“We are convinced that not only the views she (Varsha Dongre) put forth, but the manner in which she conveyed them were also well-within the constitutional limits.”
New Delhi: Condemning the Chhattisgarh government’s decision to suspend prison official Varsha Dongre after posting a critical comment on social media, prominent civil society activists have requested the Raman Singh government to revoke the order and hold an independent inquiry presided over by a retired high court judge.
The Wire had earlier reported that Dongre, formerly deputy superintendent of Raipur central jail, was suspended arbitrarily after she pointed out gross human rights violations and sexual abuse of minor Adivasi girls in Chhattisgarh’s prisons in a Facebook post, which she later deleted.
In a letter to the Chhattisgarh governor Balram Das Tandon and chief minister Raman Singh, activists including Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, 2017s Green Nobel winner Prafulla Samantra, Arundhati Dhuru, Kavita Srivastava, Binayak Sen and many others, under the banner of the civil society collective National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), have said that the Dalit woman officer, Dongre, was entitled to her views even in the capacity of a government servant and that she articulated them well within the constitutional framework.
“Having seen her posts, we are convinced that not only the views she put forth, but the manner in which she conveyed them were also well-within the constitutional limits. Varsha has also raised very pertinent questions about the ‘developmental approach’,” the letter said.
Calling the suspension order “arbitrary”, they said Dongre was punished because she expressed her concerns over “the serious human rights abuses of young adivasi girls in the jails of Chhattisgarh”.
While condemning the recent killing of 25 CRPF soldiers by Maoists in Sukma and extending their sympathies to their families, the activists said that the “military counter-offensive” to what they viewed as a “political problem” was only derailing the prospects of peace in Bastar.
“The state government cannot ignore or be a party to the gross violations of people’s rights in the name of ‘combing operations’ and combating Naxalism,” the letter added.
Dongre’s social media post had pointed out that Indian citizens become casualties on both sides of the conflict. While expressing pain at the death of the CRPF soldiers, she called for the state authorities to introspect.
In this context, the activists defended Dongre for highlighting the often-ignored aspects of the conflict. “She (Dongre) wrote about the general displacement in the V Schedule adivasis areas and alienation of adivasis from land, forests and rivers, in violation of constitutional safeguards, for corporate interests. She also shared her horrifying first-hand experience of witnessing the stripping, electric shock, sexual and other forms of torture of minor adivasis girls in the police stations and jails, including how the breasts of some of them were squeezed to check if they are lactating (and, therefore, not Maoists!),” the activists said.
Saying that her post did not in any way reveal “departmental secrets or confidential state information”, the state government’s decision to suspend her for alleged “violation of service and disciplinary rules” is questionable. All the information she shared was already in the public domain, they said.
“Instead of going into a defensive mode and suspending an upright officer who speaks from experience and concern for the law of the land, we think it would be appropriate and necessary for the state government to initiate necessary course-correction and to begin with, undertake a rapid inquiry into the serious allegations of torture of adivasis girls and ensure that such instances are not repeated whether in jails or police stations and wherever such instances have taken place, stringent action, as per law is guaranteed,” the activist demanded.
Given the haste with which Dongre was suspended, within two days of her social media post, the activists said that the basic principles of natural justice seem to have been denied to Dongre.
“It has come to our notice that the preliminary investigative officer Mr K.K. Rai who was required to probe the matter in seven days, gave Varsha only 2 days to file a reply, which she did, in the form of a detailed 376-page counter, annexing directions of the Supreme Court, CBI, NHRC, Planning Commission’s Expert Group etc. We find it intriguing as to how the senior jail authorities issued a suspension order, holding her face book post irresponsible, wrong, misleading and in violation of the service rules and posted her at the Ambikapur Central Jail, before assessing her reply and giving her a full hearing,” the letter said.
Demanding revocation of the order, the activists wanted to know why senior police officers like S.R.P. Kalluri and Indira Kalyan Elesela – both of whom a have proven record of using public platforms to vilify human rights lawyers and journalists as reported by The Wire earlier – were so easily let off the hook, whereas honest officers like Dongre, who have an unblemished service record, were suspended without even being granted a hearing.
Full text of the letter: