Jharkhand: 'Govt Keen to Crush Dissent Before Poll Year,' Say Activists as NIA Conducts Raids

The houses of jailed independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh, along with several of Jharkhand's most well known rights and Adivasi activists were raided by NIA early on May 2.

Ranchi: At 5.15 am on May 2, the house of independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh at Ramgarh in Jharkhand was raided by a number of NIA officials. 

He was not the only one. Damodar Turi, convener of the Vishthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, Bacha Singh, general secretary of the Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS), and the Anil Hansda, Dinesh Tudu, Nageshwar Mahato and Sanjay Turi of Jharkhand Jan Sangharsh Morcha also saw their houses raided.

All these raids were done against the case RC-01/2022/ NIA/RNC under NIA Ranchi. In a press release, the NIA said that on May 2, raids were actually conducted at a total of 14 places in Jharkhand and Bihar. It has apparently seized “incriminating material, mobile phones, digital devices and bank accounts details.”

It was revealed that NIA officers reached activist Bacha Singh’s house at Bokaro Thermal, activist Dinesh Tudu’s house at Lalpania and Damodar Turi’s house at Tundi in Dhanbad. The NIA seized Damodar’s phone and some other documents from his house and asked him to come to NIA’s Ranchi office for questioning before May 8. 

Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Satakshi

The NIA also seized Rupesh’s wife Ipsa’s phone, along with some books. An independent journalist, Rupesh has been in jail since the July 17, 2022. On April 9, NIA special judge Gurvinder Singh sent Rupesh to judicial custody till May 1.

The NIA has claimed Rupesh congregated with Vijay Kumar Arya, Rajesh Gupta, Umesh Chaudhary, Anil Yadav and others at Samhuta village under Rohtas police station on April 12, 2022, to collect funds for the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and to recruit members into it. 

Rupesh has earlier said that on April 12-13, 2022, he was present at the Suresh Bhatt Auditorium, Nagpur, to participate in the programme organised by Vira Sathidar Smriti Samanway Samiti. He was also live on Facebook that day.

He has also said that he never even visited Rohtas and the closest he got to it was Kaimur on March 27, as a journalist, to cover a three-day rally during March 26-28, 2022, against the Kaimur Tiger Reserve by the Kaimur Mukti Morcha. The report he wrote was published on the web portal ‘Janchowk’ on March 29.

Since Rupesh has been in jail, his wife has been vocal. Ipsa said that for the last few months, she has been called in for questioning by different units of the Jharkhand Police. As many as 25 policemen and officials visited her house on May 2, she said. 

“They seized my phone, some books and a few magazines. These books and magazines did not promote any illegal activity in any way and most of these are easily available in the public domain,” she added.

Damodar Turi

NIA also took the renowned Jharkhand civil rights activist Damodar Turi to the nearby police station in Dhanbad on the same morning following a three-hour raid. He was later released. 

Damodar’s wife Baby Turi said she was in Ranchi while Damodar was in his village in Dhanbad when the raid took place. “Around six o’clock in the morning, the neighbours in village called me and told me that a large number of police officials had come to our house,” she said.

Damodar said only he and his mother were present at the house in Tundi when the NIA came, at 6 am.

“They confiscated my phone and some books. While they searched the house, they had my phone, and there were several times during the raid that my phone was not in my sight. After a few hours they routinely sealed my phone,” Damodar said.

He also said that the Union government wants to suppress every dissenting voice. 

“Just on May 1, I gave a statement in a programme organised in Bokaro on the occasion of May Day. I spoke on how the government is working to suppress the voices of journalists and activists. The next day itself, the NIA raided my house. The state government too is silent on this wrong act by the Union government and is giving its full support. It is clear from this that even if both governments are of different parties, as soon as they come to power, the nature of both is to exploit the people,” he said.

Damodar is a notable Adivasi social worker who has been actively involved in the movement for Adivasi rights in Jharkhand.

He has been particularly vocal on the forced displacement of Adivasi communities as a result of the state’s huge dams and other infrastructure projects. Turi has also been involved in the Pathalgadi movement, which was begun by certain Adivasi communities in Jharkhand to demand their autonomy and self-rule.

Bacha Singh

Bacha Singh is a well-known labour rights activist in Jharkhand.

He said the NIA came to his house at 5.30 in the morning in large numbers. “They seized the letterhead of our labour union MSS and some union pamphlets,” he added.

“There are elections in 2024 not only in the Union but also in Jharkhand, that is why the government is targeting every person who is the voice of the poor and the labourers. It will not be surprising if later on some activists like us are put in jail under false cases,” he added.

In 2017, Singh was arrested by the Jharkhand Police on charges of sedition, after which his organisation MSS was banned. He was released on bail after a few months and the ban on MSS was also lifted last year. Earlier, MSS was a Jharkhand-based trade union. Satya Narayana Bhattacharya, an advocate, founded it in 1985 and registered it in 1989. The organisation strives to empower employees and preserve their rights, notably in Jharkhand’s mining and industrial sectors.

Jharkhand Jan Sangharsh Morcha members

Anil, Dinesh, Nageshwar and Sanjay are active members of the Jharkhand Jan Sangharsh Morcha, which is a newly formed umbrella organisation. It was founded in 2021 with the aim of fighting for the rights of the indigenous Adivasi population of the state. The organisation has been instrumental in highlighting the exploitation and discrimination faced by the Adivasi communities in Jharkhand and advocating for their socio-economic and political empowerment.

Their houses were also raided by the NIA.

Vikram Raj is an independent journalist.