Campaign against Sexual Violence and State Repression
Press Release: Women activists not allowed to enter Dantewada
On 12-13 December, 2009, about 120 people from numerous women’s and democratic organisations representing 10 states participated in the Campaign against Sexual Violence and State Repression meeting held at Raipur, Chhattisgarh. On 13th evening a representative group of 39 members set out from Raipur to Dantewada to extend support and solidarity to the adivasi women who had filed complaints before the NHRC and also filed private complaints of rape and sexual assault and are pursuing these valiantly.
The groups set out in 4 vehicles at around 10 p.m. The team was stopped at Charama Police Station, Kanker, at around 12.30 p.m. by D.S.P. Neg and his juniors; personal details were recorded while the drivers were whisked away separately inside the thana. Team members were forbidden to accompany the drivers and threats of `goli mar denge’ were repeatedly called out to us. Under the guise of interrogation the drivers were threatened with grave danger if they proceeded with us. Police confiscated one of our vehicles and forbid one driver from driving on allegations of improper documentation. The police finally allowed 3 vehicles to proceed to Makdi tola, the next junction, to procure a replacement vehicle for further journey. This entire episode lasted for about 2 hours.
After a twenty minute journey, the team was again stopped at Makdi on the grounds that the documents acceptable at Charama were now improper. Meanwhile our drivers succumbed to fear of further police action and refused to drive us further; we had also been followed by police in plain clothes. Around 3 a.m. the team somehow managed to board two buses going to Jagdalpur. These two buses were again stopped for passenger identification- first at Keshkal and then at Farusgaon; individual details noted were again noted each time and the halts were prolonged.
After a drive of 2 hours, the 2 buses were again stopped at Kondagaon police station; personal details were noted yet again. The passengers and driver were informed by policeman Awdhesh Jha that the buses would be allowed to proceed on condition that they offloaded the 39 passengers who had boarded at Makdi. Around 6 a.m., we were forced to disembark and wait at Kondagaon police station for the S.P. Khan M. Khan. DSP Vishwaranjan, when contacted by one of our team members, claimed lack of knowledge of our detention and promised to respond after finding the reason. Not only did he not call back but he did not take our further calls. S.P Khan, after he finally arrived at about 8 a.m., claimed that we’d been offloaded for our own protection. He also informed us that 4-5000 people were blocking the roads at Korenar and Dantewada in anticipation of our arrival. On further probing he claimed that we were free to leave and he would facilitate our travel to Dantewada with private vehicles.
We decided, however, to take public transport to Jagdalpur from the Kondagaon bus stand, primarily to consult with SP at Jagdalpur to assess the situation before further travel. Not surprisingly, the bus drivers at this bus-stand refused to take us; they claimed that they had been warned by the police. By this time the atmosphere was getting increasingly intimidating and oppressive as lots of motorcycles with youth cruised in front of us. Two trucks full of armed security personnel unloaded in front of us.
By this time many of our members had begun the process of contacting friends across the country and media both from Kondagaon and from Jagdalpur began arriving at the Kondagaon bus-stand. The team now began interacting with members of the public and press. We answered their queries and experienced no hostility; some of the local press narrated that the police were all-powerful in each locality and were instrumental in the suppression of free speech.
Given that we were unable to proceed to Jagdalpur, at around 10.30 we decided to return to Raipur by bus. This time though, our bus was met at Kanker bus stand by 10-15 men who initially blocked the entrance with placards, shouted anti-naxal slogans to intimidate us, and our co-passengers. As the bus left the bus-stand it was brought to a halt in the middle of the market; we again had men at the windows shouting at us. A man claiming to be a Haribhoomi journalist deflated a tyre; while it was being replaced two men boarded and shot us on camera at close quarters. We proceeded towards Raipur at about 11.45 a.m.
What we witnessed today has convinced us that all the reports of rampant violence, especially against women and their families could well be true. The state appears to be trying to hide the heinous crimes committed in this region by not letting independent teams enter the region and by the way it has tried to curb people’s efforts to reach there. It is disturbing to imagine what would be the situation inside the zone for women and for people’s movements and organisations.
The recent situation in Narayanpatna in bordering Orissa has also been similar where a fact-finding team of 10 women from across the country investigating allegations of molestation were bullied, intimated and roughed-up; their vehicle’s glass was broken and the driver was rounded up by the police at the behest of local liquor mafia, landlords and mining companies.
We hold the state responsible for our diminishing democratic spaces and demand an independent inquiry into this matter.
We further demand that people’s organisations have free and safe entry into these militarized areas for independent inquiry.
The Campaign is not deterred by the state’s efforts to subsume and threaten democratic rights groups and activists reporting state atrocities against women with the label of “naxalite” and “naxalite-supporters” and “undertaking anti-government activities”. Unquestioned, the state’s use of sexual violence as a method of repression would remain uncovered and increase. If justice is to be served, we – individuals, organisations and various sectors of civil society including the media- should join hands in protesting against state repression.
Women against Sexual violence and State Repression as currently represented by: AIPWA, AISA (Delhi), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha (Chhatisgarh), CAVOW, Dalit Stree Shakti (Andhra Pradesh), HRLN (Madhya Pradesh), Human Rights Alert (Manipur), IRMA (Manipur), IWID, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (Madhya Pradesh), Kashipur Solidarity (Delhi), Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch (Madhya Pradesh), Nari Mukti Sanstha (Delhi), Navsarjan (Gujarat), NBA (Madhya Pradesh), Pratidhwani (Delhi), PUCL (Karnataka), Saheli (Delhi), Sahmet (Madhya Pradesh), Samajwadi Jan Parishad (Madhya Pradesh), Sangini (Madhya Pradesh), Vanangana (Uttar Pradesh), Vidyarthi Yuvjan Sabha, Women’s Right Resource Center (Madhya Pradesh), Yuva Samvaad (Madhya Pradesh), Stree Adhikar Sanghatan (Uttar Pradesh), and individuals.
ILLEGAL DETENTION OF RIGHTS ACTIVISTS JOINING PADYATRA AT DANTEWARA, CHHATTISGARH
December 14, 2009
By this time it is clear that Dr. Raman Singh’s Government in Chhattisgarh is out-and-out to stop the DANTEWARA PADYATRA which was to begin today led by a widely recognized and well-respected Gandhian worker, Himanshu Kumar of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. Hundreds of Rights Activists, students, teachers, academics and lawyers were planning to join the Padyatra with the main objective of restoring a sense of confidence amongst the tribals who are living in acute fear due to continuous onslaught of the security forces and salwa-judum.
The Fascist methods adopted by the district administration in Bastar, Dantewara, Bijapur and Kanker in Chhattisgarh to harass and illegally detain the peaceful padyatris have the tacit approval of the Fascist Regime of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Government led by Dr. Raman Singh. It is also clear that under the patronage of BJP Government, the RSS cadres are controlling and directing the fascist agenda in these districts, especially through Salwa-Judum. The State Police/Administration is playing a second fiddle to the RSS and Salwa-Judum, whose crimes against citizens and human rights violations have been systematically recorded and exposed by various fact-finding reports of human rights and social organizations across the country.
It is a matter of concern that the Governor of Chhattisgarh, Sri E S L Narsimhan is sitting as a silent spectator to the blatant violation of Constitutional Rights of these citizens who had declared to document the atrocities that the tribals have been subjected to including the situation of hunger, food insecurity, lack of health and educational facilities and other forms of deprivation faced due to the ongoing displacement and war in the region. His silence on the issue is all the more serious because an All-India Fact-Finding Team investigating the Demolition of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewara had met the Governor, Sri E S L Narsimhan after their return from the region on June 1, 2009, and submitted a Memorandum. The Team consisted of Sumit Chakravarti, Editor, Mainstream, Dr. Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Winner, Com Janak Lal Thakur, President, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Adv. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, human rights lawyer, Mumbai, Adv Harsh Dobhal, Editor, Combat Law, New Delhi, and Vijendra, Joint-Secretary, PUCL-CG. The Report had clearly concluded that:
The Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) was implementing various government schemes in the area including the Mitanin Health programme, watershed development, water and sanitation programme in villages and Salwa Judum camps and Himanshu Kumar was also on various government committees including the district legal aid committee. It is inexplicable why an ashram run by him should have been demolished. The VCA was engaged in the important task of resettling internally displaced persons in their original villages, which no government agency had undertaken in spite of the Supreme Court’s instruction to the Chhattisgarh Government.
(Excerpts from the Memorandum submitted to the Governor, Chhattisgarh, by the Fact-Finding Team )
Hundreds of Padyatris have been harassed and detained throughout their journey from Raipur to Dantewara, and many of them have been illegally detained at Kondagaon police station in Bastar, while their vehicles have been seized and drivers threatened. It is a matter of yet another concern for peace-loving and democratic citizens and organizations that the Director General of Police (DGP) Sri Vishwaranjan is heading the state police administration which is systematically carrying out this Fascist attack on the padyatris, whose credibility is well-established through their lives and work.
Padyatris include Dr. Sandeep Pandey, Megsaysay Award Winner from UP, Madhuri of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, MP, Beena of Navsarjan, Gujarat, Zulekha Jabeen, Bhartiya Muslim Womenâ€™s Organisation, Raipur, Vijay, Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Kolkata, Leena Ganesh, Research Scholar, Mumbai, Rinchin of MP Mahila Manch, Bhopal, Bhan Sahu, Jurmil Morcha, Ambagarh-chawki, Meera, Mahila Mukti Morcha, Arti Choksi, PUCL-Bangalore,
The pattern of illegal and un-constitutional attack on Padyatris reminds one of the similar attacks in November-December 1992 that were carried out on the Bharat Jan Andolan, led by yet another Gandhian stalwart Dr. B D Sharma, who was not only a highly respected IAS officer but the Chairman of Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe Commission of Indian Government Dr. Sharma and BJA along with many social organizations were then opposing the setting up of a Steel Factory in Nagarnar in Bastar.
The State Government is really worried that the Padyatra would strengthen the resolve of the tribals to resist large-scale displacement and State repression being caused by the various foreign and big-business investments in projects being carried out in the name of development.
On behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Chhattisgarh, we appeal to you to kindly send a fax, e-mail or phone the authorities with the following demands that:
1. Padyatra be permitted to take its own peaceful course without illegal and un-constitutional disruptions being created by the Salwa Judum and State/District Administration/Police;
2. Padyatris illegally detained and physically assaulted should be immediately released, FIRs be registered, investigation be conducted by an independent government agency against the Salwa Judum and government officials responsible for the criminal intimidation and actions;
3. State Government should take all necessary steps to provide full security and healthy environment for the Padyatris to carry out their peaceful programme;
4. District Administrative/Police officers with criminal records and un-constitutional conduct should be immediately withdrawn from the area, and subsequent to the independent enquiry, action be taken against the guilty officials;
5. The State Government should conduct independent investigations by creditable officials/agency into the false and fabricated cases filed against the social and human rights workers, especially Kopa Kunjam of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, and withdraw the cases;
6. The physical intimidation and attack on human rights lawyers and activists like Adv Alban Toppo should immediately stop, and FIR be registered against police officials of Beejapur Police Station, responsible for committing such crimes;
7. The State Government/District Administration must implement the NHRC recommendations and subsequent order of the Supreme Court of India in filing FIRs against the accused of committing crimes.
The authorities to be addressed with these demands are:
1. Dr. Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,Phone: 0771-2221000/ 2221001/2331001
2. Sri ESL Narasimhan, Governor of Chattisgarh, E-mail:email@example.com, Phone: 0771-2331101
PUCL-CG in coordination with various people’s organizations, human rights activists, and intelligentsia is planning a protest demonstration at the capital city of Raipur, and also make a representation to the Governor and the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. We shall keep you informed about the developments, and seek your solidarity and support in fighting against the gross violation of human and constitutional rights by the Chhattisgarh Government with the tacit approval of the Government of India.
Rajendra K Sail
President (Mobile: 098268-04519)
Dec 14th, 2009
A Padayatra planned by Himanshu Kumar of the Vanavasi Chetna Ashram was due to start today from Nendra village in Dantewada district. The objective of the padyatra was to resotre peace and create an atmosphere where justice can be ensured by instilling confidence among the people to stop migrating from the area in the face of atrocities being committed on them by security forces, SPOs and anti-constitutional forces like Salwa Judum. The local administration has taken several steps to prevent the Padayatra. Roads leading to Nendra have been blocked by felling trees and VCA workers are being prevented from leaving their homes by the government backed armed Salwa Judum and its latest incarnation Danteshwari Swabhiman Manch goons. A group of 40 women activists from all over the country on their way to Danteawada from Raipur last night were stopped, their vehicles were seized and the women themselves were detained by the Police first in Charama and then in Kondagaon. They were subsequently released but were told that a mob of 4000 with the objective of confronting them was waiting for them enroute to Dantewada. The police threatened the local bus operators not to take the women to Dantewada.
Even the journalists are being threatened not to go to Himanshu’s Ashram.
Meanwhile the Home Minister Shri Chidambram has expressed his willingness to visit Dantewada and listen to the grievances of tribals in an informal public hearing to be organized by Vanvasi Chetna Ashram on 7th January, 2010. We appeal to all NAPM members and supporters and other friends to come here for the public hearing on 6-7 January.
For more information contact Himanshu Kumar at 09425260031.
Sandeep Pandey, National Alliance of People’s Movements
Contact Mobile Number (of Amit Basole) 09559374152
THERE IS NO STOPPING THE DANTEWADA PADYATRA
IT WILL TAKE PLACE AS PLANNED
APPEAL TO ALL ACTIVISTS TO GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER
JOIN THE PADYATRA FROM 14TH TO 26TH DEC. 09
JOIN THE SATYAGRAH FROM 25th DEC. ‘09
JOIN THE JAN SUNWAI, 6-7 JAN. ‘10
Himanshuji and other friends of Dantewada have brought to our notice the latest attacks of the Chhattisgarh Police and the State Government on the VCA. Many of us are aware that on the 10th of December, ‘09 on Human Rights Day, Kopa, a VCA tribal activist, and Alban who is also a tribal and a human rights lawyer from HRLN, were both picked up, illegally detained and badly beaten. Alban was released next day but Kopa was arrested on charges of being involved in the murder of Punam Honga who was abducted by Maoists on June 2nd and later his body was found in a mutilated condition.
Kopa being charged for the murder of Punam Honga is absolutely rubbish. This arrest is part of the same series of arrests as was of Binayak in 2007, Ajay TG in 2008, Sukhanth in July, 2009 and now before the end of the year Kopa. The point is only one. If you disagree with the Chhattisgarh Government and try putting across another point of view then you will be removed from the scene. This is Chhattisgarh. And the Government of India ? It will watch in silence.
Kopa and the his work with the VCA
It is also very important to know that Kopa has spent more than 13 years of his life with the VCA. He is a brilliant singer and orator. Before joining VCA, he was with the Gayatri mission where he motivated people through his songs to stop drinking alcohol. It was his singer’s voice which got him a job in VCA where he not only continued to spread his anti liquor message, but now he also started organising kala jathas. On foot he and other workers started mobilising people to demand entitlements related to their Right to Food and Health and saving and reclaiming their Natural Resources. A very effective worker, he was responsible for putting together more than 750 community workers on these issues and more than forty main trainers in the district of Dantewada and Bijapur which is the work area of the VCA.
Kopa became uncomfortable for the administration and police since 2008. He took the courageous step of initiating the resettlement and rehabilitation work as per Supreme Court order of all those villagers who had left their villages due to the atrocities of the Salwa Judum and SPOs. He was the Rehabilitation coordinator of VCA. It was not just this work, he also exposed the Matwara massacre of 18th March, 2008 where three tribals were brutally killed and their bodies mutilated in a salwa judum camp. Kopa helped the families initiate legal proceedings in the High Court. He also got the widows of the three to file a complaint in the police station, which never got converted to an FIR.
He also exposed the Singaram massacre of 2009, where four girls were raped and murdered. Fifteen men were also murdered in this episode. Kopa got the families to initiate legal proceedings in the High Court and also got them to file complaints in the local police station. In 2009, he also exposed and took cudgels with the district administration regarding corruption in NREGA, including non-payment of wages to tribals. He was constantly fighting for people’s rights to get their share of PDS from ration shops, the only agency of the Government existing in the villages. Otherwise it is only the police and security forces.
The abduction of Nagesh Jhadi and Punam Honga, the 2nd June incident
Please recall that on the 2nd of June when Nagesh Jhadi and Kopa were returning from the Basaguda camp in Dantewada, their motorbike was stopped and Nagesh Jhadi the Panchayat secretary of Mallepalli was picked up by the Maoists. Kopa ran around chasing the abductors in the forest. He was unaware that Punam Honga (former Sarpanch), who was traveling in a mini truck, had been picked up later by the Maoists. Kopa decided to lodge a complaint about the abduction of Nagesh soon after, but then he was harassed by the SPOs and detained at the police station. So the next day Himanshuji went and brought Kopa out and they both decided to make their own enquiries about Nagesh’s abduction in the forest areas. But they were then led into a trap at Lingagiri by the SPOs, from where they managed to escape and drove hundred kilometres through forest areas and got out into the Bhadrachalam side of the forest where with the support of the late Sh. Balgopal of HRF, Himanshu addressed a press conference on the whole episode ( please see attachement- Himanshu’s statement from Bhadrachalam). We also know that Kopa had nothing to do with either the abduction of Nagesh Jhadi (he was released later) or the abduction and killing of Punam Honga, even then he had said that his life was in danger as he was being targeted for his work in exposing the Matwada and Singaram massacres and in trying to ensure justice to the families of those killed. In August, ‘09 too Kopa was picked up and beaten up by the SPOs. See attachment of his interview published in Hari Bhoomi saying that his life was in danger.
On 20th October, ‘09 Kopa, while addressing the meeting of the Citizen’s Initiative for Peace at Constitution Club in New Delhi, said that his life was in danger and that he would be arrested for his work.
Why the Arrest of Kopa now? IS Himanshu going to be the next one?
The arrest of Kopa has been made just five days before the padyatra that was to be undertaken under the leadership of Himanshu. The timing of the arrest completely gives away the Government’s motives. It is clear the Government does not want the padyatra to happen. They do not want the misdemeanours of the police, CRPFand other security forces to be exposed which the yatra will do as it will bring into the eyes of the public stories of people from areas where nobody has gone till now.
They also want to put the fear in the tribals of Dantewada that their fate may be the same as Kopa and Sukhnath if they connect with VCA. It is clearly an effort of trying to destroy the VCA completely. They felt that after the demolition, the VCA would shut up. But the VCA reorganised itself in Dantewada, the district headquarters. So the next attack was the arrest of Sukhnath on 30th July, ‘09, who they arrested under CSPSA on flimsy charges. The police thought that now the activists would lie low, but they were proved wrong. Nothing seemed to abate the resolve of the VCA in its endeavour to ensure justice to the people, so when the operation Green Hunt began in the forest areas of Dantewada, Himanshuji and his workers took the message all over the country. They facilitated the entry of groups and journalists to these areas who came for fact finding. They traveled thousands of miles to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai and spoke to thousands to people and built a public opinion on stopping the ongoing war and potential genocide. They provided evidence of police and SPO atrocities by bringing the victims of these attacks to the fore. Media covered all this. Under the pressure of the public opinion thus generated, even the Home Minister P Chidambaram had to meet Himanshu and agreed to come to Dantewada if a public hearing got organised. To top it all, the Supreme Court also issued notices when a case got filed there on the basis of the testimonies of the victims of the police operation.
This development and the announcement of the Padyatra, Satyagraha and Jan Sunwai was the last straw. Hence Kopa was picked up on false charges of committing murder and supporting Naxalites.
And now the next person on the radar of the police and the SPOS is Himanshu. A rally of Salwa Judum and SPOs, taken out on the 10th of December had as its main slogans ‘Himanshu ko maro”, ‘Himanshu bhagao, Bastar bachao’, ‘VCA ke karyakarta bhagao, Dantewada Bachao’ and “maro salon ko”.
Himanshuji informed me on the 12th morning that between 11th and 12th, the Thana Incharge of Dantewada sent police 6 times and also came himself investigating yet another false story that a jeep had left Himanshu’s house in the evening at 6 pm on the 11th and some of the persons in the jeep had tried to abduct one SPO who was on the road. The Thana incharge claimed that the SPO escaped under the pretext of wanting to urinate. On charges of attempt to abduction, this investigation is being carried out.
The latest incident of the Collector of Dantewada getting the Danteshwari Sarwajanik Dharmashala to return the money that VCA had deposited for booking rooms during the Satyagraha period, clearly shows that the State will not allow any other voice to express itself.
So friends, there is a clear cut war in Chhattisgarh. Whoever speaks out against this will be cleared from the scene.
This is a wake up call for all of us.
Come support the Padyatra, Satyagrah and the Jan Sunwai!!! See the attached announcement for details.
You can send volunteers, blankets, food and money and, of course, above all come to Dantewada!! You can send your Cheques or Demand Drafts to Vanvasi Chetna Ashram payable at Dantewada. ( see details below.)
Please circulate this message to others.
(PUCL, National Secretaty)
1. Name and address of the bank : State Bank of India
2. Bank A/C No. : 10753239968
3. Bank A/C Name : Vanvasi Chetna Ashram
4. Branch Code No. : 0545
5. IFS Code : SBIN0000545
6. MICR : 494002006