WSS Petitions NHRC on Bela Bhatia Case, Intimidation in Chhatisgarh

The Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) has, on March 28, 2016 petitionerd the National human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the continued intimidation of independent researcher Bela Bhatia by non-state actors allegedly backed by the local police in the Bastar Region of Chhatisgarh. Bela Bhatia had been openly threatened two days ago. On March 13, 2016 the WSS had also written to Union Minister for Home Affairs Mr Rajnath Singh on the fast detiorating situation in Chhatisgarh

The text of the memorandum submitted to the NHRC is below:

March 28, 2016
Justice HL Dattu
Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission
Reference: Addendum to our complaint number 920/33/17/2015-WC regarding sexual violence by armed forces and harassment of human rights defenders by BastarPolice 
 Respected Justice Dattu,
Our complaint regarding cases of sexual violence against Adivasi women by security forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations in Bastar, and attempts by Bastar Police to silence human rights defenders and journalists who are exposing and challenging these violations, is currently under investigation by the NHRC.
We have already apprised you (through written and oral submissions on February 19, March 21 and March 23 ) of the intensification in hounding of complainants and human rights defenders including Adivasi activists Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, and women lawyers of the Lagdalpur Legal Aid Group, apparently as a reaction to the visit of the NHRC investigation team. 
We would like to bring to your notice the latest such incident reported by WSS member Dr Bela Bhatia, an internationally renowned social scientist whose researches and contributions on issues  of Adivasi rights has been recognised by Government of India in the past.  It is noteworthy that Dr Bhatia released an open letter to the press on 22 March, expressing her intention to continue staying and working in Bastar.
The group identified by Dr Bhatia as responsible for the incident is the Samajik Ekta Manch, one of  the vigilante groups bodies set up by IG Bastar SRP Kalluri, who has stated that support to such groups is part of the official strategy to counter Maoist organisations. The evidence submitted by us as part of our earlier complaint, and by various other human rights groups in separate complaints to you, makes it clear that groups like Samajik Ekta Manch and Mahila Ekta Manch are fronts for the targeting and hounding of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists who are exposing and challenging the egregious violations of human rights that are being perpetrated by the state in Bastar. 
While we support the right of citizens to raise issues and concerns in a peaceful and democratic manner, we hope you will agree that this latest attack on Dr Bhatia goes well beyond the boundaries of democratic protest, and amounts to criminal intimidation and incitement to violence.
We hope you will agree that, given the current situation in Bastar – where the seniormost police officer has made several public statements asking the public to act against individuals who have clashed with him on the issue of human rights – the labelling Dr Bhatia as a “Naxal sympathiser” is tantamount to issuing a call for violence against her.  
We request the investigation team to take this statement on record and give it due consideration in their enquiries.
We also urge the NHRC to act immediately and direct the Government of Chhattisgarh and the district administration in Bastar to issue a written notice to leaders of the Samajik Ekta Manch, Mahila Ekta Manch and other such organisations set up by the Bastar Police at various levels, warning them that attempts to target, malign, intimidate and instigate violence against human rights defenders will not be tolerated and will be dealt with strictly and in accordance with the law.
Dr Bela Bhatia's statement is given below.
“At around 4 pm on 26 March, a large group of agitated people (perhaps 100 or so) came to the village where I live, 8 km from Jagdalpur, in my absence. They came in four jeeps/cars, five autos and one pick-up. The group included men and women as well as members of the police force who were in plain clothes, a few of whom were armed. Villagers recognized some of them who were from a road-side neighbouring village. Around 4-5 were from another hamlet of this village.
The group was carrying a banner. They came to my house. They asked questions about me from the landlady and some neighbours. They asked why a Naxalite “aatankwadi” had been allowed to rent a room there, and advised the landlady to evict me (“unko bhagao”). They were also asking her for information about the landlord, her husband.
Then they took out a rally in the hamlet, shouting slogans against me (including “Bela Bhatia murdabad”) and distributing a leaflet. The leaflet  accuses me of being a "Naxali dalal" from outside and ends with the slogan "Bastar  chodo, Bastar chodo, Bela Bhatia Bastar chodo". The leaflet doesn't bear anyone's name or any details of any printer. Some of them were also distributing sweets to village children.

Several of these people were identified by as members of Samajik Ekta Manch. One woman, Lakshmi Kashyap, is a member of Mahila Ekta Manch and a signatory to a letter (attached) to the Prime Minister demanding arrest of JagLAG lawyers and myself as “Naxal sympathisers”. Some had apparently been mobilised from neighbouring hamlets.”
 We are attaching a press report of the above incident, which includes a scan of the leaflet distributed by the vigilante group. We are also attaching a copy of the letter submitted by Samajik Ekta Manch to the Prime Minister, demanding arrest of Dr Bhatia and other WSS members.
Convenor, WSS
(Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression)




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