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Speaking Truth To Power: In Solidarity With Those Fighting For Human Rights in Bastar

On November 4, Samnath Baghel was killed by armed Naxals in his home in Nama village under the Sukma district in Bastar. On November 5, an FIR was DU Professor Nandini Sundar (Sociology, Delhi School of Economics), Professor Archana Prasad (Informal Labour Studies, JNU), Vineet Tiwari (from Delhi’s Joshi Adhikar Sansthan), Sanjay Parate (Chhattisgarh CPI (Marxist) State Secretary) and others along with Maoists for the murder of Shamnath Baghel, allegedly based on the complaint of his wife. In response, the students and alumni of the Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, have released the following statement in solidarity with all those named in the FIR.

 

Against The Targetting of Prof. Nandini Sundar and Others in Chhattisgarh

We, the students of Delhi School of Economics, are dismayed to learn about the filing of an FIR against Prof. Nandini Sundar (Sociology, Delhi University), Prof. Archana Prasad (Informal Labour Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University), Vineet Tiwari (CPI and Joshi Adhikari Institute of Social Studies), Sanjay Parate (Secretary, Chhattisgarh CPI- M), Mangalram Kalra and Manju Kawasi (CPI), among others, for the murder of an Adivasi local, Shamnath Baghel, from Sukma district. Serious charges have been levelled against them, which include IPC Section 302 (punishment for murder), Section 450 (house trespass), Sections 147, 148, 149 (rioting and participation in unlawful activity), Section 120(B) (criminal conspiracy), Sections 25, 27 of Arms Act. Also, sections 23, 38(2) and 39(2) of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act have been invoked against Prof. Sundar, Prof. Prasad, Tiwari and Parate.

These allegations are part of a series of attempts by the State to target and intimidate those who have been bringing out facts about the atrocities being committed against local Adivasis by the state apparatus in Chhattisgarh. Most recently, in May 2016, when a team of activists and academicians (including Prof. Archana Prasad and Prof. Nandini Sundar) went on a fact-finding mission to various villages in Bastar, they were falsely accused of inciting the Adivasis against the state. Prof. Sundar has especially been involved in a long legal battle against Salwa Judum, an armed militia promoted by the state. In the landmark judgement that followed, the Supreme Court indicted the state and termed the Salwa Judum unconstitutional, calling for its disbanding. It should be borne in mind that the filing of charges against Prof. Sundar and others comes close on the heels of a CBI report which hauls up the Chhattisgarh Police for the burning of 160 houses in Tadmetla village of Sukma district in March 2011. Prof. Sundar had questioned the account of the police in this case, which blamed Naxalites for the arson and killings, following which the Supreme Court had asked the CBI to probe into the matter. In the lawless drama theatre of Bastar,  IGP Kalluri, who was the SSP of Dantewada at that time, not only audaciously dismissed the CBI report but went on to claim responsibility for directing the Tadmetla operation. In a craven display of bias, members of CRPF and Chhattisgarh Police resorted to burning of effigies of Nandini Sundar, Bela Bhatia, Archana Prasad and other activists only weeks prior to the framing of these charges, after the CBI had submitted its report to the Court.

It is clear that the Chhattisgarh police have taken to a vindictive use of legal institutions in falsely framing Nandini Sundar along with the others, given their relentless struggle for holding the state and its institutions accountable to constitutional values. The state apparatus, along with the various vigilante groups that it has nurtured in Chhattisgarh, are continuously forcing academicians, journalists, and rights activists into a battle of attrition to tire them out and thus maintain a veil of silence over Bastar. Prof. G.N Saibaba of Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University, who was arrested over suspected Maoist links, and was later subjected to torture and harassment in jail, stands as a grim predecessor to this vindictive application of law. Conforming to this pattern, journalists Malini Subramaniam and Prabhat Singh, social scientist Bela Bhatia, and lawyers of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLag) have all been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the police and vigilante groups over the course of this year.

In her public statement, Prof. Sundar has already clarified that she has not visited Bastar in many months and was certainly not present in the area at the time the aforementioned crime took place. A teacher to many of us, Prof Sundar has been inspiring as an academic who has honored her responsibilities towards the people she has done her research with. At this juncture, we want to impress upon the fact that it is the local Adivasis of Chhattisgarh and the tribal populations of Central and Eastern India that are paying the real cost of this war. According to the estimates of Ministry of Home Affairs itself, already this year one hundred and seventy-six civilians have been killed across the country due to this conflict. Scores have been sexually abused, raped, and tortured. The horrific violence committed in the frontiers of this war has been followed by an indifferent silence across the country. It is precisely for trying to break this culture of indifference and silence and seeking to ensure the basic dignity and rights of Adivasis as equal citizens of this country that civil society members like Prof. Sundar are being persecuted. In this dark hour, we share the grief of the victims of this war and express our shame for not being capable of doing more.

Under such circumstances, speaking the truth to power is an act of courage and dignity. In an increasingly constricting social and political environment in India, we resolve to stand by these and other voices who are fighting to defend the ideals of democracy and justice, which are not the preserve of a few but the inalienable right of every citizen. We stand in complete solidarity with Prof. Sundar and other dissident activists and journalists who refuse to bow despite serious threats to their lives and freedoms. We demand a withdrawal of all these concocted charges against Prof. Sundar and others, and call for the conducting of a fair inquiry into the murder of Shamnath Baghel by an unprejudiced authority. We further call upon the government to show the decency and maturity to work towards a political solution to resolve this conflict, instead of shooting the messengers.

Edit: Latest reports coming in suggest that the wife of the deceased has not named any of the people against whom the FIR has been lodged. Initially, the police had claimed to have filed the FIR against the said persons on the basis of the account provided by the victim’s wife. Though the obvious farcical nature of this FIR is already being exposed, what must be kept in mind, as Prof. Sundar has also said in her statement, that innocent Adivasis are routinely implicated falsely and are often left to face the worst. It is of the utmost importance that the police forces in Chattisgarh be held accountable to the rule of law for the excesses committed by them, for there to be any genuine redress.

 

Students and Alumni Signatories, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University

  • Apoorva Gautam
  • Burhan Qurashi
  • Trishna Senapaty
  • Dwaipayan Banerjee
  • Fahad Hashmi
  • Anirudh Raghavan
  • Aastha Tyagi
  • Rameez T
  • Aditi Saraf
  • Minati Dash
  • Chittibabu Padavala
  • Swatahsiddha Sarkar
  • Sophia Abbas
  • L. Lawrence Simte
  • Andrew deSouza
  • Pallavi Gill
  • Gangotri Kashyap
  • Aranta Talukdar
  • Aamna Ahmad
  • Priya Naresh
  • Mibom Takoh
  • Lalboy Doungel
  • Kritika Sridharan
  • Chandana Anusha
  • Fariya Yesmin
  • Sumbul Farah
  • Vasundhara Jairath
  • Anita Sharma
  • Aarushie Sharma
  • Nargis Vasundhara
  • Khushboo
  • Subhashim Goswami
  • Leki Thungon
  • Bhavneet Kaur
  • Hitesh Kukreja
  • Chandrima Chatterjee
  • Jyotsna Siddharth
  • Thanzeel Nazer
  • Sebanti Chatterjee
  • Tahiba Khan
  • Apurba Goswami
  • Shweeta Rani Khatri
  • Tushar Mehta
  • Neha Lal
  • Maya Ratnam
  • Minati Dash
  • Seram Rojesh
  • Ashawari Chaudhuri
  • Navjeet Babrah
  • Tanya Singh
  • Karandeep Mehra
  • Paankhi Agrawal
  • Sebanti Chatterjee
  • Noman Hasan
  • Nivedita Ghosh
  • Rinsophy Chamroy
  • Draghima Basumatry
  • Gowhar Fazili
  • Evleen Sidana
  • Jyoti Gupta
  • Sarbani Sharma
  • Chayanika Pal
  • Sonia Kumari
  • Prasanjeet Tribhuvan
  • Anita Sharma
  • Bembem Phanjoubam
  • Jasmine Kalha
  • Usman Javed
  • Jayati Narain
  • Milli Das
  • Pallav Deb
  • Akshay Raghupathy
  • Grace Mary Sukanya
  • Samiksha Bhan
  • Debajit Rajbangshi
  • Sonia Kumari
  • Gideon Mathson
  • Bharat
  • Haider Ali Askary
  • Asmita Aasaavari
  • Aaradhana Dalmia
  • Seema Chandra
  • Rekha Konsam
  • Asim Chowdhury
  • Neharika Mahajan
  • Ajaz Gilani
  • Siddarth Mehra
  • Ghanshyam Kushwaha
  • Malay Firoz
  • Angelina Chamuah
  • Arshia Chavi Thakur
  • Rajat Kumar Sonkar
  • Baidehi Das
  • Samhita Das
  • Mrigakshi Parashar
  • Siddhesh Gooptu
  • Tamineile Pame
  • Naseef MK
  • Thomas Monteiro
  • Madhura Arun Lohokare
  • Anupama Bhardwaj
  • Radhika
  • Priyanka Verma
  • Aastha Gulati
  • Aayushi Verma
  • Sumit Kumar
  • Karan Menon
  • Yoosuf Ali
  • Anshu Agarwal
  • Antra Sharma
  • Aparna Bhaumik
  • Heena Tokas
  • Pustika Sharma
  • Nikhit Agarwal
  • Sadaf Wani
  • Chander Gupta
  • Fatima Noora
  • Bhanisana Rajkumari
  • Sachin Sourabh
  • Krittika Shridharan
  • Aishwarya Sahay
  • Reet Yadav
  • Neha Yadav
  • Jasmine Bhalla
  • Soumya Lamba
  • Anwesh Patnaik
  • Anhad Hundal
  • Sweta Chowdhary
  • Upali Bhattacharya
  • Alisha Kapoor
  • Yashasvi Chaurasia
  • Ilanchezian Durai
  • Saurabh Verma
  • Bhupendra
  • Nganthoi Wangkhem
  • Lallawmzuali
  • Shantanu Nevrekar
  • Arunima Bahukhandi
  • Afeeda K T
  • Suchismita Das
  • Swati Dogra
  • S. Hakim
  • Asim K. Chowdhury

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