Jharkhand-based tribal rights activist and author Gladson Dungdung, offloaded at Delhi airport, says he may go to court seeking redress.
New Delhi: After last year’s episode of the NDA government offloading Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport comes a case of yet another offloading of a rights activist. Well-known tribal rights activist and author from Jharkhand, Gladson Dungdung, was “offloaded” from an early morning Air India flight to London on May 9 at Delhi Airport.
Dungdung’s passport was impounded by airport immigration officials who told him “it was impounded in 2013” and he “is therefore barred from travelling out of the country.”
Relating the incident to The Wire, Dungdung, general secretary of the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement, said, “I reached Delhi airport around 4 am to catch the 5.30 am flight, AI 115, to London to attend a workshop on environmental politics at the University of Sussex on May 10. After collecting my the boarding pass, I reached the immigration counter. The officer at the counter began asking the usual questions about what I do, where am I going, whether I am a student, etc. I told him I am a researcher on human rights and am going to attend a workshop in the UK, upon which he left his seat to consult a higher officer for about 10-15 minutes. I then saw him looking for an Air India official. He told him that I have to be offloaded by order. On asking, the reason he gave me was that my passport was shown as impounded in 2013.”
Dungdung’s passport was impounded by the Regional Passport Office, Ranchi, in January 2013. “It was kept for six months to harass me because I spoke against government officials many times and also because of my activism.” In July 2014, it was given back to him.
“After that, I travelled to Denmark and the UK in 2014 and to the UK once again in 2015. Though I mentioned this to the immigration officer at the airport, he didn’t listen to me. I then asked him, is there an unsaid rule of this government not to allow any rights activists to travel out of the country. He didn’t answer but smiled a meaningful smile at me,” said the author of Whose Country is it Anyway: Untold Stories of the Indigenous Peoples of India.
Dungdung, who first announced the news of his offloading in a Facebook post on Monday morning, said the “real reason” is the content of his latest book Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India. “Not just this government but the earlier one too has been waging a war against the Maoists, saying it considers them to be the biggest threat to internal security but I argue in the book that it is actually a war to grab the natural resources of those areas, something that the government doesn’t like to hear.”
“India,” he continued, “has only 12% of forest cover while the government is mandated to keep a total forest cover of 33%. The Forest Survey Report 2015 mentions that India’s forest cover has remained only in the areas where adivasis live. And yet, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar declared that clearance will be given to a project in such areas within 100 days. Are they then imagining an India without the adivasis? Economy must go with ecology; otherwise we will end up only having oxygen cafes everywhere.”
On being asked the future course of action, Dungdung, who returned to Ranchi this afternoon, said, “Let me wait for some days to see if my passport is returned. But it looks like I will also have to go to the court to get it back, like Priya Pillai had to.”
“Free speech is my constitutional right,” he added. “No government can take it away from an Indian citizen.”
Two months after Pillai was offloaded at IGI airport in January 2015, the Delhi high court overturned the Ministry of Home Affairs’ bar on her travelling abroad, saying, “You can’t muzzle dissent in a democracy.” The court further said that the Look Out Circular in her name must be quashed, the offload stamp expunged from her record and that she be removed from any Intelligence Bureau database, as per a release issued by Greenpeace on March 25, 2015.
Rajiv Shakhder, the high cpurt judge who ruled in her favour, has since been ordered transferred to the Madras high court.