Category Archives: Statements/News Releases

Condemning the murder of Berta Caseras

SANSAD News-release March 8, 2016

Grief and condemnation for the murder of Berta Caseras

On this International Women’s Day, 2016 South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) grieves for and condemns the murder on March 4 of Berta Caseras, a great human being and champion of environmental and indigenous rights in Honduras, in her sleep in her hometown, La Esperanza. She was shot in her bed in a house where she had gone for the night as a safety measure against the death threats that she had been receiving as a part of her practice of not sleeping in the same place. We condemn the police for their attempt to cover up this assassination by claiming that it was a result of a robbery.

As a leading human rights activist and a founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh), Berta Caseras had been opposing mining and hydroelectric projects that were destroying the lands of her Lenca people. In particular her organization was opposing the construction of the Agua Zanca dam in the community of Rio Blanco that would have flooded large areas of indigenous land and cut off water for hundreds of people. For this opposition people from her organization were being harassed and threatened by the energy company DESA that was operating the hydroelectric project, the mayor, the police, and the military. She and her family of five children had been receiving threats of sexual violence and murder for several years, about which the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the UN special rapporteur for indigenous rights had notified president Hernandez of Honduras last year in their appeal for her protection.

Berta Caseras’s work had pitted her against local landlords and international corporations that were engaged in mining and the Agua Zanca project, including Siemens, Voith-Hydro, Dutch FMO, and Fin Fund. The Honduran government, which enabled these projects was brought into power by a military coup in 2009 with the covert support of the United States under the guidance of then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The US since then has been training and funding the police and the military in Honduras while the country has become the most dangerous place on earth for human rights defenders and environmental activists.

Berta Caseras was awarded the Goldman Environment Prize, the highest prize for grassroots environmental activism in the world, in 2015. Mindful of the atmosphere of threat she lived under, she had said in her acceptance speech, “giving our lives in various ways for the protection of rivers is giving our lives for the well being of humanity and of this planet.” We, members of the South Asian diaspora in British Columbia, Canada, where strong resistance is taking place against pipelines, fracking, and the construction of the Site C dam on indigenous lands, stand in solidarity with the people who have protested her assassination, the students at the University of Honduras who have clashed with the police in anger, and the thousands who have marched in her

funeral to celebrate the life of Berta Caseras, condemn the forces that brought it to its untimely end, and demand an end to the destruction of the environment, genocidal displacement of indigenous people, and the regime of terror against human rights and environmental activists in Honduras.

Board of Directors

SANSAD: www.sansad.com

 

State attack on Adivasis

SANSAD News-release February 24, 2016

Stop genocidal atrocities against Adivasis (tribals) in India

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) condemns the “acid” attack on Adivasi human rights activist, Soni Sori by unknown persons in Bastar  district of Chattishgarh on February 20 and the eviction from their home and office of the lawyers in Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (Jag-LAG) through police intimidation earlier on the same day. We further condemn the driving out from the state by police intimidation of the journalist Malini Subramaniam a few days earlier and the continuing police harassment and intimidation of social scientist, Bela Bhatia, formerly teacher at Tata Institute for Social Sciences, Mumbai, for her writings on the sexual harassment and gang-rapes of Adivasi women by security personnel.

These events are a part of the war the Indian state is waging against Adivasis in Chattisgarh to “pacify” this region of largely forest lands rich in mineral resources for mining, though the overt character of the operation is that of a counter-insurgency against the armed struggle led by the CPI (Maoist). A major aspect of this operation is the intimidation and incarceration of people on the charge of being associated with or sympathetic to the Maoists, who spearhead the resistance of adivasis, while others include individual or mass killings under the guise of fake encounters, looting, rapes, and gang rapes. Following the colonial textbook of counter insurgency one section of the Adivasis is privileged and organized as an arm of the state for violence and intimidation. Also following the textbook of such operations of state violence information is strictly controlled and observation and reporting are violently discouraged.

Soni Sori, a school teacher, had been arrested in 2011 on the false charge of being associated with Maoists and spent two years in prison, where she was brutally  tortured, till she was released on bail by the Supreme Court in 2013. At the same time Lingaram Kodopi, her nephew a journalist who had exposed a massacre, was also imprisoned, served two years, and was similarly released. Since their release both Sori and Kodopi have been active in the defense of the human rights of Adivasis. Soni Sori, who has been leading the campaign for human rights in the region has faced continuous harassment and intimidation, including threats of being burnt alive. None of these incidents have been investigated. The  attack with chemicals on February 20 that led to Sori being taken to hospital emergency in New Delhi  with burns and swelling on her face followed a failed attempt by  her to lodge a police complaint against the Bastar Range Inspector General of Police S. R. P. Kalluri for intimidation.

The case of Soni Sori had alerted lawyers to the plight of Adivasis in Chattisgarh, four of whom were activated to move from New Delhi to Jagdalpur, where they set up the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group in 2013. They were the only lawyers the Adivasis had had to take up their cases. The Jag-LAG lawyers discovered that hundreds of Adivasis were held in appalling conditions in severely overcrowded jails for many years without any legal representation, without bail, and without ever understanding the charges and proceedings that were in a language they did not understand. One jail with a capacity of 65 held more than 600 inmates, another with a capacity of 150 held 500. Between  2005 and 2012 ninety five percent of the cases had been dismissed, with most people being held in prison for 6 years before acquittal. These lawyers, who offered the only hope for the Adivasis of Chattisgarh and were currently working on 40 cases in addition to the defense of two journalists, Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav who had been arrested in July 2015, were hounded out on February 20 when their landlord was intimidated by the police into evicting them.

Malini Subramaniam, who had lived in Jagdalpur since 2011, first as an aid worker with the International Committee fro the Red Cross and then as a journalist writing for Scroll.in, was similarly hounded out after relentless harassment by the police and Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante group associated with the police. She had been reporting on the protests against fake encounters, rapes and sexual violence by security forces, and fake surrenders by alleged Maoists. After weeks of intimidation by the police and the vigilante group she was given an immediate eviction notice by her landlord and forced to leave with her husband and two daughters on February 18. The crisis was precipitated by the publication in the Caravan magazine of the link between the police and the Bastar Samajik Ekta Manch the previous day.

We utterly condemn the atrocities of the Indian state in Chattisgarh that amount to what is today recognized as colonial and post-colonial genocide perpetrated in the course of counter-insurgency measures. We further condemn the systematic campaign of terror used to suppress the struggle for human rights and maintain an information blackout in the area. We demand that the human rights of the Adivasis and their democratic rights as citizens of India be respected, the paramilitary groups be disarmed and restrained, the rule of law be established, an independent investigation be conducted into the abuses by the police and security forces, and journalists and lawyers be assured the safety they need to perform their essential role in a democratic society.

—Thirty—

Board of Directors, SANSAD: www.sansad.org

Attack on universities in India

SANSAD News-release, February 14, 2016

Stop the attack on universities in India

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) condemns the arrest of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar and seven other students on the charge of sedition and criminal conspiracy in New Delhi on February 12 and February 13. These arrests, following a meeting held on the university campus  on February 9 to commemorate  what the organizers called the “judicial killing” of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted for the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 who was hanged in secret in the Tihar jail in 2014, are another example of the campaign of terror by the state apparatus and non-state operators in India to silence dissent and prohibit debate in universities and public spaces.

We deplore the statements of the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh and the Minister for Human Resource Development, Smriti Irani urging the prosecution of dissenting students in universities that have been called a declaration of war against universities by leading educators, intellectuals, artists, and writers in a statement issued on February 14. Revealing the connection between the government’s agenda and the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS),  the latter has called for the purge of all dissenting students, branded as “anti-national,”  from universities across India.

The events at JNU are intimately related to the recent events at the University of Hyderabad that led to the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula on January 17. In both incidents a group of dissenting students were attacked by the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, who called on the university to expel dissenting students labeled “ant-national” while the University administration, also bowing to the government, obliged by collaborating with the police against the accused students. The JNU Teachers’ Union and a distinguished body of JNU alumni including many internationally renowned scholars have condemned the University administration for enabling the police’s to make extensive search of the university premises and random arrests of students at the expense of the university’s internal processes.

We stand in solidarity with the JNU Student Union, JNU Teacher’s Union, and all students, intellectuals, artists, and writers in India who are engaged in defending India’s secular constitution and the right to the freedom of thought and expression that it grants the citizens of India.  We applaud their struggle to maintain democracy and the right to dissent that is fundamental to it. we condemn the government of India for its use of state and non-state operators to subvert democracy and the freedom to think, express, and dissent. We deplore the pliancy of the university administration to the dictates of the ruling party. We demand that all the students who have been arrested be immediately released with all the charges against them dropped and that places of education in India be kept free for enquiry, expression and debate.

—Thirty—

Board of Directors, SANSAD: www.sansad.org

Death of another Dalit scholar

SANSAD News-release January 21, 2016

End the systemic violence against Dalit scholars in India

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) mourns the suicide of Dalit PhD student, Rohit Vemula at the University of Hyderabad on January 17 and joins the students, academics, civil society organizations, and politicians across India in condemning the persistent and increasing violence against Dalits in India and the systemic discrimination in its institutes of higher education, of which Rohith’s tragic death is a consequence.

Twenty-five year old Rohith, came from a poor Dalit family in Guntur to pursue research in science, technology, and society at the University of Hyderabad. He was member of the Ambedkar Student Association and active in supporting social justice causes. This brought him into conflict with the student wing of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS), Akhil Bharatya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). When the ABVP attacked the screening of Nakul Singh Sawhney’s film Muzzaffarnagar Baaqui Hai, on the violence against Muslims in UP that left many dead and thousands displaced in 2013, ASA students marched against the ABVP. Some false charges by ABVP and pressure from the union ministers of Labour and Human Resource Development in the BJP government led the Vice Chancellor of the university to expel Rohith and four other members of ASA from the university, evicting them from the hostel and banning them from the use of campus facilities. Rohith also lost his research stipend. In protest the expelled students and their supporters slept in the open outside the gates of the university and went on a hunger strike. Rohith managed to get into a friend’s room in the hostel and hanged himself, leaving a suicide note expressing his ambition to be a wrier and his profound alienation in a society that had lost all authenticity.

This tragic incident is not isolated. In May 2015 Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) had derecognized the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle and banned the students from using campus facilities following the intervention of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, generating country-wide student protests that compelled it to reverse its decision. In 2010 Balmukund Bharti, a final-year medical student at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, hanged himself on account of being bullied and belittled as a reservation student; in 2011 a 20-year old Dalit student jumped to his death at IIT-Roorkee apparently because of bullying; in 2012 Anil Kumar Meena, son of a poor Dalit farmer from Rajasthan, who was a ranked student in the admission examination for for All India Medical Institute, New Delhi, hanged himself after failing his First Year MBBS examination because of his inadequate command of English, and in 2015 seventy two Dalit students were expelled from IIT-Roorkee for poor performance, though they were later reinstated.

We join our voice to those in India demanding the end to caste discrimination and justice for the victims of systemic violence and political interference in the institutes of higher learning. We demand that the university authorities and government ministers responsible for this tragedy be held accountable.

—Thirty—