Letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, March 13, 2016 on Deteriorating Situation in Chhatisgarh

Shri Rajnath Singh
Honourable Home Minister of India
 March 13, 2016
Subject: Harassment of human rights activists by police in Bastar, Chattisgarh

Respected Shri Singh,
We are writing to request your urgent intervention to protect our colleagues, women's rights activists in Bastar from attacks by the police and goons who are targeting them for taking up the cases of sexual violence against Adivasi women by police and security forces.
Sir, you are no doubt aware of widespread sexual violence against Adivasi women by security forces in Bastar in the course of search and combing operations. Thse have been widely reported in the media. The National Human Rights Commission has instituted an enquiry into these incidents  after complaints from women's organisations.
We would like to apprise you of the sharp deterioration in the situation over these last few weeks, as a result of systematic targeting, hounding and threatening of women activists by Bastar police led by IG Bastar Shri SRP Kalluri.
Adivasi woman leader and AAP party activist Soni Sori has been systematically hounded by the police and has been personally targeted by IG Kalluri. A copy of an FIR that Ms Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi have been trying to file against Shri Kalluri under the SC/ST Act is attached. The police have refused to file this FIR, and threatened Ms Sori with dire consequences if she spoke against Shri Kalluri. On the night of 22 February, Ms Sori wa attacked by three persons who again threatened her and smeared her face with a corrosive substance. Ms Sori was seriously injured and was brought to Apollo Hospital in Delhi for treatment. She has returned to Chhattisgarh on 11th March. 
During Ms Sori's absence in Delhi, her young daughters and family including her brother-in-law were threatened by people whose affiliations with the police are well-known. Ms. Soni’s brother-in-law, Mr. Ajay Markam, was picked up by the police on 11th March and held in police custody for a day and a half, with no intimation to his family about his whereabouts and the reasons for his detention. His wife and Ms. Sori’s sister, Ms. Dhani Markam, was also picked up by Bastar police from the hostel of the nursing school where she is a student, and taken to an undisclosed location. They were released only yesterday, after interrogation by the SIT set up by Bastar police to investigate the attack on Ms Sori. They have been pressurised to make a false confession that they were responsible for the attack on Ms Sori. Ajay Markam has been severely beaten and Dhani Markam has been reduced to a state of emotional breakdown. Details of their illegal detention and the behaviour of the police are in the attached complaint filed by their lawyers with the NHRC and the IG Police Chhattisgarh. 

Our colleagues Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal (women lawyers who are taking up cases of Adivasi women in Bastar courts), have been targeted and threatened by Shri Kalluri and by members of the Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante group with close links to the police.These women lawyers who have been living in Jagdalpur for the last several years and taking up cases of rights violations of Adivasis and rape/sexual assault on Adivasi women by the police and security forces,  are being systematically targeted and hounded for the last 18 months. Shri SRP Kalluri has held press conferences and public meetings where he has issued thinly-veiled threats that the police are closely monitoring NGOs providing "legal aid to Naxalites". Clients and visiting journalists have been told by the police that they are a "Naxalite front", soon to be arrested. Police claim to be investigating "anonymous" complaints that they are "fraudulent" lawyers who should not be allowed to practise.

The local Bar Association, clearly instigated by the police, took out a resolution prohibiting Shalini and Isha from practice in the local courts. This resolution was challenged by Shalini and Isha in the State Bar Council and which issued an interim order allowing them to practice. They have been receiving anonymous information warning them that they will be attacked during their court appearances. They have now left Jagdalpur after their landlord was picked up by police and warned that he would face consequences if he did not evict them. 
Independent journalist Malini Subramaniam was forced to leave Jagdalpur with her family after her house was attacked by stone-throwing goons affiliated to Samajik Ekta Manch.  The police refused to respond to Malini's complaint and file an FIR or provide protection. Subsequent to the issue being picked up by the international media, the District authorities assured Malini that the incidents would not be repeated and her safety would be ensured. However, on the night of 17th February, Malini's landlord was summoned to the local thana and ordered to get Malini to vacate the premises.  Prachi, a young women employed by Malini, was repeated picked up by police and pressurised to confess to the attacks on Malini. 

A team of women activists was in Raipur during 14-18 February 2016 and met with the Chief Minister, the Director-General of Police and the Chairperson of the State ST Commission to apprise them of the deteriorating situation in Bastar, and to urge them to ensure the personal safety and security of activists, lawyers, journalists who are supporting Adivasi women in seeking justice. We are shocked and seriously alarmed to note that the assurances given to us by these officials have proved to be no more than empty promises. The attacks, harassment and hounding has been further stepped up since the visit of the NHRC team.
We therefore urge you to
Immediately direct the authorities to ensure the safety of women activists, and to take action to rein in the police and prevent them from overstepping their powers.
Institute a commission of enquiry into the functioning of the police and the role of IG Kalluri in subjecting activists, lawyers, journalists and citizens to a campaign of threats, intimidation and calumny. 

Sir, we trust that you will intervene to ensure protection and freedom of functioning for women activists who are exercising their democratic rights to raise their voice against violations of Constutional rights and the rule of law in Bastar.  
 Brinda Karat, AIDWA
 Jagmati Sangwan AIDWA
 Prof Uma Chakravarthy

Kalyani Menon-Sen,



Related Articles