Restore the Rule of Law in Bastar: an appeal from lawyers, activists, artists, journalists and academicians

A galaxy of eminent lawyers, scholars, writers, artists, editors, journalists and other concerned citizens have signed a strong appeal today, calling for the restoration of the rule of law in Bastar.

This is an appeal for restoration of the rule of law in Bastar (Chhattisgarh), assured access without interference to any persons concerned with human rights abuses in the area, and action against those guilty of harassing such persons or other violations of human rights.

Among other recent incidents of harassment is a brazen attack on Dr. Bela Bhatia, an independent scholar and activist who has been striving to live and work peacefully in Bastar for the last two years. On 23 January, a belligerent group of about 30 goons barged into her house in Parpa village (outside Jagdalpur), threatened to burn it, and told her to leave within 24 hours or face the consequences. Under pressure, Bela and her landlady had to sign a statement promising that she would leave the next day. This happened just after Bela helped a team of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate local women’s complaints of sexual violence by the security forces near Bijapur. Despite the police having video footage of the incident, no action has been taken against anyone. Bela had faced similar harassment before, on several occasions.

There have been many similar acts of harassment of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, scholars and other independent observers in Bastar during the last few months. The Jagdalpur Legal Aid (JAGLAG) group had to leave the area after their landlord came under pressure from the police. Journalists Malini Subramaniam from Scroll and Alok Putul from BBC were also forced to leave, and many local journalists (Lingaram Kodopi, Santosh Yadav, Samaru Nag, among others) have been harassed in one way or another. Soni Sori, Manish Kunjam and other outspoken leaders of opposition parties such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Communist Party of India (CPI) have been routinely threatened or attacked. Members of a team of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists who recently visited Bastar from Andhra Pradesh and Telengana were promptly booked under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. An absurd FIR has also been lodged by the police against sociologist Nandini Sundar and her colleagues, accusing them of murder no less. There have been many other recent cases of harassment of people who speak up against human rights violations in the area. To the best of our knowledge, no action has been taken against anyone in any of these cases.

Further, these are just a few incidents that came to the notice of the national media because the victims were able to defend themselves. Much larger numbers of local people, men and women, have been victims of worse human rights abuses from the police and security forces for years. The human rights situation in Bastar has come under persistent criticism from the NHRC, the National Commission for Women, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, the Supreme Court, and other respected institutions created for overseeing the protection of human rights and civil liberties.

Aside from the police and security forces, private vigilantes have also participated in recent acts of harassment of independent observers. There is evidence of police support for these outfits – first the Salwa Judum (now banned by the Supreme Court), then the Samajik Ekta Manch, and more recently the so-called Action Group for National Integration (AGNI). Video footage of the recent attack on Bela Bhatia was circulated by one AGNI member on social media. Last October, uniformed personnel of the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force burnt the effigies of six human rights activists in public, calling them “anti-national” – no action was taken against them.

The aim of these acts of intimidation and hostility appears to be to clear the area of any dissenting voices so that the police and security forces have a free hand. Inspector General of Police SRP Kalluri, notorious for his heavy-handed methods, makes no secret of this objective. This threatens to create an extremely dangerous situation in Bastar, where ordinary people have no defense whatsoever as the security forces exercise overwhelming power in the area without any accountability.

As citizens of India, we are deeply concerned about this situation as well as about the possibility that it might spread beyond Bastar. By way of immediate safeguards, we demand:

1. Restoration of the rule of law in Bastar. The security forces and other state institutions must act within the law and Constitution at all times.

2. Unrestricted access to the area, without interference, to all scholars, activists, lawyers, journalists and others concerned with human rights violations.

3. No state support for any vigilante groups that do not respect the law and human rights.

4. Strict and swift action against those guilty of recent acts of harassment and human rights violations.

Violence on peaceful residents and visitors, whether by the State machinery or state-sponsored vigilantes or Maoist cadre, must end, and negotiations to end armed conflict in the area must begin immediately.

Signatories

1. A.K. Shiva Kumar [Economist]

2. A.P. Shah [former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court and former Chairman, Law Commission of India)

3. Achin Vanaik [Retired professor, Delhi University]

4. Ajay S. Mehta [Sewa Mandir, Udaipur]

5. Ajit Menon [Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies]

6. Ajitha G.S. [Editor and publisher]

7. Akhil Kumar [Journalist]

8. Alina Tiphagne [People’s Watch]

9. Amit Mitra [Journalist]

10. Amita Baviskar [Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi]

11. Ammu Joseph [Journalist and author]

12. Amrita Johri [Satark Nagrik Sangathan, Delhi]

13. Anindita Adhikari [Research scholar, Brown University]

14. Anjali Bhardwaj [Satark Nagrik Sangathan, Delhi]

15. Anumeha Yadav [Reporter, Scroll.in]

16. Anuradha Joshi [Cluster Leader, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex]

17. Aparna John [Research scholar, University of Sussex]

18. Aparna Karthikeyan [Independent journalist]

19. Arun Srivastava [Senior journalist]

20. Aruna Roy [Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan]

21. Arundhati Roy [Writer]

22. Augustine Veliath [Child rights activist]

23. Aurobindo Ghose [Advocate and human rights activist]

24. Balveer Arora [Research Professor, Institute of Social Sciences]

25. Bina Agarwal [Professor of Economics]

26. C. Rammanohar Reddy [Readers’ editor, Scroll.in]

27. C. Vanaja [Independent journalist]

28. Chaman Lal [Retired professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University]

29. Chandan Srivastawa [Journalist]

30. Chander Uday Singh [Senior Advocate, Supreme Court]

31. Debraj Ray [Professor of Economics, New York University]

32. Deepta Chopra [Research fellow, University of Sussex]

33. Dilip Simeon [Historian and writer]

34. Freny Manecksha [Independent journalist]

35. G. Mohan Gopal [Lawyer and former director, National Judicial Academy]

36. G. Sampath [Senior journalist and author]

37. Gautam Rao [Assistant Professor of Economics, Harvard University]

38. Gopal Subramanium [Senior Advocate and former Solicitor General of India]

39. Gouri Chatterjee [Journalist and writer]

40. H M Sanjeev Kumar [Professor, Department of Political Science, Delhi University]

41. Harsh Kapoor [Independent researcher]

42. Himanshu Thakkar [SANDRP, Dehi]

43. Hridayesh Joshi [Writer and journalist]

44. Ilina Sen [Academic]

45. Indira Jaising [Lawyers Collective, Delhi]

46. Ingrid Srinath [Director, Centre for Social Impact and Philantropy, Ashoka University]

47. Javed Akhtar [Poet and lyricist]

48. Jawahar Raja [Advocate, Delhi]

49. Jean Drèze [Visiting Professor, Department of Economics, Ranchi University]

50. Juhi Jain [Feminist activist]

51. Kalpana Sharma [Senior journalist]

52. Kalpana Sharma [Senior journalist]

53. Kamla Bhasin [Feminist activist]

54. Kavita Krishnan [All India Progressive Women’s Association]

55. Keshav Desiraju [IAS Ret’d and former Secretary, Government of India]

56. Lyla Mehta [Professorial fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex]

57. Manoj Mitta [Senior journalist and author]

58. Manoranjan Mohanty [Retired Professor of Political Science, Delhi University]

59. Meena Kandasamy [Writer]

60. Meena Seshu [Social activist]

61. Monalisa Jena [Journalist]

62. Mrinal Pande [Senior journalist and author]

63. N Sukumar [Professor, Department of Political Science, Delhi University]

64. Nalini Rajan [Professor of media studies]

65. Nancy Adajania [Cultural theorist and art critic]

66. Nandini Oza [Independent writer]

67. Nandini Rao [Feminist activist]

68. Nandita Das [Actor and film-maker]

69. Nandita Narain [Professor of Mathematics, St Stephen’s College, Delhi]

70. Nikhil Dey [Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan]

71. Nitin Sethi [Senior associate editor, Business Standard]

72. Pamela Philipose [Senior journalist]

73. Pankaj Mishra [Writer]

74. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta [Editor, Economic and Political Weekly]

75. Partha S. Banerjee [Academic]

76. Partha Sen [Retired Professor, Delhi School of Economics]

77. Poonam Muthreja [Executive Director, Population Foundation of India]

78. Prasanna Ramaswamy [Theatre worker]

79. Rahul Roy [Film-maker]

80. Rajaraman Sundaresan [Research scholar]

81. Rajeev Dhavan [Senior Advocate, Supreme Court]

82. Rajesh Dev [Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Delhi University]

83. Rajni George [Senior Editor, Penguin Random House India]

84. Ramachandra Guha [Historian]

85. Randeep Wadehra [Ordinary law-abiding citizen]

86. Ravinder Kaur [Head, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi]

87. Rebecca John [Senior Advocate, Supreme Court]

88. Reetika Khera [Associate Professor of Economics, IIT Delhi]

89. Richard Mahapatra [Journalist]

90. Rohini Mohan [Independent journalist, Bangalore]

91. Saba Dewan [Film-maker]

92. Sandhya Gokhale [Forum Against the Oppression of Women, Mumbai]

93. Sanjay Kak [Film-maker]

94. Satyajit Singh [Professor, Department of Political Science, Delhi University]

95. Shabana Azmi [Actor]

96. Shals Mahajan [Writer]

97. Sharmila Tagore [Actor]

98. Shome Basu [Journalist]

99. Shripad Dharamadhikary [Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Badwani and Pune]

100. Shubhranshu Choudhary [CGNet Swara]

101. Shuddhabrata Sengupta [Author and activist]

102. Shyam Divan [Senior advocate, Supreme Court]

103. Siddhartha [Advocate]

104. Sohail Hashmi [Writer and documentary film-maker]

105. Sohrab Hura [Photographer]

106. Sonia Faleiro [Author and publisher]

107. Sreenivasan Jain [Managing editor, NDTV]

108. Srinivasan Ramani [Senior journalist]

109. Sudha Narayanan [Associate Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research]

110. Sunit Arora [Journalist and consulting editor, Outlook]

111. Sunita Narain [Director, Centre for Science and Environment]

112. Supriya Sharma [National editor, Scroll.in]

113. Sushila Ravindranath [Senior journalist]

114. Suvir Kaul [Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania]

115. Swaminathan S.A. Aiyar [Consulting Editor, Times of India]

116. Syed Hassan Kazim [Journalist]

117. Syeda Hameed [former Member, Planning Commission]

118. Tanmoy Bhaduri [Photojournalist]

119. Tanvir Aeijaz [Associate Professor, Ramjas College, Delhi University]

120. Ujjwal Kumar Singh [Professor, Department of Political Science, Delhi University]

121. Uttam Sengupta [Executive Editor, National Herald]

122. Vipul Mudgal [Inclusive Media for Change]

123. Virginius Xaxa [Professor of Eminence, Tezpur University, Assam]

124. Wilfred Dcosta [INSAF]

125. Yug Mohit Chaudhry [Lawyer]

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    The rule of law may be possible if all the para- military forces and state sponsored vigilante groups are withdrawn from the tribal inhabitated areas of all the forest areas of the country, including bastar. The mining mafia should not be permitted to continue their illegal mining which is affecting the lives of adivasis.

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