JAGLAG Petition to NHRC dated March 23, 2016

March 23, 2016

Mr Sanjay Jain, Sr. SP
National Human Rights Commission
New Delhi
Subject – Additional Information about the situation in Bastar in relation to Complaint no. 920/33/17/2015-WC

Dear Mr. Jain,

This is in continuation of the submission made by Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group to your team on March 1 in Raipur.  We wish to update you on some other incidents that have occurred in Bastar subsequent to your visit to the area –

On March 14, 2016, one of us, Advocate Shalini Gera travelled to Geedam, Dantewada, to assist Ms. SoniSori with some legal counsel on the question of the ongoing investigation into the chemical attack on her.  Ms. Gera stayed with Ms. Sori’s family on the 14 and 15 of March 2016. 

On March 16, 2016  Ms. Gera travelled to Jagdalpur to consult with the District Legal Services Authority, about the possibility of collaborating with them in providing legal aid services in the district.  From the DLSA premises, Ms. Gera walked over to the adjoining court complex in order to follow up on some of JagLAG’s cases which they had been forced to hand over to other lawyers in a hurry at the time the group was forced to evacuate from Jagdalpur.  As soon as Ms. Gera walked into the court complex, within minutes Ms. Gera was surrounded by a whole host of people, mostly lawyers, led by one Mr. Anand Mohan Mishra of the Samajik Ekta Manch, and Ms. Madhuri Yadav, loudly asking Ms. Gera to leave the court premises immediately.  Once again, these lawyers made claims that since Ms. Gera was not a “local lawyer”, therefore, she had no right to enter the court premises or work therein.  Ms. Gera informed them that as of last week, Ms. Gera’s transfer to the Chhattisgarh State Bar Council was complete, and now she was duly registered in the Bar Council of Chhattisgarh State (Enrollment No. CG/344- A/TR/2013). Besides which, the Bar Association’s resolution was before the Appeals Committee of the Chhattisgarh State Bar Council, and hence, she requested that the lawyer’s wait for the final judgment on that appeal and follow the order of the Hob’le Bar Council. However, the angry group of lawyers, by now numbering 50-60, insisted that they were not beholden to the Chhattisgarh State Bar Council, and that they will not allow Ms. Gera and her colleagues to work in the area.  Further, they made several other allegations – the primary amongst them being that JagLAG has close relations with the Naxalites, is anti-national, and hence, will not be allowed to operate in the court.  By making such false and defamatory accusations, these lawyers tried to inflame passions of other lawyers in the Bar Room of the court, and made it clear that these lawyers will not be allowed to work peacefully in the area. A local paper carried some an article regarding this incident, which is included as Annexure 1. 

Earlier on the same day, the National Federation of Indian Women, a national mass-organization of women, had held a dharna outside the Commissioner’s Office in Jagdalpur, which was mainly addressed by  the Adivasi women organisers. They demanded action against the guilty security men in the cases of mass sexual violence in Peddagellur, Nendra and Kunna villages in the past few months.  In their speeches, they also condemned the eviction of JagLAG lawyers and the journalist Malini Subramanium, and the attack on SoniSori.  Ms Gera attended this meeting briefly, where she met Ms. Bela Bhatia.  It appears that after Ms. Gera had left, Ms. Bhatia also addressed this meeting.
Presumably in response to this meeting, another meeting was held two days later, on March 18,  2016, by a newly formed group Mahila EktaManch.  While this meeting was purportedly organized to protest the recent incident in Sukma where a young girl had lost her life in an IED explosion caused by the Naxalites, this meeting largely raised slogans against Advocate Shalini Gera and Social Worker Bela Bhatia, publicly asking them to leave Bastar.  Photos from the event are attached as Annexure 2. 

At the end of this meeting, the organizers also submitted a letter to the Prime Minister, asking the government to ensure that lawyers associated with JaLAG – Shalini Gera and IshaKhandelwal, the social worker – Bela Bhatia, human rights worker associated with the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organizations (who were part of the fact-finding team that looked into the Nendra incident)- Ms. Shreya, a JagLAG intern – Ms. Praavita, and a representative of Amnesty International -Makepeace, are not allowed into Bastar, and that they are booked under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. Furthermore, this letter also asked that the government arrest the NFIW organizers, Shalini Gera and Bela Bhatia in Naxalite cases.  Photos taken of the letter are annexed as Annexure 3.  Such letters, specifically targeting private individuals are aimed at intimidating them and vitiating the atmosphere of the area, ensuring that it becomes very difficult for them to work independently. 

On the night between March 17, 2016 and March 18, 2016, Ms. Makepeace Silthou of Amnesty International who had been visiting the area, and Ms. Bela Bhatia,were traveling in a public bus from Jagdalpur to Raipur.  First, they were accosted by the SamajikEktaManch people at the Jagdalpur Bus Stand, and later their bus was stopped twice at two different check-posts in Bastar, where the police wanted to conduct a security check on all “women passengers,” subjecting both Ms. Silthou and Ms. Bhatia to an intrusive searching of all their belongings, which delayed all the passengers in their bus by two hours or more.  Again, these are simply tactics of intimidation and harassment. 

It should also be noted that in the name of investigation into the chemical attack on Ms. Sori, her family is being continuously harassed and intimidated.  Her brother-in-law Mr. Ajay Markam was illegally detained for over 36 hours over March 10, 2016 and March 11, 2016,  when we, as the family’s lawyers were forced to write to the DGP of Chhattisgarh, Mr. Upadhyay seeking his intervention.  Her nephew and close colleague, Mr. LingaramKodopi has been receiving direct and indirect threats from no less than Mr. SRP Kalluri that he will be killed in an encounter, and that he will be implicated in this attack.  Even after Mr. Kodopi wrote to the DGP on 14.3.2016, raising his concerns that the SIT is not conducting an impartial and objective investigation, and hence, he will not answer their requests for further interrogation, and requested the DGP to constitute an independent team before which he is ready to testify – yet, he is being routinely pressured to appear before the SIT.  On March 17, 2016 and on March 21, 2016, he was again asked to appear before the SIT, despite multiple submissions to the SIT on this issue.Not only that, he has also been handed a notice under section 107 of CrPC asking him to sign a bond of good behavior in view of his non-cooperation with the investigative team and his public threat of suicide. It should be noted that Mr. Kodopi has only talked of hurting himself, while the Bar Association and groups like the SamajikEktaManch, MahilaEktaManch etc. have publicly issued threats to JagLAG  – yet, none of them have been served any notices under section 107 of the CrPC. 

In such an environment of continuous harassment and open intimidation, directly by the police or by groups close to the police, we note that it will be very difficult for people still living and carrying on businesses in Bastar to come before the NHRC team also, and feel comfortable in giving testimonies critical of the police.  We request that the NHRC try to look for documentary evidence in order to substantiate some of the allegations made by complainants, or give weightage to testimonies from people who have knowledge of incidents, but who are no longer living in Bastar.  For instance, in the case of JagLAG’s eviction, we note that over the last few days of our stay in Jagdalpur and immediately following our evacuation (from 16 Feb to 22  Feb 2016), our landlord received many calls from various officials of the police and the Kotwali PS as well as the Bodhghat PS. 

Officials such as the CSP and SP of Bastar have also called him to hasten and ensure our departure. We request that our landlord, Mr. Praveen Baghel’s , call details be called for and looked into.  Furthermore, at the time of our eviction, we were also joined by two student interns, Ms. Mukta Joshi and Mr. Ashwin Pantula of NLSUI Bangalore, and a freelance journalist Ms. Freny Manecksha.  These independent witnesses, who are not subject to the pressures of Bastar, will be able to give an uninhibited account of the last few days of eviction.

Shalini Gera, 
Isha Khandelwal, 
Devesh Agnihotri




Related Articles