Activist Working for Rights of Tribal People Arrested
Ms Shamim (nee Meghani) Modi, a law graduate working among the tribals in Betul district, Madhya Pradesh, has had to pay a heavy price for taking up the cause of tribal people and other industrial workers. Shamim, who works with the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (an organization of socialist-Gandhian orientation) has been put behind bars in Hoshangabad jail for exposing the corrupt nexus between politicians and the mining mafia. She was arrested in gross violation of democratic rights on 10th February 2009 from her residence at Harda, M.P. The process of attempting to secure bail from M.P High Court is now on.
The arrest was made on false charges, one of instigating tribals to ‘attack forest officials’ and another of ‘kidnapping with the intention to kill’ these officials! These charges were brought against her (and her husband) two years ago in 2007. Subsequently no enquiries were conducted, and no follow-up was done but the fact that these charges hung over their heads was presumably meant to cow them down. These charges have suddenly been resurrected because the administration has been under pressure from industrialist lobbies. Earlier, the trial court had rejected her bail plea despite the fact that the person supposed to have been ‘kidnapped’ was said to be present in court and denied any such thing. Another evidence, if any was still required, of the deep nexuses of power that operate at these levels.
The immediate cause of her arrest is that on 9th February, local industrialists belonging to 60 saw mills and factories issued an ultimatum to the local administration that unless Shamim Modi and Anurag Modi are arrested within 48 hours, they will shut down their establishments – as (so they claimed) they felt harassed by the growing complaints raised by their employees. The Shramik Adivasi Sanghathana (SAS), the local community based organisation which Shamim was active with, was instrumental in raising the issue of non-implementation of the Labour Act in 60 saw mills and plywood factory of the town. She had also taken up the concerns of more than 1000 load workers working in various Krishi Upaj Mandi in Harda District.
Details of the case:
For the past 2 years or more, Shamim’s life has been under threat and she was given state protection during a P.I.L. which had crucial implications for illegal quarrying in the forest land of Betul District. The current charges and the circumstances of the arrest point towards the bias of the local administration against Ms Modi, Mr. Modi and the SAS. SAS has faced a lot of harassment from the local administration for taking up various issues of the tribal people like non-payment of wages by the forest and other officials, bonded labour, alleged contentions to the title of land, inclusion of names of the tribal persons in the below-poverty-line list, etc.
Given the nature of constant and difficult dealings with the administration to make their ends meet, the SAS over the past 6 years took a decision to become politically active in the hope of instilling democratic practices in the region. They have been contesting the local, assembly and even Lok Sabha elections. The growing impact of the SAS activities and the fight for democratic space is being met by resistance from the local political and other power structures.
Ms Shamim and her husband, Mr Anurag are professionally qualified persons who have taken up the difficult task of working for the rights of the tribal people and the marginalized. Shamim, a former student of Jesus and Mary College and LSR Delhi, has an M.A. from Delhi University, an M. Phil from TISS and a Law Degree from Barkatullah University, Bhopal. Shamim and Anurag work with a Gandhian and socialist perspective and their organization, the SAS, has been working towards making democratic institutions and the law work in the interest of the common people, so that the marginalized have access to basic needs like food, shelter, health and education and can live in dignity under the law of the land.
The Current Charges:
The charges under which Shamim Modi has been arrested are clearly trumped up in character. This is in spite of the use of democratic and constitutional means by the Modis and the SAS to secure tribal and other sections of society their rights.
The charges relate to an old case of 11th July, 2007, when forest department officials assaulted a tribal Ramdas and his sister-in-law Phoolwati in village Dhega for allegedly cultivating forest land. The official was armed and the people of the village in self defense overpowered him; subsequently the SAS activists and Shamim tried to lodge an F.I.R. which the police did not register. On the contrary, a case of kidnapping (Sec. 364 IPC) of the ranger (O.P. Patel), and robbery with intent to kill (Sec. 397 IPC), etc. were filed against Shamim and Anurag Modi, who were never even present at the site of the incident in village Dhega. Subsequently, on 13th July 2007, Shamim along with Phoolwati and other women, who were proceeding to file a complaint at Harda District Court were stopped from doing so. They were then dragged away forcibly and taken to Bhopal for treatment. Ironically another case of kidnapping with intention to kill was lodged against Shamim. However the women were not given treatment at Bhopal. Due to a P.I.L. lodged it was possible to have a hearing in the High Court of M.P. at Jabalpur, where the women were heard and medical treatment arranged.
Therefore, I seek solidarity from concerned citizens and citizens groups, and hope that this statement would be endorsed by you. It will be forwarded it to the C.M. of M.P., Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission, Chief Justice of M.P. and Prime Minister of our country.
[The above is based on a petition created by and written by Rajani Konantambigi. This petition is available for those who might want to sign at petition online.]