Clearly rattled by the mounting body of evidence of blatant violations of the rule of law and Constitutional rights under the cover of anti-Maoist operations, the Bastar police has launched a no-holds-barred attempt to silence all those who are calling them to account.
Advocate Shalini Gera and her colleagues of JagLAG who were in Jagdalpur in connection with a case of false encounter of a young Adivasi boy (1), were confronted on the night of 27 December by a police team which entered the dharamshala where they were staying and accused them of trying to exchange demonetised notes on behalf of the Maoists. Despite the fact that they were following up on an order by the Chhattisgarh HC for exhumation and a second post-mortem in the case and their accommodation had been arranged by the office of the Divisional Commissioner, Adv Shalini and her colleagues were ordered to come to the police station for interrogation. Attempts were also made to forcibly search their rooms and belongings. When asked to produce a warrant, the SI in charge of the team became even more aggressive and abusive. It took a personal call from the Divisional Commissioner to the SI to force the police to back off.
A day later when she was back at her office in Bilaspur,Adv Shalini received a call on her mobile from the SP Bastar, Shri RN Dash. Shri Dash was calling from a private number which was later identified as belonging to one Farukh Ali, a member of AGNI, a vigilante group that enjoys the patronage of the Bastar police.
Speaking in an aggressive and offensive manner, Shri Dash insisted that he had received complaints accusing Adv Shalini of being a Maoist agent, inciting villagers against getting Aadhar cards, changing old currency notes for the Maoists, spreading stories about police atrocities and other such random allegations. Shri Dash asked Adv Shalini to come to Bastar for further “interrogation”, to which she replied that she would not respond to intimidation and would answer questions only if due process was followed.
When Adv Shalini called back on Shri Dash’s official number to confirm if he was indeed the person who had just threatened her, he at first refused to admit that he knew who she was but soon lost his temper again, confirmed that he had called her, reiterated his claim that there were complaints against her and told her not to “waste his time” by calling him. Within a few hours after this conversation, copies of the complaint and allegations against her were being circulated on social media by Farrukh Ali, proving – if proof were needed – the close nexus between the police and these violent so-called “independent civil society groups”.
It will be remembered that earlier this year, the Bastar police unleashed a campaign of threats and intimidation against local activists, media persons, human rights lawyers and others who were investigating and exposing the systematic violations of human rights, particularly sexual violence against Adivasi women by police and auxiliary forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations. In response to complaints from WSS and wide coverage in national newspapers, the National Human Rights Commission took cognisance the issue and fielded an investigation team in March 2016. The Chhattisgarh government has yet to respond to the report of this investigation.
Meanwhile, the Bastar police under the command of Inspector-General SRP Kalluri has continued its attacks on human rights defenders, activists and journalists, brazenly flaunting its disregard for human rights and the rule of law. IG Kalluri has publicly opposed the Supreme Court judgement in the Salwa Judum case, and has orchestrated the formation of vigilante groups like AGNI that provide platforms for erstwhile Judum leaders to continue their violent activities. Shri Kalluri reacted to his indictment by the CBI in the Tadmetla atrocity, where police fired on unarmed Adivasis and set an entire village on fire, by attacking Prof Nandini Sundar, the petitioner in the Salwa Judum case, and attempting to implicate her in the murder of a member of an anti-Maoist village-level vigilante squad.
The attack on Adv Shalini and her colleagues follows closely on the arrest of seven members of a fact-finding team from the Telengana Democratic Forum who were on their way to Bastar were summarily arrested, accused of exchanging demonetised notes for Maoists and charged under the draconian provisions of the Chattisgarh Public Security Act. The arrested persons include senior human rights lawyers, Dalit rights activists and student leaders.
These patently illegal and outrageeous attempts to subdue and silence human rights defenders are a signal of the growing desperation of the Bastar police which has now been completely exposed as a rogue force that has perpetrated a reign of terror in Bastar, turning it into a war zone. Out of the 185 deaths by police firing during anti-Maoist operations in the country during this year, 134 have been in Bastar. In the majority of these cases, independent fact-finding teams have found these to be cold-blooded killings of unarmed people, giving the lie to police claims that they fired in self-defence or that villagers were caught in cross-fire. It is this blood-soaked reality that the Bastar police are trying to cover up through their blind vendetta against human rights defenders
The NHRC has taken suo motu cognisance of the deteriorating situation in Bastar, and has summoned the Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh and IG Kalluri to explain the continuing attacks on human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and local activists under their watch. Having ducked a previous summons by pleading ill-health, Shri Kalluri is now due to appear before the NHRC on 16 January 2017.
We appeal to all democratic and peace-loving individuals and groups to come together to condemn and resist these shameless attempts to silence dissenting voices and undermine the Constitution, the Supreme Court, the NHRC and other institutions of democratic governance in Bastar.
1 WP Cr. 372/2016 (CG High Court) Kumma Pottam and Anr vs. State of Chhattisgarh and Ors
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded network of women’s rights, dalit rights, human rights and civil liberties organizations and individuals across India. For more information visit wssnet.org