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

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