Condemn the Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Chhattisgarh
Human Rights Defenders under Police Attack in Chhattisgarh
Soni Sori, local adivasi leader and the Aam Aadmi Party coordinator for Bastar Division, was attacked by three goons on her way home on the 20th of February in Geedam at 11 pm. Soni Sori has communicated that the attackers threw a chemical substance on her face and threatened her saying “stop complaining against the IG, stop raising the issue of Mardum. If you don’t behave yourself, we will do this to your daughter as well.” She was also warned against attempting to file an FIR against the IG of police again.
The attack on Soni Sori is part of a larger campaign of State violence in Bastar; Under the guise of anti-Naxal operations, the security forces are indulging in rape and plunder. Teams of women activists have documented three cases of mass sexual violence in the past three months, where security forces have entered villages in Sukma and Bijapur- stripping women, conducting gangrapes, looting their food supplies, and destroying their homes and granaries. The number of “encounters” is increasing, people are “disappearing” from villages, only to show up in the list of “surrendered” or “arrested” Naxalites several days later as press clippings and testimonies recount. The local police and administration are talking in one voice of “clearing” the area within one year.
Most recently, Soni attempted to file an FIR against the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri for instigating people to boycott and physically harm her. She had also raised the incident of the fake encounter of Hidma in the Mardum thana in Bastar District. Soni had organised a press conference in Raipur with the villagers and was trying to file a FIR regarding the case. While the police claim that Hidma was a high-ranking Naxalite (“1 lakh ka inami naxali”) killed after a fierce encounter in the jungles, the villagers claim that Hidma was an ordinary villager, picked up by the police at night from his house. His wife and elder daughter are eyewitnesses and the wife recalls the name of the police officer who had come to the house.
Soni has been working with fellow adivasis in responding to human rights violations by state athourities in the form of random arrests and unlawful detention, fake encounters, assaults on women etc. But people’s rallies and meetings have been stopped, villagers have not been allowed to register complaints and regular threats have been made against Soni Sori. In a recent incident, the Nagar Panchayat of Geedam reached Soni’s house and questioned her with regard to the title of her house and indirectly threatened to break it down as an encroachment. About ten days earlier, parchas were thrown into her house calling her a randi and a Maoist. She has been warned against entering Bijapur, where a spate of sexual violence by security forces has taken place.
The attack and threats on Soni have taken place along with the hounding of other women journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders in Chhattisgarh. These inlude:
— Malini Subramanium, an independent journalist, reporting on issues in Chhattisgarh including the closing down of schools, women and children, brutal violence by security forces against the adivasis, fake encounters and surrenders in the Bastar. The domestic worker in Malini’s house was called and kept in the police station till late at night to terrorize her into implicating the journalist of being Naxalite. Her landlord was similarly threatened by the police into asking her to vacate the house. Malini, fearing for the safety of those who have always stood by her, left Jagdalpur on 19th February.
— The Jagdalpur Legal Aid group (Jaglag), currently consisting of lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal were also hounded out of Jagdalpur on the 20th night, an hour before Soni Sori was attacked. Their landlord was picked up and detained in the police station and under threat asked them to vacate their house and office. Jaglag has been providing legal aid to adivasi prisoners under trial in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh since 2013. For the past year and a half, both lawyers were being hounded by the local police. They have been faced with thinly veiled threats at press conferences insinuating that the police are closely monitoring NGOs providing “legal aid to Naxalites”. Their clients have been informed that the police are about to arrest them for Naxalite activities. Visiting journalists and researchers have been told that they are a “Naxalite front. The local Bar Association, clearly prompted by the police, took out a resolution on October 3rd 2015 prohibiting them from practicing in the local courts. On their complaint, the State Bar Council of Chhattisgarh passed an interim order allowing them to practice again.
— Bela Bhatia, an independent researcher, living in Bastar has similarly been working with Soni Sori and Jaglag on documenting and filing cases of human rights violations and people’s livelihoods. She has also been collecting information on the systematic use of violence by armed personnel and security forces. Bela Bhatia has also been threatened and her landlord is being found for questioning. Ex-Salwa Judum members, under the banner of Samajik Ekta Manch and groups such as the Naxal Pedit Sangharsh Samiti have threatened her along with Jaglag and Soni Sori.
The series of events are clearly manipulated by the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri, who in 2006, as the Sarguja SP, was accused of raping a tribal woman and ordering his juniors to continue doing so for ten days. Kalluri was posted out of Bastar after 300 homes in Tadmetla and neighbouring villagers were burnt, people killed, and women raped by security forces in 2011.
We call attention to the fact that the hounding of the women human rights defenders is related to their work and the questions they have raised in regards to state repression and violence against the tribals in Chhattisgarh. This is an attempt to ensure that the state of affairs in Chhattisgarh remain hidden from the wider public.
PRESS STATEMENT 21st February 2016
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