In a joint statement, the activists – including Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Lok Shakti Abhiyan’s Prafulla Samantara and Aruna Roy of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan – stated that it was imperative that the district administration upholds rule of law in these areas.
“We strongly condemn the brazen act of intimidation directed at Bhatia at her house in the village. Clearly, this attack is aimed at making Bela abandon her human rights work in the area and quit the village,” they said in the statement.
The activists claimed that many other journalists, lawyers and activists who have dared to highlight the issue of state excesses too have been “forced out” of the area.
“Malicious violence and acts threatening life and liberty have been carried out by an out of order executive, with the active assistance of state sanctioned private militias,” they said, adding “this has led to a stifling of the activities of civil society and muffled dissenting voices in this Naxalite affected part of Chhattisgarh.”
It is imperative that the district administration upholds the rule of law in these areas and provides prompt redress to all those who have faced the recent spate of attacks.
“We demand that the state government takes responsibility of securing the fundamental rights of Bhatia to reside at a place of her choice and discharge her professional responsibilities as an activist, lawyer and academic without fear,” they added.
On January 23, Bhatia was allegedly asked to vacate her house in the Pandripani village by villagers who held a protest outside it, accusing her of being a Maoist sympathiser.
Bhatia claimed she was allegedly threatened by a group of men who asked her to vacate immediately, failing which they would set the house ablaze.
Notably, she was among the people who had accompanied a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) team to the villages of Bijapur earlier this month ago to record the statements of alleged rape victims.
Early this month, the NHRC had sent a notice to the state government over the alleged rape, sexual and physical assault of 16 women by state police personnel in Bastar division (in October 2015 and January 2016), observing that the government is “vicariously liable” for it.