Soni Sori, and some others villagers along with AAP leaders had sought a meeting with the Chief Minister Dr. Raman Singh on the issue of alleged fake encounter in the village of Nilavaya in Dantewada district on 13th October. But in response to this democratic demand of the villagers, the Chhatisgarh govt has deployed large number of police personnel – both state police and CRPF teams, in Dantewada.
Condemns the action of the Chhattisgarh State Police in Dantewada, the People’s Union of civil Liberties(PUCL) has issued a statement demanding immediate withdrawal of such intimidation tactics and an open dialogue with the activists and villagers.
The statement says: “it is even more distressing to learn that similar high-handedness of the police was on display again on the 19th of October, when an AAP political rally trying to raise the same issue was again blocked. This behavior of the police shocking in the extreme, considering that in both instances, all requisite permissions from the administration had already been obtained by the organizers. At a time when the Chief Minister is publicly asking for an open debate on the human rights of adivasis in Bastar, it is outrageous that the police would thwart political leaders from even meeting with the Chief Minister to express their concern over an issue of such vital importance.”
In her press release, Sudha Bharadwaj, the General Secretary of the Chattisgarh PUCL informed that her union has learned that on the morning of 6th October, Bhima Madvi s/o Handa, a 50 year old farmer living in Patelpara, Nilavaya village in Dantewada district, was shot by the security forces. He was returning back from visiting his sister in the neighbouring hamlet of Milkanpara. The villagers of Nilavaya, who wanted to take his body for a post-mortem were prohibited from doing so by the police and coerced into cremating it on the morning of the 8th of October. When AAP leaders, including Soni Sori and Sukulprasad Nag, and social scientist Bela Bhatia, tried to register an FIR about the incident at the Aranpur Police Station on the 8th of October, the police refused to register it, and instead threatened to put a case against them for encouraging villagers to cremate the body and destroy valuable evidence.
Refusing to be cowed down by these threats, the AAP leaders decided to use the opportunity of the Chief Ministers’ visit to Dantewada on the 13th of October to raise the issue of police unaccountability directly with Dr. Raman Singh. Accordingly, they applied for and obtained passes to meet with the CM during his stay at the Transit Hostel in Dantewada, duly signed by the Dantewada SDM Haresh Mandavi. They were scheduled to meet with CM after his public address, between 1:00 to 2:00 pm.
However, on the appointed day of the 13th of October, when the villagers of Nilavaya started from their homes to come to Dantewada, they were stopped by the CRPF at the Sameli camp and not permitted to go any further. Even when Soni Sori herself went to meet the villagers and explain to the CRPF personnel that the villagers had an appointment with the CM, they did not allow any villagers to cross the check-point. Disturbed by this, Soni Sori decided to go ahead with the original plan and meet the CM to raise the Nilavaya issue with him, even in the absence of the villagers and set out to Dantewada alone. However, she also got stopped multiple times along the way, and finally was stopped from going any further at Kuakonda police station around 1:00 pm.
Not ready to give up on the opportunity to make the CM aware of the ground situation, Soni Sori, while detained at the Kuakonda police station, called up her party members waiting for her in Dantewada. Explaining the situation to them, she asked them to go ahead and meet with the CM and present their memorandum that had already been prepared. Soon after she made this call, her party members including the elderly Sukulprasad Nag, the AAP Bastar in-charge Jagmohan Baghel and AAP member Sameer were all stopped when they were enroute to meet with the CM and detained in the Kotwali PS in Dantewada for two hours, till the CM had departed from the area.
In the meanwhile, the TI of Kuakonda had released Soni Sori from the police station, however, it was too late for her to now make it to Dantewada in time to meet with the CM. Disturbed by this turn of events, Soni Sori refused to leave the police station till the police gave her reason for her detention, or showed her the orders under which she was detained. The Kuakonda police refused to do this, only making the weak excuse that there was some mistake of some kind. In the evening, when other AAP colleagues joined her in Kuakonda PS, they decided to do a padyatra from Kuakonda to Dantewada, to register their strong protest at their treatment by the police in stopping them from meeting with the CM.
This concerted effort of different police stations and the CRPF in stopping Nilavaya villagers and AAP leaders in different police stations across Dantewada, in order to block them from meeting the highest elected representative of the state is appalling and is strongly denounced by PUCL. But what is even more frightening is that despite being widely reported in the local media (see Annexure 5), the impunity of the security forces did not end, but this behavior was repeated again six days later, when the AAP party decided to take out a rally to Dantewada on the same issue. Once again, the AAP functionaries duly informed the Dantewada collector of their decision to hold a rally on Monday, the 19th of October from Nilavaya to Dantewada. On the Collector’s request that they consider altering their plans since the authorities are already stretched during Navratri in the temple town of Dantewada, the AAP leaders agreed to cooperate by taking the rally only till Kuakonda instead of bringing it all the way to Dantewada.
However, on the appointed day, once again, the villagers who had turned up for the rally were stopped from coming on to the main road, and forcibly turned back at various points. The 20-25 member strong delegation of AAP which had travelled all the way from Raipur and beyond, were stopped at Palnar and not allowed to proceed further to meet the villagers. Once again, the police and CRPF refused to pay heed to the fact that the requisite permissions had been obtained and the rally was indeed permitted by the Collector. Many hours later, when the AAP leaders were finally released from their illegal detention, it is to their credit that they still made their way to the villages, met with the affected villagers and heard their stories first hand. But why the police should interfere with a democratic expression of peaceful public discontent is unimaginable.
Democracy is not established by the process of elections alone. A functioning democracy should, at the very least, guarantee lawful access of common people to their elected representatives. This coordinated thwarting of adivasis and their leaders from meeting the Chief Minister in order to address an issue of such vital importance, and later to take out a peaceful rally – is a staggering testimony to the dysfunction of democracy in the highly militarized zone of Bastar today, where ordinary rights of citizens are being subjected to extra-ordinary restrictions. A genuine dialogue on the issue of human rights of tribals in Bastar is not possible unless the authorities are willing to listen to what the adivasis might have to say.