False charges as instrument of terror

SANSAD News-release, November 12, 2016

Dismiss false charges against human rights defenders

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), an organization of the South Asian Diaspora in Canada, utterly deplores the shocking charges of “criminal conspiracy” and “murder” laid against Nandini Sundar, professor of sociology at Delhi University, professor Archana Prasad of Jawaharlal Nehru University, several political rights and adivasi rights activists and others by Chattisgarh police on October 5.

These charges were laid in regard to the killing of adivasi villager, Shamnath Baghel by Maoists in Nama village in Bastar on the night of October 4. According to the police they were laid in response to the naming of the accused by Shamnath’s wife, Vimala Baghel. However, Vimala  Baghel has said in an interview with NDTV that she did not recognize any of the armed attackers and had been instructed by the police to not talk to outsiders and the media.

These absurd charges against professors Sundar and Prasad and others engaged in bringing to light the atrocities of the police and the adivasis militia armed by the police against other adivais suspected of sympathizing with Maoists is only the latest episode in a long campaign to “pacify” the tribals who are resisting the destruction of their land and forest habitat by mining companies. Nandini Sundar has been exposing the fake encounters, rapes, custodial torture and deaths for more than ten years. In 2007 she, Ramchandra Guha, and E. A. S. Sharma had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court against Salwa Judum, an armed militia set up by the police, leading to the Supreme Court’s banning of  this organization as unconstitutional. In May 2016 Sundar and others had visited Nama village on a fact finding  mission to investigate atrocities and published a report that was critical of both the police and Maoists.

It is standard procedure for states to impose information blackout in areas where state terror is used against the people, whether it be to crush the resistance to resource extraction or the demand for autonomy. The absence of information is then filled with propaganda that justifies the repression. This is amply illustrated by developments in India, nowhere more clearly than in the tribal belt and Kashmir. These practices were pioneered by colonial powers, who also developed the tactic of arming and empowering one section of the oppressed group against the other.

There has been an escalation of attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and academics reporting on atrocities in Chattisgarh in the past year: adivasi human rights activist Soni Sori had acid thrown on her face following intense hararssment on February 20, and at the same time the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group faced a campaign of intimidation and eviction that forced them to leave the area. Journalist Malini Subramanian and social scientist Bela Bhatia too faced similar harassment compelling them to leave the area where they had been investigating atrocities. As in the events of February the false charges against Nandini Sundar and others flow  from the recent  Central Bureau of Investigation charge sheet against special police officers in Chattisgarh finding them responsible for burning down three villages in 2011 for which initially Maoists had been blamed. The charge sheets had been immediately followed by the burning of effigies of Nandini Sundar and other human rights activists by armed auxiliary forces personnel across Bastar range under the direction of the police.

As civil society groups in India have recognized in a series of statements and meetings the intense attack on all efforts to bring to light the atrocities committed by the police against adivasis is taking place today within a general assault on civil society. Freedom of information, enquiry, and expression is severely under stress in India today.

We demand that the false charges against Nandini Sundar, Archana Prasad and others be immediately withdrawn.

We further demand that an independent fact finding mission be established to investigate the atrocities in Chattisgarh.

—Thirty—

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), www.sansad.org

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