Peoples Union for Democratic Rights is alarmed at the manner in which the Bastar Bar Association in tandem with the police is creating legal hurdles for the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group from providing representation to local Adivasis who are harassed as Naxal offenders. Playing on a technicality of “outside” lawyers, the Bar Association passed a diktat on 3rd October against JAGLAG lawyers on the grounds that they are not registered in Chhattisgarh. The Dantewada District Bar Association followed suit and attempted to pass a similar resolution. While Rule 262 of the Chhattisgarh High Court disallows advocates who not on the rolls of the Bar Council, from appearing or pleading in court (http://highcourt.cg.gov.in/rule/cghc_rules2007(as_on14072015).pdf), it needs to be remembered that no Bar Association in the country has the authority to prevent a lawyer from practicing in any court in the country, under S 30 of the Advocates Act. Most importantly, only the Bar Council of India can revoke the license of a lawyer, albeit after due process.
The concerted efforts by the legal fraternity in Bastar to prevent JAGLAG from functioning are part of a wider campaign begun by the police, several months ago. Earlier this year, in April 2015, IG Bastar, SRP Kalluri, issued threats against “certain NGOs” for allegedly aiding and abetting the Maoists under the guise of helping Adivasis. Significantly, JAGLAG had actively intervened on behalf of the victims of police firing in Modema village and helped highlight police violations. (http://www.pudr.org/?q=content/stop-false-arrest-adivasis-and-threats-rights%E2%80%99-activists-and-lawyers-chattisgarh). In recent months, the campaign against JAGLAG gathered momentum when the Bastar Police deliberately began their inquiry into the issue of legal credentials on the basis of an anonymous complaint by an “Aam Nagrik”, to the SP Jagdalpur and IG (Bastar). While JAGLAG lawyers have shown their certification and have also applied for their transfer from Delhi Bar Association to Chhattisgarh, the harassment has started taking shape when a bail application moved by JAGLAG lawyers was rejected on grounds of credentials. Obviously, the recent resolutions passed by the Bar Associations are aimed at preventing local lawyers from associating with JAGLAG.
The significance of this harassment becomes evident in the context of the intensified armed conflict and the lived reality of Adivasis in Bastar. Although there is no law called “Naxal Offence”, in Bastar it is used as an excuse to crush any form of dissent or protest against predatory development policy being carried out in Bastar by labeling it as a ‘Naxal offence’. All it takes is to allege a link between an accused with the banned CPI (Maoist) which can result in life-ruining criminal proceedings against Adivasis. The plight of such families, framed by the police for being member/supporter/sympathizer of the Maoists, has been noted by a High Level Committee set up by Government of India headed by Prof. Virginius Xaxa in 2014. [See PUDR’s “War & the Lightness of being Adivasi” http://www.pudr.org/?q=content/war-and-lightness-being-adivasi-security-...
PUDR apprehends that the present harassment is aimed at scuttling JAGLAG from providing legal assistance to Adivasis, particularly since legal proceedings help expose the fictitious narrative of the chargesheet. This, we believe, challenges the sanitized version of ‘Operation Greenhunt’, by showing “arrests” and “surrenders” as measure of its success. A counter narrative is an act of subversion when binary of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, dominates official discourse. This apprehension is lent credibility by the recent abduction, torture, and charges filed against reporter, Santosh Yadav, under several provisions of the IPC as well as the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (2005). Santosh Yadav is a Darbha based local reporter of Dainik Nai Duniya, was taken away by the Darbha Police on night of 29 September 2015, on the grounds that the IG (Bastar) wanted to meet him. Through his reportage, Yadav has exposed many of the stage managed ‘surrender’ drama of Maoists organized by the Bastar Police and had refused to work as “police informer”. Consequently, he was threatened and harassed. According to media reports, he has been “arrested” as an accused in the Maoist attack in Jhiram Ghati in 2013. (http://naidunia.jagran.com/chhattisgarh/jagdalpur-journalist-bastar-media-santosh-yadav-a-journalist-arrested-495979). These two developments—the arrest of Santosh Yadav and legal strictures on JAGLAG—are a grim reminder of the conditions which prevails in Bastar, where elementary conditions of constitutional order such as providing legal representation to Adivasis who can ill afford to pay lawyers, or even to report from conflict areas so that public becomes aware of the ground reality, is being prevented through one or the other means.
PUDR appeals to the Bar Council of India to defend the rights of the feisty lawyers of JAGLAG. We request media and journalist unions to protest this attack on media worker/s in Bastar. We urge everyone to realize that the silencing of JAGLAG or the criminal proceedings against courageous journalists like Santosh Yadav, are pointers of the terror let loose by Bastar Police against the Adivasis who are being falsely accused, made to fight expensive legal battles, and even blackmailed into acting as Maoists and formally staging their surrender before senior police officers (mostly IG, Bastar). What this means is that Adivasis who continue to resist the predatory development being imposed on them which threatens to displace and ruin their existing source of livelihood, are being robbed of support of lawyers to defend them and of reporters who write about their plight.
Megha Bahl & Sharmila Purkayastha