Open letter to Prime Minister on breakdown of constitutional order in Chhattisgarh

Dated: January 13, 2010

Dear Mr Prime Minister

With great dismay we want to bring to your notice the rapid breakdown of constitutional order in Chhattisgarh since November 2009. You must be aware that since the year 2005, the Dantewada district of this state has witnessed intensified conflict between state and the CPI (Maoist). In course of this conflict, more than 600 villages have been uprooted leading to forced displacement of lakhs of adivasis. The Chhattisgarh administration has also enlisted the support of the controversial Salwa Judum ‘andolan’ to counter the CPI (Maoist), besides appointing thousands of Special Police Offices (SPOs). The sequence of events since November 2009 underlines a comprehensive breakdown of the rule of law and pulverization of democratic space in Chhattisgarh. We therefore urge you to take note of the following:

The Case of Sodi Sambo

On October 1, 2009, there was an alleged incident of killings by police and SPOs in Gompad village, Dantewada, described by the district SP as an ‘encounter’ to a broad based fact finding team including the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR, Delhi) and the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL, Chhattisgarh), Action Aid and Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (Dantewada) etc. Sodi Sambo is one of the victims and witnesses of the Gompad killings and a petitioner in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 103 of 2009 in the Supreme Court.
On January 3, 2010, when Sambo was on her way to Delhi for treatment of her leg which had been shot, she was taken away by the police. This despite the fact that Sambo is innocent and faces no criminal charges/despite the police declaration that there are no charges against her.
On January 5, the police informed the press that SP Dantewada had received a complaint from some “relative” of Sambo that Himanshu Kumar of VCA had ‘abducted’ Sambo. Significantly, Himanshu Kumar is petitioner no.1 in the writ petition filed against the Dantewada police, in the Supreme Court.
On January 6, the PUCL and PUDR filed an application in the Supreme Court that the Petitioner No. 13 in the Criminal Writ Petition No. 103 of 2009, Sodi Sambo, was being intimidated to coerce her into withdrawing her petition. The petition prayed that she be permitted to come to Delhi to continue her treatment at the St. Stephens Hospital and that the state bears her expenses for the same. All this while, Sambo was kept in a hospital in Jagdalpur where the treatment required for her leg was not available. Even the journalists from Indian Express and Tehelka were prevented from meeting her.
On January 7, the Supreme Court ordered the State of Chhattisgarh to not prevent Sodi Sambo from travelling to Delhi for medical treatment at St. Stephens Hospital at her own cost. The National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) team met the SP Dantewada so they could meet and escort Sambo to Delhi. They were brusquely told not to interfere and that the Petitioner Organization, PUCL or others will not be permitted to have any role in this regard. The model argument for denying access to her has been that as a witness, she needs to be protected from anybody influencing her. Ironically, Sambo is being ‘protected’ by the same police that she alleges are responsible for her injuries. Sambo has now been shifted to AIIMS in Delhi by the Chhattisgarh government. Sambo’s lawyer has also not been allowed to meet her. Why is the Chhattisgarh government so wary of anybody meeting Sambo? Is it because she is a witness to the state’s excesses on adivasis which has been continuously going on for the past four years?

Targeting of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram

We would also like to bring to your notice the reprehensible harassment of civil rights and democratic spaces, like the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), in Chattisgarh. The VCA, led by Gandhian Himanshu Kumar, has been raising and documenting the atrocities on innocent adivasis by state forces on the pretext of fighting Naxals in Dantewada. Himanshu had planned a padyatra beginning December 14, 2009, to be followed by a saytagraha and a jan sunvai (public hearing), for which Home minister P.Chidambaram had agreed to come. He was denied permission for the padyatra and satyagraha in Dantewada. A national team of women traveling to participate in the programme were stopped in Raipur, humiliated and finally not allowed to reach Dantewada. On December10, 2009 (Human Right Day), one of the VCA’s main activists, Kopa Kunjam, was picked up along with lawyer Alban Toppo. While Alban was let off after some beating, Kopa was slammed with murder charges and still languishes in jail. Another VCA activist, Sukhnath, has been falsely implicated and booked under Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA). Earlier in May, 2009, VCA premises were demolished bypassing legal procedures. VCA was asked to vacate the rented accommodation as the landlord was under pressure from the administration to do so. The VCA has now been blacklisted by the Chhattisgarh administration.

Rape and Intimidation of Women of Samsetti Village

Four adivasi girls from Samsetti village, Sukma block of Dantewada, were raped by Special Police Officers (SPO) two years ago. The issue was brought to light by the magazine Tehelka and Himanshu Kumar’s sustained efforts helped registration of a rape case in Bilaspur High Court in March 2009, even as the police refused to file FIRs. These women were picked up by the same SPOs when their cases were to come up for hearing in the courts on December, 10. They were beaten, illegally kept at the police station for five days and their thumb imprints taken on a blank sheet to say that Himanshu Kumar had pressurized them to level false charges of rape.

Obstructing rights’ groups, researchers and journalists from functioning in the state

Two Professors from Delhi University, Nandini Sundar and Ujjwal Kumar Singh who were in Dantewada from December 29-31, 2009, were surrounded and trailed by armed SPOs throughout their visit. Hotel owners denied them lodging at the behest of the Chhattisgarh government and the Dantewada police.

On January 5, 2010 Satyen Bordoloi and Priyanka Borpujari, journalists from Bombay who had been highlighting violations by the state and the VCA’s struggles in the print and electronic media, Suresh Deepala, law student and AID volunteer from Hyderabad, and Nishtha, a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who were visiting Himanshu for the jan sunwai, were surrounded by 25 armed police and SPOs and prevented from leaving. They were assaulted and their cameras taken away.

On January 6, activists from NAPM including Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey were assaulted by a mob brought in from Kasauli Relief Camp by an organization called Maa Danteshwari Swabhiman Manch, essentially a new version of Salwa Judum. Eggs and sewage were thrown at the delegation. 25 to 30 adivasis who still dared to come for the Jan Sunvai were also stopped, harassed and intimidated by the police.

There is an undeclared emergency in operation in Dantewada where people are being denied access to the area and information, detained illegally, implicated in false cases, threatened, tortured and killed. The Home Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram was apprised of the problems but he has chosen to remain silent for in the war against Naxals, everything seems fair to him. We would therefore like you to ponder and answer if the tribal people of Dantewada are not citizens of this country? Are they not supposed to have a say in the development of this country? Why are they expected to keep quiet as their resources, livelihoods and lives are snatched away to benefit a few? How fair is the state’s strategy of displacing them and handing over their natural resources to private corporations? Can all opposition, including peaceful, Gandhian protests, to state policies be declared Naxalite and thereby brushed aside? And finally, can we in the name of fighting Naxalism put democracy and our constitution to peril and is this the only answer that a state worthy of calling itself a democracy has to such challenges?

It has also come to our knowledge that the combing operation in Chhattisgarh has begun and security forces have entered the jungles from Konta, the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh. This could not have been done without the knowledge and approval of the Home Ministry. It should also be noted that ‘Operation Greenhunt’ against Maoists was disowned by your government but what we are seeing is its surreptitious continuation without an official name. As the Prime Minister of this country, we hope you will break your silence and accept responsibility for the wrongs being committed in Chhattisgarh and take immediate action to restore constitutional freedoms in the state.

Sincerely

People’s Union for Democratic Rights, PUDR

Contact: [email protected], [email protected]