Subject: Communication Regarding: Escalation of counter-insurgency violence on indigenous people in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, India and on human rights activists, lawyers and journalists who are working for the rights of the indigenous people in the abovementioned region.
This is to bring to your notice that indigenous activists and politicians, along with human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists are being attacked violently by various groups in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, with the tacit and active encouragement of the state of these attacks. In addition, Chhattisgarh has seen a horrific state of affairs which equals to that of many militarised zones of the world due to the alleged base of guerrilla insurgents called the Naxalites – who are Maoists by political outlook and enterprise – in the state especially in a district named Bastar.
It is important to mention that Chhattisgarh is populated by more than a third by indigenous people, the adivasis, more than any other state in India. Despite this, it is greatly unaccountable to its own citizens. Even basic legal rights enshrined in the Constitution, such as the right of reservation (quotas) for public office are routinely neglected alone specific regulations such as the Forest Rights Act and Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, which have been instituted to grant Adivasis their rights over land and resources.In the ostensible pursuit of counter-terrorism against the Naxalites, the state’s authorities have forcibly expelled many Adivasis from their villages, denying both their right to land and self-determination.
Given the rich mineral resources of Chhattisgarh, the Government of India and the Chhattisgarh State Government have both expressed in public, multiple times, of their eagerness to increase industrial activity in the state by promoting mining and heavy industrial estates in the state which has led to displacement of villages, migration of manual labour, loss of identity for the indigenous population etc. This is coupled with the fact that basic facilities like drinking water, healthcare, education etc were never reached rural and remote areas of Chhattisgarh from where people were asked to evict.
Chhattisgarh, despite being rich in natural resources, suffers India’s highest rate of poverty, at a rate which overwhelmingly affects Adivasis. In such circumstances when the indigenous population protested against the mining and industrial activities and the absolute neglect of human life for the indigenous people of Chhattisgarh, the State responded with ‘counter-insurgency’ measures and counter-terrorism laws. Many operations were carried out by the State either actively or passively and they are known by many names such as “Operation Greenhunt”, “Salwa Judum” etc. Some operations such as “Salwa Judum” were carried by vigilante groups, constitutive oftentimes of underage indigenous adolescents from those very indigenous groups that are under attack. According to the International Association of People’s Lawyers,
“The purpose of the Salwa Judum campaign is to concentrate tribal people in so called “relief camps”. In the past two years and a half [since 2007] 350,000 people have been displaced this way and live outside their villages. 50,000 of them live in the relief camps organised by the Chhattisgarh state. The fate of 300,000 others is uncertain…People who have refused to leave their villages have apparently been forced by SPOs [Special Police Officers] who did not hesitate to use coercion, threats, intimidation, deception and violence for this purpose. Serious atrocities have been reportedly committed by these forces… The victims of the Salwa Judum campaign and supported by the Chhattisgarh state, are mostly civilians. The aggression on civilians is a direct violation of International Fundmental Rights and International Humanitarian Law…Instead of being protected… against the dangers from military action, civilians are even the objects of attack in Chhattisgarh.” (International Association of People’s Lawyers, October 2007).
Such operations are carried out with the aid of the State, even though it has been declared by the Supreme Court of India in 2011 that the operations of such groups are illegal as they are prima facie criminal activities and furthermore encouragement is their violating the Constitution of India. Supreme Court stated:
“The State of Chhattisgarh shall forthwith make every effort to recall all firearms issued to any of the SPOs, whether current or former, along with any and all accoutrements and accessories issued to use such firearms. The word firearm as used shall include any and all forms of guns, rifles, launchers etc., of whatever calibre.” (Nandini Sundar and Ors. v State of Chhattisgarh, P (Civil) No. 250 of W 2007)
Despite this judgement, the BJP Government of Chhattisgarh led by Chief Minister Raman Singh has not significantly reversed previous policy. Recent years have seen the emergence of alarming ‘counter-insurgency’ activities in the State.
SRP Kalluri, the Inspector General of Bastar Range, the highest police officer in the Bastar district, has been at loggerheads with the Human Rights activists, journalists and lawyers who are working to uphold human rights in the region and lately many of them have received abuse, threats and in some cases brutal attacks recently. Ministers, Parliamentarians, National Media and Government Officials are all silent on the issue, although civil society is trying hard to bring their attention to the blatant violations of human rights that is occurring in the state.
Recent attacks on indigenous people in Chhattisgarh:
Sexual assaults on indigenous women
There have been media reports highlighting an instance of a series of gangrapes committed by the state security forces in villages in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, where the victims are all women from indigenous families living in the forest-villages of the region.
The incident of sexual assault, beating and loot of personal belongings came to light when a few local journalists travelled to the area on October 27 to investigate the news of an encounter between security forces and Maoists. The journalists had heard that troops from the state police and the Central Reserve Police Force had carried out an anti-Maoist operation in the area, exchanging fire with the Maoists. At Sarkeguda village, however, they came across a starkly different account. Villagers told them the security forces had carried out rape and plunder in villages about 15 kilometres away.
In this particular instance, three women and one teenage girl, with the help of a national women’s activist network, were able to successfully report their rape:
The 14-year-old girl said she was grazing cattle with other women when she was chased by the security forces. Overpowered and blindfolded, she was raped by at least three people before she became unconscious. A woman in the fourth month of her pregnancy said she was stripped by the security personnel and dunked in a village stream. The security forces removed their clothes and jumped in behind her, raping her in the water. …The women, however, told the collector that the sexual violence did not stop at the rapes. Several women had been beaten on their thighs and buttocks, they alleged. Their lower clothing had been lifted, their blouses torn, and they had been threatened with further sexual violence – the security personnel said they would push chillies up their vaginas. At least two women who were breast feeding had their breasts pinched and squeezed for milk to prove they had breastfeeding infants.
Fact Finding teams and human rights defenders have documented at least three cases of mass sexual violence [(Kunna village (Sukma district) and Nendra village (Bijapur) on the same dates of January 11 to 14, 2016) and previously during October 19-24, 2015 in Peddagelur village (Bijapur)] in the past three months itself, where security forces have run amok in the villages, stripping women, playing with their naked bodies and indulging in gangrape, looting their precious food supplies, and destroying their homes and granaries. Supported with lawyers, the women were trying to pursue their complaints when this has been threatened (as mentioned below).
Attack on Adivasi activists
On 20th February, 2016, notable Adivasi activist Soni Sori was attacked. An unknown chemical substance was thrown in her face, causing a severe allergic reaction for which she is still undergoing hospitalization. This attack occurred when she was about to file a complaint against the Inspector General of Police, Bastar Range – viz. – SRP Kalluri – for atrocities committed by this person and his forces against indigenous people. Soni Sori has previously been brutally tortured and sexually assaulted by the Chhattisgarh Police in custody for her alleged connections to Maoist insurgents.
Attack on lawyers representing Adivasis
Two lawyers – Adv. Shalini Gera and Adv. Isha Khandelwal – who, together, were members of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group– a group established to represent indigenous people adversely impacted by the Common Law-oriented criminal justice system which offer scant space for indigenous voices to be heard before the Law, have been harassed and hounded out of Jagdalpur, the district headquarters of Bastar. Adv. Khandelwal and Adv. Gera have been facing harassment for some time now, starting with a resolution being passed by the Bastar Bar Association that they cannot practice in the trial courts there, followed by calling these two lawyers to police stations to show their credentials as advocates, and followed by a series of harassments perpetrated by the police, instigated by SRP Kalluri, to the owner of the accommodation that these two lawyers had rented – which led to these lawyers being left with no choice but to leave Bastar and the numerous cases they had to defend numerous tribal – those who are facing grave criminal charges of sedition – of the region.
Similar fate has also befallen those close to the ‘JagLAG’ lawyers:
“Late Wednesday night, the police also picked up the owner of the house that JagLag had rented. A driver by profession, he was released after a few hours, but his vehicle was impounded. “Our badly shaken landlord informed us at 2 am this morning that he has no option but to ask us to vacate our house and office within a week,” the JagLag lawyers wrote in an email on Thursday.”
They were thus forced to leave Bastar on 19th February, 2016. – and, after a series of harassments including passing a Resolution through the Bar Associations at the trial courts by the other lawyers in the trial courts at Bastar, most of whom neither belong to indigenous group, nor have any whiff of sympathy for the indigenous people when faced with such an alien criminal justice system.
These two lawyers who were representing the countless indigenous people of the Bastar region detained by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008, the Arms Act, 1959 and the much-abused ‘sedition’ Sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1861. These indigenous people have thus been left with no lawyer to represent them before courts of law despite having been charged with such grave offences as sedition. Hostility against this human rights advocates’ group has been on the rise from several quarters – the police, the Bar Associations of the trial courts at Bastar et al. Ever since SRP Kalluri was posted as IG of Bastar Range, he has been hounding them out. From giving thinly veiled threats at press conferences that he is closely monitoring NGOs providing “legal aid to Naxalites”, to informing their clients that they are about to arrest these two advocates for their alleged ‘Maoist’ activities, to claiming before visiting journalists and researchers that they are merely a “Maoist front”, he has been out to get them.
Harassment and attacks against journalists
Malini Subramaniam, a journalist with Scroll, online news portal, has been harassed an and forced to leave Bastar district for her reportage of police excesses in the region. Malini Subramaniam was the first to report on mass sexual assaults by armed forces in Bastar district, including the November 15 report referenced above. Stones were thrown at her house, and the domestic worker who works at her residence was summoned by the local police and made to stay at the police station for hours
“Hours after the Caravan report appeared online, the police showed up at the house of Subramaniam’s domestic worker, Prachi Saxena, a woman in her twenties. She was taken for questioning to the police station. Under the guise of investigating the attack on Subramaniam’s house, the police was mounting pressure on her.”
In the face of such assaults launched her and her entire family, she and her entire family were forced to relocate from Bastar by 19th February 2016.
Rise in new vigilante groups
The above mentioned incidents have closely coincided with the rise of new vigilante groups and provocateurs who have intimidated journalists and activists they perceive as sympathetic to Naxalites. Before stones were thrown at her house at night, journalist Malini Subramaniam witnessed a group of twenty men chant life-threatening slogans outside her house
Subramaniam immediately recognised two of the men: Manish Parakh and SampatJha. Both were part of another group of approximately 20 men who had visited her house on January 10. They had introduced themselves as members of Samajik Ekta Manch which they described as a newly formed forum in Jagdalpur town to counter Naxalism in Bastar and support the police in its work. Later, Subramaniam found out that Parakh is the secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Yuva Morcha and that Sampat Jha is a member of the Congress in Jagdalpur.
A recent report by Current Magazine details how this new organization has close ties to the Police, particularly Kalluri:
On 22 December 2015, the Samajik Ekta Manch had organised a Dhhikkar or a condemnation rally against Maoists in Jagdalpur. This was the organisation’s first public appearance, attended by a large crowd… News reports also stated that RN Dash, the police superintendent of Bastar, attended the demonstration with Kamalochan Kashyap, the police superintendent of Dantewada district. According to a journalist who was there, Kalluri was present too. He reportedly said that the rally “increased the confidence” of the police force. While this was the first instance in which the Samajik Ekta Manch and Kalluri explicitly expressed their support for each other, it was not the only one. Since then, the leaders of the organisation have been spotted with the chief of police of Bastar at several public events.
Elsewhere, reports of attempts revive the old Salwa Judum under the name of “Vikas to Sangharsh Samiti”– led by the creator of Judum’s son no less – have struck fear at the possibility of further escalating violence in Chhattisgarh.
Existing reports on human rights abuses against Adivasis in Chhattisgarh
In this regard we would also like to refer to the Report on Indigenous Issues from your esteemed office dated 26th January 2004, indexed E/CN.4/2004/80. In Part B of the Report, at paragraphs 24, you had stated that:
“Entrenched habits of discrimination against indigenous peoples weigh heavily on the justice system in some countries, such as India…it was observed that plea bargaining is used as a way of making indigenous and vulnerable persons accept charges for crimes they have not committed; laws protecting vulnerable groups are not enforced, because of the negative attitude of law enforcement agencies towards these persons…”
Again, in Paragraph 30 of the same Report, you had stated thus:
“The overrepresentation of indigenous people in corrective institutions is often linked to overpolicing in areas where indigenous persons live and to the intense focus by enforcement bodies on indigenous activities, which leads to higher levels of arrests. Studies show that indigenous people are overrepresented in court, are charged with more offences than non-indigenous, are more likely to be denied bail, spend less time with their lawyers and receive higher sentences when pleading guilty”
Once again, in Paragraph 32, you had stated that
“violence against tribal groups, especially women and youth are common and numerous complaints of such violence and physical abuse perpetrated by local authorities, law enforcement agencies, military units, vigilante groups and paramilitaries and private armed squads had been received by the Rapporteur from several countries.”
We would like to bring to your notice that, since the publication of your Report in December 2004, the attack on indigenous people in the guise of ‘counter-insurgency’ operations has risen. While many Human Rights groups have reported the virtual Civil War between the State (chiefly through Salwa Judum) and the Naxalites, the last few years have seen a return to these violent excesses.
As reprehensible as the violence and intimidation committed against these activists are, for every incident against them lies many more against Adivasis, often in the guise of the state attempting to solve the more public crimes against non-Adivasi activists.
Human Rights Watch recognises that in order to intimidate activists it is often Adivasis who are first targeted
“Human rights workers and activists, particularly those that speak out against abuses by government forces, fear being labeled “Maoist” supporters and being taken into custody or worse. Local activists concede that they do come into contact with the Maoists: working in remote parts of in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh makes that inevitable. State security forces, frustrated by their inability to track Maoist fighters who slip into the forests in the adjoining states, often direct their attacks against “soft” targets—villagers from areas that support the Maoists and activists who criticize police abuses and state policies.” (Human Rights Watch, 2012)
Much of what we know comes only from these few journalists, lawyers and activists. Their advocacy is especially important given the invisible nature of Adivasis in media coverage and public accountability. The countless violations committed by the Chhattisgarh state, Police and vigilante groups are only possible due to the little public knowledge or awareness of the plight of Adivasis. Soni Sori herself spoke of this disconnect between greater, urban India and rural adivasi communities:
When there is any violence committed against Adivasis or villagers, then the people in the cities do not come out and protest. Urban populations never raise their voices in support of the rural population. It does not matter to city people what happens to Adivasis and rural citizens, they have no sympathy for people like us, that is for sure. Even in Bastar, if something happens to a non-Adivasi girl, the non-Adivasi population ensures that the city comes to a standstill. However if something happens to a girl in a village just a few kilometres from the town the police and local population make no noise.
We thus argue that the systemic violation of the human rights of lawyers, journalists and activists in Chhattisgarh by the State is occurring upon the basis of undermining the indigenous rights of Adivasi’s, particularly their rights to land and self-determination. Without the presence of civil society organisations, we will have no capacity to understand the full scale of oppression against Adivasis by the State and other counter-insurgency groups.
Meanwhile, on 27/02/2016, the ‘official’ Facebook TM Page of Amit Kataria, the District Magistrate of Bastar, had posted an ‘ official’ version of the happenings, written purportedly by a person named Areeb Ahmad, who is apparently a fellow of Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fund – a scholarship awarded for field-research by the Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India. The article seeks to portray all the tribal-rights activists including the Legal Aid team and Malini as Naxalite sympathizers and it calls Soni a liar and a Naxalite. It challenges the validity of each and every statement made by Soni regarding her attack and seeks to establish that she is a Naxalite propagandist and a liar, that she did not get attacked but is play-acting her injuries. We assert that the entire article published by the official facebook page of Amit Kataria, the DM of Bastar is state-propaganda generated so as to maintain military occupation over the indigenous lands and enable mining and industrial activities to flourish in the region at the cost of tribality. A closer scrutiny would reveal that the article reflects no rationale, no rhyme nor reason behind such allegations that it levy against tribal leaders and activists who are a voice against excesses perpetrated by the state-security forces, those like the ones that had happened in Sukma, Bastar, on October-November 2015. The reason behind such propaganda is clear and it seeks to undermine, nay, severely harm the cause of the indigenous people of Bastar. That the article is highly suspicious and dubious in nature has also been acknowledged by the national media.
We request you to consider all such official versions of these events as may be released by the government of India henceforth and perhaps also by several sections of the mainstream media that are close to the government with discretion because, as a policy, the state of India now seeks to clear up Bastar, at whatever cost the indigenous may bear, and hand it over to the mining companies and industrial conglomerates of the country. The tribal people of Bastar are in severe peril.
In this context, we would like to place the following pleas before you:
1) Please help us in realising these basic human rights of the indigenous people and the rights of the human rights workers, lawyers, journalists and others are upheld by the Government of India and the Chhattisgarh State Government by bringing these perpetrators to justice and ensuring that a systematic approach is adopted by the government to the benefit of all human rights workers, lawyers and journalists especially those who are in volatile regions like Bastar for the indigenous communities.
2) Please notify the other appropriate and relevant good offices of the United Nations including those under the United Nations Human Rights Council and the ECOSOC regarding the escalating violence on the indigenous communities of Bastar – constitutive of 42 ‘Gondi’ tribal groups of the region – so as to make ameliorative measures possible. Thanking You,
Aarushi Mahajan, National Law University, Delhi
Abhimanyu Madan, Technical University of Munich
Aditya Shrivastava, Legal Coordinator, Support Cell for CSOs
Adivasi Koordination Committee, Germany
Adv. Chandranath Dani, Human Rights Defenders Alert‐India (HRDA)
Ajay Singh, National Law University, Jodhpur
Karnataka jan aarogya chaluvali
Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture –ASHA
Amartya Kanjilal. Advocate, Delhi.
Ananya Ghosh, Bangalore
Angana CHATTERJI , Berkeley
Ankita Aggarwal, activist Jharkhand Jan Adhikar
Anu Mandavilli, San Jose Peace & Justice Center
Anush Shetty, Bangalore
Aritra Bhattacharya, Principal Correspondent, The Statesman, Research Scholar, Center for Studies
in Social Sciences, Kolkata
Aruna Chandrasekhar, Amnesty International India, Bangalore
Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
Aruna Roudrigues, Madhya Pradesh
Atindriya Chakraborty, Advocate, Kolkata
Balaji Narasimhan, Advocate
Balmurli Natrajan, William Paterson University of New Jersey
Clifton D’ Rozario, Advocate, Mathan Law, Bangalore
Darshana Mitra, Advocate, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore
Debapriya Mukherjee, Advocate, Human Rights Law Network, Kolkata
Dilnaz Boga, independent journalist, Mumbai
Dr. Theodor Rathgeber, Adivasi‐Koordination, Germany
Dr. Veena Shatrughna, Hyderabad
Dunu Roy, Hazards Centre, Delhi
Food Sovereignty Alliance, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh
Fr Stan Swamy, Jharkhand
GreeshmaArunaRai, Advocate, Bangalore
Henri Tiphagne, National Working Secretary, Human Rights Defenders’ Alert ‐ India & All India
Network of Individuals and NGOs working with National and State Human Rights Institutions
Himanshu Kumar, Educationist and social worker, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh and New Delhi
Jeevika Shiv, Lawyer
Jinee Lokaneeta, Drew university, New Jersey
KalyaniMenonSen, Feminist Learning Partnerships, Gurgaon
KarthikBittu, University of Hyderabad
KunalDev, activist, Uthanu, Birbhum, West Bengal
LatikaVashist, Indian Law Institute
Madhushree Mukherjee, Writer
Makepeace Sitlhou, Amnesty International, Bangalore
Manasi Pingle, Filmmaker, Bangalore
Mathew Jacob ‐ Human Rights Defenders Alert
MeenalTatpati, Researcher, Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group
Nikhil Dey, MazdoorKisan Shakti Sangathan
Nikita Agarwal, Advocate, Delhi
Nikita Sonavane, Law Student, Government Law College – Mumbai
Pallavi Gupta, Public Health Practitioner
ParijataBhardwaj, Advocate Mumbai
Praavita, MazdoorKisan Shakti Sangathan
Pradyut Bhattacharjee, SESTa, Assam
Prashant Bhushan, Advocate and political activist, New Delhi
PrathimaNalabolu, PMRDF, Khammam
Rahul Ganguly, Advocate, Kolkata
Raksha Kumar, independent journalist, Bangalore
Rashmi Gera, Bombay
Ria Singh Sawhney, Advocate
Ruby Hembrom, Writer, Kolkata
Rupal Oza, Hunter College, CUNY
S R Gera, Delhi
Samantha Agarwal, Scholar, Johns Hopkins University
Santanu Chacraverti, Historian and Environmentalist, Kolkata
Santanu Chakraborty, Advocate, Kolkata
Sayantan Saha Roy, Research Scholar, Chicago University, Illinois
Seema Misra, Advocate, Delhi
Sharib A Ali, research coordinator, Quill Foundation
Sharmila Purkayastha, Professor, Miranda House, Delhi University
Shivani Taneja, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
Siddharth Dube, author and columnist
ShobhaRaghavan, Human Rights Activist, Bangalore
ShrutiAjit, Researcher, Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group
Siddharth Vishwanath, Bangalore
Sneha Kaushal, Jharkhand
Snehlata Nath, Keystone Foundation
Soumik Banerjee, activist, Jharkhand
Sreekumar Kodiyath, Independent Researcher (Refugee Rights)
Sudershan Gera, Delhi
Tania Devaiah, Goa
Tathagata Sengupta, Democratic Teachers Network
Trideep Pais, Advocate,
Ulrich Delius, Asia Desk Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
UpasanaChauhan, student, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences
Vaibhav Vaish, INSPIRE Faculty, ISI Bangalore
Vidushi, Research Scholar, TISS, Mumbai
Vikas Dubey, Activist, Jharkhand Jan Adhikar, Jharkhand
Vinay K Sreenivasa, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore