Why is the state trying to evict Jaglag, Bela and Malini from Bastar?

Parijata Bhardwaj

Parijata is an advocate by profession who was with the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group from 2013 to 2015. Presently, she is practising in the bombay high Court with advocate Yug mohit Chaudhry. This article is reproduced from Sabrang website.

The developments in the national capital have once again placed the fascist nature of State on display. While the intensity of the attack unleashed by the State has come as a surprise for some, it is important to note that the same is not an aberration but just the extension of what is faced by the adivasis, dalits and marginalized communities of this country on a daily basis. One such target of the State’s fascist attack is the mineral rich land of Bastar.

With the prolonged conflict between the Indian State and the Maoists, the anti-national script of the state has been perfected in the region. A person who blindly conforms to the diktats of the State is a national and one who dares to deviate even by a single inch becomes an anti-national or worse a Maoist. It is this very definition which is currently being applied by the local administration against the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, group of lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal working to safeguard the constitutional rights of the socially and economically deprived sections of Bastar, journalist Malini Subramaniam and Bela Bhatia, to push them out of Bastar.

Jagdalpur Adivasi

The local police of Jagdalpur on the night of 17th February summoned the landlord of the house of Shalini and Isha to the police station and detained him at the thana for 2 hours to pressurize him to evict his tenants within a week. To add import to their threats the police also seized the car of the landlord who plies taxis by profession. Similarly, the police detained the female domestic worker of Malini Subramaniam and kept her in the police station till late in the evening. The situation further deteriorated on 18th Feb when the police once again summoned the domestic worker of Malini and refused to let her leave the station and also detained Malini’s husband who had gone to enquire the reason of the detention. Finally, the police released both of them but by then Malini had also been provided a written eviction notice by her landlord forcing her to vacate the house with her family on the same day.

Things did not improve for the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group which became the target of sloganeering of the Samajik Ekta Manch in the day. JagLAG and Bela approached the various representatives of the local administration who while admitting the hounding was bad did not provide any assurance to put an end to the same. In the evening their landlord was once again called to the police station and detained for hours. On his return JagLAG was informed that the notice period for their eviction had been reduced to a day.

While JagLAG and Bela approached the local authorities seeking an end to this persecution, none of the visits have resulted in any effective change in their eviction status.

The question which arises now is that why is the local administration hell bent on getting rid of them? What is it that the State is so afraid of that it is resorting to such tactics? The answer is simple, because they are people who are working for the recognition of the rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution in a land which has long forgotten the very existence of the document.

With the BJP coming into power at the Centre, Bastar has witnessed a sustained escalation in the violence unleashed by the State against the local adivasis under the garb of its military campaign against the Maoists as well the aggression with which it is forwarding its agenda of ‘development’. The heavy militarization in the region has not only led to an increase in the restrictions on the basic freedoms of the people but also placed para-military forces with absolutely no knowledge about the local culture or landscape in the region, who function on the assumption that every villager is a Maoist unless proved to the contrary. This has resulted in an increase in the number of villagers being arrested, illegally detained and even being killed in encounters, while the socio-economic well being of the people drastically deteriorated. It was in the face of these developments that JagLAG, Malini and Bela refused to remain mute spectators.

The three of them in their own capacities have been working with the local adivasi leaders like Soni Sori, Linga Ram Kodopi, Sukal Prasad Nag along with the local people in their struggle for the recognition of their personhood and rights. It was due to the combined efforts of all them, that from the end of 2014 Bastar became witness to several peaceful movements by the local people demanding the enforcement of their rights. Whether it was the thousands of villagers peacefully assembling outside the Kukanar thana, to demand the police to release Sukdi, who had been kidnapped by the police to coerce her husband Ayata a local leader to comply to the demands of the police or the large rally of people from the village of Revali peacefully demanding an audience with the collector to order an inquiry into the encounter death of Nuppo Bhima, both the occasions revealed a willingness on part of the villagers to peacefully place their demands before the state officials. Further, the presence of JagLAG and Malini, ensured not only the fact that the villagers were provided the requisite legal guidance but also a detailed coverage of the issue got reported. These, two were but the first of more such peaceful gatherings of villagers before the State officials seeking justice and thus, provided the State one of the best opportunities to prove that it was concerned about the well being of the people and open to listen to their grievance even if the same were against itself. Though, that was not the case as soon the gatherings were as being motivated by naxalites and villagers who had taken a leading role in them were either threatened or arrested by the police and implicated in false cases.

The other consequence of the presence of JagLAG and the others, in the region is the creation of a space for students, journalists, filmmakers, academicians and others to come to region and witness for themselves the ground reality of the region. Since its presence in the Bastar, JagLAG has been instrumental in facilitating several fact finding trips of activists, academicians and researchers into different areas of the region. The last few months witnessed visits by two fact finding teams into Bijapur and Sukma on information of sexual violence by the troops. The teams on all its visits uncovered the extensive violence unleashed on the villagers especially the large scale sexual violence targeted against adivasi women.

In one of the fact findings, the team went to 5 villages in Basaguda Block of Bijapur- Pegdapalli, Chinna Gellur, Pedda Gellur, Gundam and Burgicheru. In all these villages women narrated harrowing tales of sexual violence by the security forces. They mentioned being stripped, assaulted or even having nipples pinched to establish whether the claim of being a breast feeding mother was true or not. Several women had bruises and injuries on their person. The women agreed to accompany the team to the collectorate and police station seeking action against the security forces. Despite the reluctance taking into consideration the nature of the testimonies and the continued pressure of the administration by the group, an FIR was registered against the security forces. Further, separate fact finding teams of the adivasi mahasabha and the Indian National Congress also visited the village and demanded action against the troops. Since this incident there have been two other instances of large scale violence against women by security forces in Bijapur, which was recently condemned by the Indian National Congress in its press conference.

Apart, from this, JagLAG is also representing several people implicated on charges of being Maoists, including Soni Sori, local journalists Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav, villagers seeking justice in the matter of the extra-judicial killings in Sarkeguda as well as the villagers in Raoghat who are being affected by the rail lines.
Thus, the State was now faced with activists who did not shy away from taking up the issues of the people, lawyers who fearlessly fought for the rights of their clients and a journalist who courageously reported the ground reality, in other words people who actually did what their profession mandated. Their presence also provided the local people the support to continue to strive for their due. Instead, of capitalizing on this opportunity to establish itself as a pro-people regime, the State took recourse to its age old ally of labeling, threats and warnings.

The friendly warnings started almost three years ago itself but it is the last one and a half years that have witnessed an escalation in the nature of the threats. From veiled threats to restrictions on the right to practice, the purpose of all is the same to remove any one from even attempting to hold the State accountable.

Furthermore, these threats are also not aimed only at JagLAG or Malini or even Bela but given to any and everyone who is part of the support system. The aim of the State is clear to isolate and attack.

History has been evidence to the fact that fascism has always utilized nationalism to justify the violence it unleashes on people who dare to question it and in all those situations it is the silence subjugation to the State which has lead to some of the worst atrocities of mankind. Malini has already been forced to leave and the pressure on JagLAG and Bela is rapidly increasing. Now is not the time to be silent but to unite and challenge this authoritarian regime which under the garb of nationalism has taken law into its own hands.