The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Thursday issued summons to the chief secretary of Chhattisgarh and inspector general of police, Bastar range, S.R.P. Kalluri, “to explain the allegations of hostility and abuse of power against human rights defenders”. The commission was referring in particular to the case against Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar, JNU professor Archana Prasad and others in connection with the murder of a villager in the district.
Stating that it has “noted and taken suo motu cognizance” of the nationwide outcry and protest against Kalluri for registering an FIR (No. 27/2016) at Tongpal police station in which the Chhattisgarh police has named Sundar, Prasad and nine others as accused in the murder of a tribal Samnath Baghel in Sukma District on November 4, the NHRC said it has been reported that he was killed by Maoists as he had been leading a campaign against their activities since April this year.
“Framed in a mala fide manner to settle scores”
Noting that “it has been alleged that these professors had visited Bastar in May, 2016, while this murder has taken place in November, 2016,” the NHRC observed that “there is no apparent connection between murder and visit of these human rights activists and, therefore, it has been alleged that they have been framed in mala fide manner by police to settle scores.”
Taking “judicial notice” of the petition filed by Sundar recently in the Supreme Court against atrocities by the Bastar police against tribals, allegedly burning down their homes, the NHRC said the apex court had ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into these incidents. “The CBI found S.R.P. Kalluri, IG of Police, Bastar Range responsible for the burning of homes,” the panel said.
With respect to the earlier social work of Sundar, NHRC also commented that “she has also earlier filed a petition in Supreme Court in Salwa Judum case in 2007 against atrocities by police in the tribal areas. She with other lawyers and journalists has in the past brought to the notice of the Commission mass rape of women, murders and other crimes by security officers under the umbrella of police. The Commission is separately examining those complaints and has sought comments from the State of Chhattisgarh on the findings submitted to the Commission by its team after visiting Chhattisgarh.”
Effigy burning was “unprecedented act of hostility and indiscipline”
Referring to a pattern in the police action against rights activists in Chhattisgarh, the NHRC said it had earlier this month also taken suo motu cognisance of the “unprecedented acts of hostility and indiscipline by Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Police in burning the effigies of Prof. Nandini Sundar and other lawyers and journalists as they were instrumental in exposing the deeds of police.”
In light of the developments over the past year in the state, the commission said it “views the action of registration of FIR against Prof. Nandini Sundar and others as an act in line with earlier acts of hostility displayed by police.”
Further, the commission said the wife of the deceased, Samnath Baghel, had also told NDTV on November 4 that she had not named Sundar or anyone else in her complaint. She had stated that the Maoists had attacked their house while they were sleeping. NHRC said Sundar had also told ANI that she has not visited the area over the last five months.
“Police vendetta” for “exposing misdeeds”
Considering all these aspects of the case, the NHRC said: “Naming of these human rights activists in the FIR in the backdrop and circumstances mentioned above lends credence of the observation of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) that all this was part of the State police vendetta against the lawyers, journalists and human rights activists who have been critical of fake encounters, mass rapes, arson, etc. by security forces. The naming of these persons in FIR appears to be the ploy to stop their entry and visit to the tribal areas for exposing their misdeeds.”
Thus, the commission said, in its considered view the Chhattisgarh police “owes its explanation to the Commission as there are allegations and its action seems to be coloured by malafide, hostility and abuse of power on the allegations of false implication to silence the human rights defenders.”
The NHRC said it was also aware that the Supreme Court had on November 15 issued directions to the Chhattisgarh government to four weeks notice before moving for their arrest.
Despite the apex court’s directions, the NHRC said it was the commission’s duty “to see that the faith of the people in the police is not eroded and society is governed by rule of law and faith of people in upholding the human rights of people is restored and vindicated at the earliest.”
“Deeply disturbed by the state of affairs in the State of Chhattisgarh over the last one year or more,” the NHRC said it is directing the chief secretary and Kalluri to appear in person before it at 11 am on November 30 with all the reports to explain the allegations levelled against them.
The commission also demanded to know why the investigation in the FIR registered in the case should not be handed over to an independent agency, like the CID or the CBI, in view of the allegations against the state police and government.