Category Archives: Statements/News Releases

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—

Assault on democracy

SANSAD News-release December 28, 2015

Judicial Assault on Democracy in India

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) deplores the revocation of bail for Delhi University professor of English, G, N. Saibaba and the charge of criminal contempt against renowned writer, Arundhati Roy by the single judge bench of the Nagpur branch of Bombay High Court comprising Justice Arun Choudhari, on December 23, 2015.

Prof. Saibaba is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic who suffers 90% physical disability due to post-polio paralysis in childhood. He began his career as an activist by campaigning for the rights of the downtrodden lower-caste people in his native Andhra Pradesh. Later he campaigned against the “encounter killings” of Maoists staged by the police in Andhra and the assassination of rights activists by the paid agents of the state. After moving to Delhi in early 2000s he took up the cause of the Adivasis in the tribal belt who were being intimidated, killed, and displaced by the state to access the resources in the forests and lands they inhabited. From 2009 to 2012 he campaigned against Operation Green Hunt, the military and paramilitary offensive in the tribal belt against the Maoists through his organization, Forum Against War on People.

Saibaba was picked up in May, 2014 by plainclothes police on his way home from the university, flown to Nagpur, charged under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and imprisoned for having contact with Maoists. He suffered acute distress and rapid deterioration of health because of the brutal condition of his imprisonment. After 14 months he was granted bail for three months to attend to his health by the Bombay High Court, and in September the principal bench of the Bombay High Court extended the bail fill December 31. The new order has reversed this and compelled Prof. Saibaba to return to Nagpur Central Jail, where his is being held in solitary confinement.

Justice Choudhari’s ruling also quotes extensively from an article by Arundhati Roy criticizing the denial of bail to professor Saibaba, “Professor P. O. W,” published in Outlook magazine in May to institute proceedings against Roy for criminal contempt for “bashing the Central Government, the State Government, the Police machinery so also judiciary” in “nasty” language.  Clearly it is not the critics of the abuse of justice in India but such judgements that bring disrepute and ridicule to the judiciary in India, which is the ostensible reason for the charge of criminal contempt.

G, N. Saibaba is a well-known champion of democratic rights and civil liberties in India and Arundhati Roy is a writer of international renown, but the judicial assault on them is a part of the ongoing and increasing attack on activists, writers, and journalists who criticize governments and the state in India by hired killers or the repressive state apparatus of draconian legislation, police, and the judiciary. In another recent example journalists Santosh Yadav and Somaru Naag were arrested in Chhatisgarh in September and July, respectively,  under Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), one of the several draconian laws in the arsenal of the Indian state. Such laws are freely used to terrorize citizens into docile subjection. We condemn such laws and their use to silence those who stand up for their rights and those who dare to defend them.

—Thirty—