A legal rights group working to uphold the rights of tribals in Chhattisgarh has accused the state police of mobilising social organisations and lawyers’ groups to persecute its members and seek their ouster from the region.
The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) has charged that a vicious campaign has been launched against Malini Subramaniam, an activist and journalist who has written extensively about the alleged fake surrenders of Maoists and fake encounters in the state for Scroll.in and others.
According to Shekhar, a member of JagLAG, first, “a motley group led by the nephew of the local MLA, calling themselves the Samajik Ekta Manch, launched a vilification campaign against her” and then when she tried to get a complaint registered, stones were thrown at her house.
He charged that this Manch was in fact a vigilante group formed by the police itself. “The Manch publicly declared us as their next target, for defending “khoonkhar (dreaded) Naxalites” and for going to villages inciting people against the state.
With Malini not relenting and still pursuing her work, strong arm tactics were adopted to dislodge the group from the town.
“Late last (Wednesday) night, police visited our landlord, who is a driver by profession, and took him away to the police station. He was kept there till wee hours of this morning, and dropped back in a police vehicle; his car having been impounded. Our badly shaken landlord informed us at 2 this morning that he has no option but to ask us to vacate our house and office within a week,” said Shekhar.
He said Malini’s landlord, who lives in Raipur, was “a person of very modest means”. Being a member of the minority community, he was also vulnerable in this climate of pervasive fear.
This apart, JagLAG has also accused the police of threatening others associated with it. “Prachi, the young household help working at Malini’s (residence), was summoned to the police station twice yesterday for interrogation and kept there for hours. Despite the clear letter of the law that women witnesses can only be examined at their place of residence, she was taken away to the police station late at night for questioning, much to the alarm of her family. She has been taken to the police station again this morning and is still there,” Shekhar wrote on Thursday night.
Pointing to a concerted effort to force the group out of Bastar, he said Malini’s husband, Ashim, who was called inside the police station on Thursday afternoon, had also not been allowed to step out.
Further, Shekhar charged that an attempt was being made to malign and vilify the group. “Things have been rocky for us in Jagdalpur for a while now. For a year and a half now, we are being hounded out by the local police. From giving thinly veiled threats at press conferences that the police are closely monitoring NGOs providing ‘legal aid to Naxalites’, to informing our clients that the police are about to arrest us for our Naxalite activities, to claiming before visiting journalists and researchers that we are merely a ‘Naxalite front’, various officials of the police have been out to get us,” he said.
With the police diligently investigating ‘anonymous’ complaints that the group comprised ‘fraudulent’ lawyers, Shekhar said its members have had to make multiple trips to the police station with all their “impeccable certificates and sound credentials”.
Despite this, “the local Bar Association, clearly prompted by the police, took out a resolution prohibiting our practice in the local courts. We countered this by challenging this resolution in the State Bar Council and obtaining an interim order allowing our practice. Unable to get at us any other way, now, the police are resorting to pressuring our landlord and his family,” he said.
JagLAG has charged that the timing of the events is suspect. Shekhar says, “This is coming at a time when the whole countryside of Bastar is on fire. Under the guise of anti-Naxal operations, the security forces are indulging in rape, pillage and plunder. With teams of women activists, we have documented at least three cases of mass sexual violence in the past three months itself…the number of so-called “encounters” is at an all-time high, people are simply ‘disappearing’ from villages in large numbers, only to show up in the list of ‘surrendered’ or ‘arrested’ Naxalites several days or weeks later. The local police and administration are talking in one voice of ‘clearing’ the area within one year. In this scenario, all who are challenging the official narrative, are being silenced.”