Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression
Honourable Justice Cyriac Joseph
Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission
February 19, 2016
Subject: Update on our complaint number 920/33/17/2015-WC
Respected Justice Joseph,
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, we have been greatly encouraged by the fact that you have taken suo motu notice of media reports of widespread sexual violence against Adivasi women, and have admitted our complaint which is to be heard by the Commission at your meeting Monday 22 February 2016.
Further to the above complaint, we would like to apprise you of the sharp deterioration in the situation over this last week, as a result of which WSS members Soni Sori (Adivasi woman leader and survivor of custodial rape), Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal (women lawyers who are taking up cases of Adivasi women in Bastar courts), Bela Bhatia (independent researcher who has been documenting sexual assaults of Adivasi women) and Jagdalpur-based journalist Malini Subramaniam of Scroll.in are all being threatened with dire cconsequences if they do not immediately quit Jagdalpur.
We have just received information that journalist Malini Subramaniam left Jagdalpur with her family last night, after a week of threats and physical intimidation. Last week, Malini's house was attacked by stone-throwing goons affiliated to Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante group set up by the police. 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 picked up at night and held without any charges, then released and picked up again. Malini's husband was also questioned when he went to the thana to enquire about Prachi.
Lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal have also been asked to vacate their house and office within 24 hours. 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. Howevr, they have been receiving information warning them that they will be attacked during their court appearances.
For the last two days, Shalini and Isha's landlord, a Dalit Christian taxi driver, has been repeatedly picked up by the police for “interrogation”. His vehicle has been impounded. He was directed to give one week's notice to the activists, which he did. Last night, he was picked up again and told that he must ask them to vacate within 24 hours. He has been threatened with dire consequences if he does not comply. Not wanting to make him even more vulnerable than he is, Shalini and Isha have agreed to vacate the house.
We have just received information that women's rights activist and Adivasi leader Soni Sori has been accused of encroaching on government land and warned that she is going to be evicted.
Police are visiting and questioning her neighbours and local shopskeepers about her ccomings and goings, particularly her links with other activists. This seems to be an immediate response to Soni's attempts to file an FIR against IG Shri Kalluri, giving evidence of the campaign of threat and intimidation against her on public platforms, declaring her as a Maoist sympathiser despite the fact that the multiple false cases against her have been quashed by the courts.
We have also just heard that researcher Bela Bhatia has been given a similar notice of eviction by a police party that visited her house an hour ago.
A WSS team 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, since the eviction orders have come within 24 hours of our return.
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.
Since no landlord in Jagdalpur will now have the temerity to rent out premises to Shalini and Isha, who are fighting several cases in various sessions courts of Bastar, we request you to instruct the DM to provide them with government accomodation and provide them with security at their residence and during court appearances.
Institute a commission of enquiry into the functioning of the police and the district administration in Bastar, and hear the testimonies of activists, lawyers, journalists and citizens who are facing the brunt of the campaign of threats, intimidation and calumny launched by the police against anyone who raises their voice against violations of Constutional rights and the rule of law.
On behalf of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression
 See attached detailed report.