixteen villagers including 8 rape survivors traveled to the district headquarters to lodge their complaint and file an FIR with the Collector and the Superintendent of Police on the 18th of January. It is now the third day since they have been here, giving testimony after testimony to the administration and negotiating with the Kotwali police that refuses to lodge an FIR in the absence of the SP.
Section 154 of the CrPC makes it mandatory for a police officer to file an FIR on receipt of any information of a cognizable offense such as rape, molestation, or disrobing. Further, no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a case. By refusing to file an FIR, any public servant, is himself culpable under the IPC.
The team met with the Collector, who ordered testimonies to be noted and asked the villagers and human rights activists to trust him, saying that he would make sure that an FIR would be filed as soon as the SP returned from the field, and that latest by the morning of 20th of January, the women would be able to return to their village, having filed and FIR. Similarly, the TI Bijapur Kotwali and DSP also maintained that after the SP returned, it would be done.
Accordingly, detailed statements of the affected women were recorded by the police on the first day, and then again with the SDM. The statements clearly describe rape, sexual assault and looting. Despite this, the police have not lodged an FIR against their own functionaries who have committed such heinous crimes while on official search and combing operations.
As we wait for senior people in the authorities to respond, three children accompanying the women have fallen seriously ill. Others who have left children at home, fear for their safety given the possibility of further repression and attack by security forces. The women are not only exhausted form having to repeat their experiences of violence , but also bewildered at the apathy of the State. How can it be so difficult to lodge an FIR and so easy to blatantly disregard the law? As they recall the horrors of the Salwa Judum, when their homes were burnt, women raped and family members killed, they are determined that they will not allow their lives to be destroyed again and again. The state has to be accountable to its people.
At the end of October 2015, a nation-wide team of women’s groups traveled to South Chhattisgarh to look into reports of harassment of women human-rights defenders, the arrests of local journalists and news of fake encounters. What we found was far more devastating than we’d imagined. As a matter of chance, the group met with women from Peddagellur and surrounding villages of the Basaguda thana area, Bijapur district, while the women were returning from the weekly market. They reported that during a search and combing operation conducted in their villages between the 19th and 24th of October, several women, including a 13 year old girl and a four-month pregnant woman, were raped, molested and beaten. Rations and poultry were looted, abuses hurled, homes were wrecked and property was destroyed. The women traveled to Bijapur district headquarters and after days of grueling testimonies, were able to lodge the first ever FIR against rape by security forces. The issue was then taken up by the media, the local Congress and other rights groups. Despite investigations and reports by independent fact-finding teams and cognizance taken by the NHRC, no action has been taken. Troubled by the inaction and several new reports of encounters and killings in the area, another group of rights organisations visited Bijapur in January 2016. In a chilling repeat of the violence reported in Peddagellur and around, we learnt of what happened in Kunna, Sukma and Bellam-Lendra (Nendra), Bijapur between the 11th and 14th of January, 2016. The similarity in scale and nature of violence made it all seem like a recurrent bad dream.
Rapes and Sexual Violence – an Integral Part of Search and Combing Operations?
“When I tried to stop them from taking my chickens, they dragged me into my house. One of them pinned my legs to the ground, another my shoulder, while the third sat on me and raped me”
Sexual violence has defined the grammar of warfare for centuries. But in the 21st century, when a nation has walked the streets protesting against the culture of rape, resulting in the amendment of the laws that govern sexual violence, how is it that the State itself repeatedly uses rape as a tool to “area dominate”, and gets away with it scot-free?
Between the 11th and 14th of January, 2016, five batches of police and security forces entered the village of Bellam-Lendra (Nendra, as it is called) in the Basaguda thana area of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. They blindly fired a round of bullets into the surrounding hills. The men of the village and its surrounding paras fled. Making their way from the hills into the village – the police and security forces invaded people’s homes – they caught their chicken, took their rations and cooked in their vessels. The ones who protested had it worse – “They took four kilos of rice from my home and promised to pay me. They also took four chickens. I told them we sell chickens to buy clothes and asked them not to take them. When I told them this and asked them for money for the rice, they threw a fishing net over my face and pushed me into my house. They took off my clothes and threw them. They even held my breasts. One of them held my legs down, another my shoulders. A third raped me. When I screamed for help, my mother-in-law came running and began hitting the person sitting on top of me. That’s when they wore their clothes and ran.” Said one of the women. Another was asked where the men had gone and why they had run. When she responded saying the men run because they fear what you would do to them, she was held by two men and taken into her house. “They threw me on the floor. They took off my clothes, tore my blouse and squeezed my breasts. One of them raped me and said You give food to the Naxals. We will set fire to your homes. You’re lucky it’s daytime. If it was night, we would kill you. My two children held me and began crying. That’s when they let go of me and threatened me not to tell anyone what they had done. They took my chickens and left.” From the neighbouring para, Gotum, women share similar stories: I was working in the fields when they came. Four policemen took me and my mother-in-law to my house. I recognize two of them – one of them is from a village nearby. They used to work for the Naxals, but they were now in police uniform. They chased my mother-in-law away, and tied a cloth to my face. One of the men held my legs down, another my shoulders and another policeman raped me. I screamed and screamed, but they didn’t listen. After raping me they threatened me and told me to keep my mouth shut. They said they’d shoot me the next time they come if I told anyone what they had done. My breasts and private parts still hurt. I also have difficulty walking…” Another woman from Gotumpara was in her backyard picking vegetables when two men silently entered – “They covered my face with a black cloth and pushed me to the ground. One of them held my chest down. The other raped me. They pressed my legs down with their shoes…Later, when we approached them at the boring well and asked them why they did such things, they told us not to falsely accuse them. They said they would do again what they did to us during the time of Salwa Judum. They also threatened to burn our houses with us and our children inside.”
These are only a fraction of the testimonies that women gave to the police and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) when 12 of them traveled to Bijapur District headquarters together with the fact-finding team. Eight of them were themselves rape survivors. The testimonies attest to several other rapes. At least 13 rapes have been testified to. There were several other instances of verbal sexual abuse and molestation. Many others were threatened and physically assaulted.
At exactly the same time, in the neighbouring district of Sukma, the women of Kunna village, Thana Kukanar were facing a similar horror. Many were stripped, their breasts were squeezed and verbal sexual abuses were hurled at them. Men from the troops made demands that the women sleep with them, tauntingly asking if they wanted to conceive. The breasts of several women and young girls were squeezed – in a test to see whether they were lactating or not. The test for lactation is done with the assumption that if a woman is not a breast-feeding mother, then she is of Maoist cadre. What kind of savage world allows acts of sexual violence to be tests for political allegiances or nature of work? In one instance, women were first stripped and then dragged to the school ground and paraded in their semi-nude state for over two kilometers until they reached the police vehicles in which they were taken to the camp. While walking, police and security personnel took turns to touch the women – squeezing their breasts, pinching their nipples, touching their stomach, back, and thighs. They laughed mockingly as they did this. From the women’s descriptions of the sexual torture that they were subjected to and phrases like “they sat on top of me”, there is a strong sense that some women might even have been raped, but are afraid to explicitly say so.
In a matter of four months, this pattern of rapes and looting during search and combing operations has come to light in three different parts of South Chhattisgarh – first in Peddagellur, then simultaneously in Kunna and Nendra. Given the similarity in scale and nature of violence, are we to believe that the men who committed these crimes are a few evil misbehaving individuals, or is it that the infliction of sexual violence goes hand in hand with the maintaining of law and order and the preservation of national security? This repeated use of sexual violence makes one wonder if rapes have now become a routine part of the “aggressive intelligence-based operations” that the infamous Inspector General of Police (IG), Bastar range, SRP Kalluri – a man who has been implicated in rape cases himself – talks about?
[As SP Sarguja, he was the main accused in the case of rape against a tribal woman, Ledha Bai. She had testified before a magistrate that he had also ordered his juniors to continue to gang-rape her every day. The case was filed by Ledha in 2006, but she was later forced to withdraw it. It is also important to remember that Kalluri was posted out of Bastar after 300 homes in Tadmetla and neighbouring villagers were burnt, people killed, and women raped by security forces in 2011. He has now been brought back into the region, even though the Judicial Enquiry into the incident is pending and has not concluded. It is as though we all suffer from some form of collective amnesia.]
Lawlessness in the Name of National Security: Blatant Refusal to Lodge an FIR
The women, together with the fact-finding team, first met with the Collector to bring to his notice what had happened in Nendra. Given the difficulty in registering an FIR in the Peddagellur case, the team requested the Collector to put pressure on the police to lodge an FIR without delay. Abhishek Kumar Singh, the CEO of Bijapur Zila Panchayat, sat through the meeting, smirking. He even broke into a laugh every once in a while. When the matter of an FIR was brought up, he said it was a matter of National Security. Since when did rapes – even when the perpetrators are the police themselves – become a matter of national security, one wonders. The Collector, more cordial than his CEO, ordered immediate testimonies. Despite the chilling testimonies recorded both by the police and the SDM, however, the police initially refused to lodge an FIR. When we confronted the DSP Bairamgarh, Sahu, he said they would first investigate the matter and then lodge an FIR. Section 154 of the CrPC makes it mandatory for a police officer to file an FIR on receipt of any information of a cognizable offense such as rape, molestation, or disrobing. Further, no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a case. By refusing to file an FIR, any public servant, is himself culpable under Section 166A(c) the IPC. When we cited the law to the DSP himself, he said they would lodge an FIR, but when it came to actually filing it, he evaded the issue, saying that they would accept a complaint but not register an FIR, since his seniors were not in town. He was later joined by the Basaguda Thana-in-charge (TI) Sharad. When the group of activists confronted them about the delay in lodging an FIR, they evaded the issue by talking of Naxalite violence, while the others made phone calls to their superiors. Eventually, the Basaguda TI exited the collectors office through the back gate, unable to come up with reasons for further delay, while the DSP left it to officials lower than himself to do what they saw fit. It was clear however, that despite the law, the power to file an FIR did not rest with thana-level officials. Later, in a meeting with the Collector, when the refusal of the police to lodge an FIR was narrated, the Collector himself said we should trust him and that he would see to it that an FIR was lodged once the Superintendent of Police (SP) was back in town. Earlier that day, a police official in Bijapur had said to us – “In Bijapur, there are no thana-in-charges. There is only one thana-in-charge. And that is the SP himself.” We didn’t realise that he wasn’t trying to be funny. Two days of grueling testimonies later, and another long day of negotiating with officials, there was no sign of the SP or an FIR. When we finally managed to contact the SP by telephone, he said he would first meet with us and then talk about filing an FIR. Citing bad weather conditions, he said his helicopter was unable to land that day. By the second phone call, he had flatly refused to order an FIR. “I have discussed it with my seniors… I will not give the order to file an FIR” he said, in no uncertain terms. On the fourth day, the SP finally called and asked the team to meet with him. By then, the media had already carried reports of the refusal to lodge an FIR, and people had begun calling, texting and emailing the collector, SP and Additional SP about the matter. The SP managed to return the next day, and seeing that a three-member team from the National Commission of Women (NCW) was visiting Bijapur with a view to investigate the Peddagellur sexual violence case the very same day, the SP hurriedly ordered an FIR from the gates of the circuit house, while all other officials made every attempt to prevent the fact-finding team from meeting the NCW delegation. Finally, the team was able to send in a letter requesting an audience. This put considerable pressure on the authorities. An FIR was finally filed just before midnight – four full days after the women of Nendra had traveled to Bijapur to register a complaint. On the fifth day, medical exams were conducted and the NCW delegation even met with 9 of the women complainants.
Women who had left their children behind had begun to worry for their safety. Sitting on the floor of the Collectorate, tired after having told and retold of the violence she had survived, one woman said she couldn’t stay another day – What if the forces come again? Our men will run. What will happen to our children then? she said. Three children who had accompanied their mothers to Bijapur had also taken seriously ill. All three were diagnosed with malaria, which is endemic in the area. As though the violence of what they had already been put through was not enough, the women of Nendra had to spend five grueling days braving the callousness of bureaucracy, negotiating with and testifying before authorities just to register a simple FIR – something that authorities are compelled to do immediately, by virtue of law. Through delays and refusals, the State and the police in particular, seemed determined to harass the women further. Such blatant disregard for the law compels one to ask which, if any, of the States own institutions can people turn to with the hope of demanding justice? Are those two grand words – national security – enough to allow for complete lawlessness, or to grant those in positions of power complete impunity?
Pitting People Against People
While a few members of the team were waiting to meet with the NCW delegation, a large mob of a couple hundred individuals identifying themselves as victims of Naxal violence had gathered around the circuit house. While representatives from the group presented their grievances to the NCW delegation, others continued shouting slogans demanding the human rights team to leave Bijapur. While this carried on for some time, the crowd later disbursed without much of a confrontation. However, the next day, when the women and the team together waited to meet with the NCW delegation, a smaller section of the same mob reappeared at the circuit house and confronted the team and the women. They engaged in a discussion with some of the activists who were part of the team, hurling allegations at them of being “Maoist supporters” for taking up issues that pertained to violence by the forces but not violence by the Maoists. Some mob members questioned the women directly for registering an FIR against the forces and even threatened them, demanding that they leave Bijapur immediately. This altercation was extremely upsetting and intimidating for the 12 complainants, including the 8 rape survivors.
The group, that included some ex-Salwa Judum members, seems to have the complete support of the police. They were ferried in what appeared to be police vehicles. Their sudden appearance and the ease with which they were let into the fortified thana which is otherwise unapproachable without prior permission also raises questions. Further, their access to the team at all times, unrestricted by the police in anyway, indicates prior knowledge of the presence and objectives of the team. They followed the team from the meeting with the NCW to the thana (where some paper-work had to be completed for the medical examinations). They also continued to blindly defend the security forces despite the teams efforts to argue that as victims of violence, people should stand together rather than apart.
While some of the discussion was amicable – and a few individuals from the mob and members of the team seemed to see eye to eye on some matters – there were some in the group who began shouting the same slogans and repeating the same antagonistic, threatening tone the moment such amicable discussion began. It was clear that while some of them were genuine victims troubled by their experiences, others were there with a set agenda, clearly present as instigators. This is not the first time one has witnessed such a phenomenon. Time and again, the State and those in power have pitted people against people, driving a wedge between them, ensuring that they do not stand together. The blind defence of security forces, the irrational repetition of slogans, the dismissive way in which they said the women were lying about the rapes, saying that they could have believed them if their men had accompanied them, made it evident that it wasn’t simply a spontaneous crowd taking issue with what they saw around them. The fact that they were ferried in what appeared to be police vehicles and that they knew exactly where the team was at all times serves to reinforce this fact.
A week after the FIR was filed, the group even staged a rally in Bijapur, targeting individual members of the team, and also shouting slogans against Arundhati Roy, who had nothing to do with recent visits to Bijapur. If what genuinely troubles this group is Naxal violence, then rather than seeking more active protection from the State, why is it that they are targeting rights activists? Of what use would it be to them to do so? It would serve the police well however, to begin such a campaign to malign those who dare to question the atrocities they commit.
The team stands clear in its wish to dialogue with victims of violence, irrespective of the perpetrators. However, it is also concerned that such actions encouraged by the police create an atmosphere of fear – one in which people will be afraid to speak out about the wrongdoings of the State and security forces.
It is also important to note that, contrary to the picture being painted by the police and large sections of the mainstream media, the adivasi civil society in Chhattisgarh (Adivasi Mahasabha, Sarva Adivasi Samaj) as well as other political parties have been raising concern over the daily illegal murders of innocent people masked as encounter killings, and the systematic use of sexual violence as a tool in this war against the Maoist movement.
One must remember, that the most violent phases of this war have been carried out in a similar manner – by groups like the Salwa Judum which too, claimed to be a result of public mobilisation, but enjoyed full support of the State and police (and of course, the Tatas, as one must not forget) . This has been a tactic of violence – from riots to war – whether in Gujarat, Bombay, Bihar or Chhattisgarh that those in power have invariably resorted to. Let us not allow them to divide people.
It may be relevant here to recall what the Hon’ble Supreme Court said about the Salwa Judum in its judgment. It (pursuing policies of using adivasi youth to counter the Naxalite movement) would be “tantamount to sowing of suicide pills that could divide and destroy society”(Para 20). In Para 17-18, the Honorable Judges point out that “[r]ecent history is littered with examples of the dangers of armed vigilante groups that operate under the veneer of State patronage or support. Such misguided policies, albeit vehemently and muscularly asserted by some policy makers, are necessarily contrary to the vision and imperatives of our Constitution which demands that the power vested in the State, by the people, be only used for the welfare of the people…” The judgment goes on to say that the use of local adivasi youth in the identification of Maoists or Maoist sympathizers would not only result in the branding of persons unrelated to Maoist activities as Maoists or their sympathizers but would also in turn “almost certainly vitiate the atmosphere in those villages, lead to situations of grave violation of human rights of innocent people, driving even more to take up arms against the state.” (Para 51).
It is telling that IG SRP Kalluri has publicly declared his disagreement with this view and his support of Salwa Judum even recently, claiming that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has been misled by activists.
Concerns Regarding Further Investigation
Two days after having personally listened to the women of Peddagellur narrate their experiences of violence, and having seen the wounds on their bodies for themselves in November last year, the ASP (Naxal Operations) and SP were quoted as saying that it was all mere propaganda to slander the forces. Few days later, the Bastar Inspector General of Police (IG) Kalluri repeated their claim, saying it was all done to reduce the morale of the forces. This time round, even before the FIR had been filed and investigations initiated, the DSP, Bhairamgarh and TI, Basaguda who were present at the Collectorate, were already claiming the same thing. It is difficult to conceive that there is scope for a fair police inquiry given this evident bias.
Since the women had already spent five days in Bijapur having left their homes and children, the police have said that they would travel to the village to record testimonies. However as has happened in the past, investigation conducted in the village is carried out by the police who go there accompanied by a convoy of security forces. Given that the accused are the security forces themselves, it is inconceivable that the survivors of violence will be able to participate in such a process free from fear and intimidation.
Investigations must be sensitive to the survivors and have to be carried out with care and empathy. Under Section 157 of CrPC, investigations in case of rape must take place at a place of the survivors choosing. Given recent developments such as the presence of the mob that followed the team, we are concerned for the safety of the women and demand that further investigation take place in an atmosphere of security and comfort for the women. They must be assured that they will be free from intimidation from any source – the police or private groups. In addition we demand that investigation in such cases, and in particular this case, be moved from the accused police to an independent investigating agency, in order to ensure fairness and transparency.
We also call upon both parties – the security forces as well as the Maoists – to ensure an atmosphere in which an independent and neutral investigation is possible.
Of Malice and Power, Violence and Impunity
Paying closer attention to the abuses hurled by the police and security forces to the people of Nendra, the language used and the mundane acts of violence reveal a deep malice that often accompanies the relish of power. It is particularly disturbing that not only did the troops loot rations and poultry to consume – they even killed goats that they did not eat, spilled rations that they did not take. They even tore up lungis and blankets, making survival more difficult than it is for those who already live on the margins of society. Where does this malice come from? What allows it to exist?
“Like the falling leaves of a tree, we shall drop all your men” one of them said. Several others threatened to destroy the hand-pump – “We’ll destroy your hand-pump. Where will you drink water from then?” they said. Others made references to Salwa Judum times, threatening people with a repeat of the brutal wave of violence and terror unleashed then. As was revealed in one of the women’s testimonies, one of men from the security forces even warned “If Narendra Modi gives orders, then we’ll even burn down your village.” When she was asked who Narendra Modi is, she said she didn’t know. Is it the faith of the police and security forces in the people of power that grants them this impunity, this relish of power over the most vulnerable people of our society? Is this what the special training and “better co-ordination” of the forces has resulted in – is this daring impunity what the IG, Kalluri talks of when he speaks of the “morale” of security forces? Is this then, the same morale he accuses the villagers and rights activists of ‘reducing’ when they bring to light the rapes and looting?
In the face of such extreme violence perpetrated by a State that is intolerant of any form of dissent, where and to whom must we turn in search of justice?
Click here to read the full memorandum in pfd – ATT_1454720899577_Memorandum to PM of India and CMs of States