In Solidarity with Adivasis in Bastar, Human Rights Defenders and Bela Bhatia in Bastar: Concerned Students in TISS, Mumbai

Guest Post by CONCERNED STUDENTS OF TATA INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, MUMBAI

We, the concerned students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai condemn the continuing state repression of adivasis and recent attack on human rights activist Bela Bhatia in Bastar, Chhattisgarh.

On the 23rd of January, 2017, a group of 30-odd men attacked Bela where they barged into her house in Parpa, near Jagdalpur violently and threatened to burn the building down if she did not leave immediately. The mob also attacked her landlords and their children, threatening them with dire consequences if Bela was not evicted immediately. Despite Bela’s assurances that she would leave, the mob continued to be belligerent, in the presence of the police, and the Sarpanch. The mob has been identified with the right-wing vigilante group Action Group for National Integrity (AGNI).

In last one year alone a number of vigilante groups like the now disbanded Samajik Ekta Manch, Naxal Peedith Sangharash Samiti and the newly formed group AGNI have been used by Kalluri and the Bastar police, to harass and intimidate everyone living and working in the area, be it lawyers, journalists, local leaders, researchers who are exposing these cases of atrocities and calling the state to account. Many of these vigilante groups are formed by ex Salwa Judum leaders. An all-out war has been launched against the people of Bastar by the security forces. These state forces are hell bent on ensuring that this becomes ‘A war without any witnesses’.

In the present scenario, the adivasis in Bastar are putting up a tough fight against State’s attempt to dispossess them. It is an attempt to finish off adivasi community, their culture and their existence all together so that the mineral rich land and jungles of central region of the country could be easily handed off to the Corporates.  In this war between the state and people of Bastar, all those who have tried to stand with the adivasis  in their fight, exposing this State-Corporate nexus have been equally targeted and threatened. The background to the recent attack on Bela comes from her involvement in exposing state crimes especially incidents of mass sexual assaults in Bastar. Towards the end of February 2016, Bela along with teams of Women against State Violence and Sexual Assault (WSS), Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) and Activist Soni Sori exposed three incidents of mass sexual violence by police and security forces in the villages of Pedagellur, Belam Nendra and Chinnagelur, Bijapur District of Bastar region, Chhattisgarh. Together with the victims, they managed to file FIRs, one on November 1, 2015, and another on January 21, 2016 against Security forces. These were the first instances of the use of Section 376(2)(c) IPC providing for indictment of state and central security forces for sexual violence. Within eight days of the filing of the FIRs, the revengeful action towards Bela and others started, leading to a rally being organised against her in Bijapur district by the vigilante group Naxal Peedit Sangharsh Samiti. Bela, due to the mounting pressure vacated her house in Jagdalpur and moved to Parpa, a village near Jagdalpur. However, the hounding and harassment has continued, and unfortunately intensified enough to make her vacate her Parpa House as well after she accompanied the team of NHRC along with Soni Sori to Pedagellur to record testimonies of women who have been victims of sexual violence.

The attack on Bela is not the first one. In past year, women advocates of JagLAG have been threatened by an alleged criminal complaint, journalist Malini Subramaniam was hounded out of Bastar, Nandini Sundar and Manju Kawasi have been charged in false murder cases, Laxmi Hidme, mother of encountered Madkam Hidme and  Kawasi Hidme, who after years of torture in prison, now fights alongside Soni Sori, a tribal activist who was attacked with chemicals on her face. By calling the lawyers and activists as ‘Safed posh naxalis’ the state has tried its best to criminalize them and made sure that an obstacle is created in them lending any support to the people.

Appeals of accountability from the police have led to a venomous vitriol being unleashed by Inspector General SRP Kalluri where he has responded by saying most objectionable, vulgar and threatening things to these women along with giving a free hand to officials under him to rape and kill the adivasis. Mission 2016 is conveniently being carried out on the principle of clear-hold-build. IG Kalluri’s role in perpetuating violence against the adivasis with complete impunity and lawlessness has been especially notorious. In a recent NDTV interview, he said, “Activists are enemies because they incite people against democracy, and question the sovereignty and universality of India. We oppose their anti-national brigade.” It is important to especially pay attention to the last statement that he makes, that ‘activists are anti-nationals’. That activists are anti-nationals is the propaganda used by the right-wing BJP government, its student wing ABVP and their media stooges like Zee TV & Times Now. IG Kalluri is the iron heel used by the right wing fascist government in Chhattisgarh and Centre. He has scant regard for constitutional principles or Rule of Law and is the perpetrator of fake encounters, torture, mass sexual assault against adivasis. A number of these incidents have been investigated and documented by  human rights & lawyers groups like PUCL, WSS, JagLAG, as well as by  ST Commission and the Editors’ Guild of India. There has been a sudden spurt in crimes against adivasis of Bastar and activists working in that area ever since Mr. SRP Kalluri took charge as Inspector General (Bastar Range) in 2014. As the incidents of mass sexual assaults were filed in February, recently NHRC testified to the truth of these statements saying that security forces have raped 16 women.

People like Bela are a hindrance to such a war. Bela who is a researcher, activist, ex-alumni and ex-faculty member of TISS, has been working in the area since past two years. As students of TISS, we clearly remember the difference that Bela made to the lives of many students on the campus. She was teaching courses in the Dalit and Tribal Studies Department of Social Work at TISS. She was regularly taking courses in Foundation Courses on Social Movements. She was quite vocal about issues on campus and was always a supportive voice when it came to student’s issues. In the light of the organic relationship that Bela shared with her students and her teaching of the principles of justice and equality, we as TISS students demand an immediate stop to the harassment that she has been subjected to.

We stand by the people of Bastar in this war that the state has waged against them and condemn in strongest terms the erosion of democracy and heinous way in which adivasis are being pushed out of Bastar to dispossess and alienate them from their rights over jal, jangal and jameen.

Maternity Entitlements were Legal Rights 3 years ago, not a New Year Gift: Statement of the Right to Food Campaign

 

On New Year’s Eve, the Prime Minister in his much-anticipated speech amongst other commitments made a vague announcement of a “nation-wide” scheme for maternity entitlements for pregnant women.

But the PM has not spelled out any specifics – neither the timeframe;budget nor its universal coverage as obligated in the National Food Security Act (NFSA) since2013. Clause 4B of the law already promises all pregnant and lactating women maternity entitlements of atleastRs 6000 for each child. But for three years, the central government didn’t honour this legal obligation. Though better late than never, re-packaging this legal right as the PM’s New Year gift is disingenuous.

Further media reports, from December indicate that the Finance Ministry may hike the budget by a mere 20 percent (instead of the sevenfold increase necessary for universalisation) and that too restrict the benefit to only women Below the Poverty Line (BPL). This would be in complete violation of the NFSA.

But there seems to bearecurring trend to subvert the law. For the last three years, this government continued with the pilot Indira Gandhi MatritvaSahyogYojana (IGMSY) in just 53 districts of the country despite repeated demands by civil society activists and women from across the country. This year, Right to Food Campaign activists from across India even sent postcards to the PM to remind him of the state’s obligation.

In September 2015, even the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre on the non-implementation of maternity entitlements under the NFSA.

While the government did initially enhance the IGMSY allocations from Rs 4000 to Rs. 6000 to be in tune with the NFSA, neither the coverage nor the budget was enhanced which languishes at Rs. 400 crores. Instead to ensure that all eligible women are covered as per the NFSA, Rs 16,000 crores is necessary. A real test of the Prime Minister’s announcement will be in the fine print of the allocations in next month’s budget.

Killings in Kaziranga, Dantewada Hazaribagh – ‘National Interest’, ‘Internal Security’ and ‘Development’: Kamal Nayan Choubey

Guest post by KAMAL NAYAN CHOUBEY

In the last few weeks there were at least three gruesome incidents of killing of tribals or forest dwelling persons in different parts of the country. In the first incident two persons from Muslim community were killed in police firing near Kaziranga National Park (KNP) of Assam on 19 September 2016. These people were peacefully protesting against their eviction drive carried out by local administration, which was implementing the judgment of Gauhati High Court related to evictions. In the second incident two young boys were killed by police in the Bastar area of the Chhattisgarh, and following the long tradition of all such killings, the police claimed that they were Maoists. The third incident occurred on the 1st October in the Hazaribagh, Jharkhand where the police used its brutal power and killed four persons in an open firing. These people were peacefully protesting against land acquisition for a Thermal Power Plant, which would cause their displacement. It is should be asked that why the State used its brutal power against one of the most marginalized sections of the society? Was firing on these unarmed and, at least in two cases, peacefully protesting tribal and forest dwelling people necessary? Could it be claimed by the State authorities that they fulfilled all constitutional obligations in the context of the demands of these people, in other words, could it be claimed by authorities that their demands were absurd and unconstitutional? Or would it be more correct to underline that tribals represent the marginal voices of the Indian nation-state, and mainstream notions of ‘national interest’, ‘internal security’ and ‘development’ have meager or no space for their claims or rights?

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Ambedkar and the Environmental Tradition

The 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar was celebrated in April 2016 all around, so much so that the United Nations, for the first time, observed this day with a focus on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we know, the 17 goals along with 169 targets and 304 indicators, adopted in September 2015, aspire to transform our world by balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. The ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’ has environment at its core, along with poverty and inequality: to ‘protect planet’, create ‘healthy environment’, and ensure equality, dignity and development ‘in harmony with nature’. And Ambedkar is found in this regard to be an apt and inspiring leader.

The world can see traces of Ambedkar’s vision in the SDGs and can find his views relevant for environmental sustainability, but not the Indian environmentalists! Indian environmental movements marginalize Ambedkar. From a historical past, environmental scholars have placed Gandhi at the apex of their inspiration. Recently, Nehru and Indira Gandhi too have been constructed through an ecological lens. However, Ambedkar’s engagement with the environmental question has been relatively unexplored, even when his thoughts and interventions on nature, village, land, agriculture, water, community, industry, technology and science are some of the enduring issues of India’s environmental and political traditions. In comparison with Gandhi, credited with having an intuitive critique of modern civilization, Ambedkar has often been criticized for his modernization vision, which it is argued, drew heavily on the west for inspiration (Nagaraj 2010: 56-7)

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Everybody Loves A Good Riot

This here is a 360 video of Friday namaaz at the Rangrezi masjid in Lisad, a village where 13 Muslims were killed in the Muzaffarnagar Riots of 2013.

Play the video, and tilt your phone left, right, up or down to explore the mosque. If you are watching this on your computer, click on the screen and drag your mouse to look around this space.

I shot this video last week in Muzaffarnagar as part of “Everybody Loves A Good Riot” – an immersive multimedia project detailing western Uttar Pradesh’s “riot economy”. The story features 2 more 360 videos like the one above, as well as a text story to mark the 3rd anniversary of the Muzaffarnagar riots. Experience the full story here

The Singur Judgement, End of Neoliberalism and the CPI(M) Comedy Show

The Supreme Court verdict on Singur land acquisition that eventually signaled the beginning of the end of CPI(M)-led Left Front’s 34 year long rule in West Bengal, has come as a breath of fresh air. It is especially so, because the advent of the Modi government at the Centre had succeeded in reinstating the logic of corporate development, brushing aside all concerns regarding environmental clearances to land acquisition, despite its attempts to undo the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 2013 (LARR 2013), being effectively rebuffed. The implications of the Singur judgement go far beyond West Bengal, for the argument made by Justices V. Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra underlines one thing starkly: the “brunt of development” should not be borne by the “weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural workers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty State government.” While the 204 page still waits to be read more closely, it is clear that the break that the Singur-Nandigram moment had already initiated in the neoliberal consensus among the political and state elite in 2006-7, continues to acquire legitimacy. Even the 2013 Act was a consequence of that break. The SC verdict recognizes that ‘growth’ and industrialization’ do not come without costs and who pays for those costs remains a key question at the end of the day.

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