One day before the Jan Sunwai (public hearing) planned for 6th and 7th Jan to bring out Adivasis’ concerns in Dantewada, Chattisgarh, the police has unleashed a campaign to intimidate and silence key Adivasi witnesses as well as visiting journalists, students and activists.
Even as eminent Gandhian Himanshu Kumar of Vanavasi Chetana Ashram (VCA) broke his fast on the 10th day, the Ashram was surrounded by armed police and Special Police Officers (SPOs). Journalists Satyen Bordoloi and Priyanka Borpujari from Mumbai, Suresh Deepala, law student and AID volunteer from Hyderabad, and Nishtha, a visiting student from Tata Institute of Social Sciences were forcibly prevented from leaving, placing them under virtual house arrest for a few hours. They were assaulted and their cameras taken away. After public pressure forced the administration to let them free, they were then detained again at the police station on false charges of assaulting journalists. They have been released now and are back at VCA.
About 25 to 30 Adivasi villagers who had come to VCA for the Jan Sunwai have been taken away by the police to an unknown location on 5th January. Even as eminent social activists, journalists and concerned citizens, including Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey, are reaching Dantewada on 6th January for the Jan Sunwai, the administration has adopted increasingly repressive and violent tactics to prevent or scuttle the Jan Sunwai and cover up the excesses going on for the past two years.
Sodi Sambo, a 28 year old Adivasi woman from village Gompad was shot in her leg on 1st Oct, 2009 by the security forces. She is an important witness in the 1st Oct incident in which 9 Adivasis, including an 8-year old girl, were killed by the security forces. She is one of the petitioners of Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 103 of 2009 in the Supreme Court. She was stopped by the police on 3rd Jan, 2010, as she was on her way to Delhi in very ill health for the treatment of her wounded leg and malaria. She is being held in isolation in the Jagdalpur Hospital where neither journalists nor social workers can meet her. Further, the hospital cannot offer the treatment she needs.
Intimidation and harassment of VCA volunteers has been going on for over a year in spite of the fact that Himanshu Kumar and VCA have consistently opposed Maoist violence. Volunteer Kopa Kunjam was arrested on false charges on 10th Dec, 2009 along with a lawyer from Human Rights Law Network. Although the lawyer has been released, Kopa continues to be in custody where, according to him, he was tortured by being hung upside down and beaten severely. He has been threatened several times to not work with VCA. At the behest of the police and the administration, the landlord of Himanshu asked him to vacate his house despite having signed an agreement for a year. Nandini Sundar, a Professor of Anthropology in Delhi, was refused a room in all the hotels in Dantewada and her car driver threatened, eventually compelling her to abandon her visit.
We demand that the rights of civilians in the region be restored, the media have free access to the region and report on the goings on, and the civil society be allowed in the region for the Jan Sunwai. We urgently request NHRC, various human rights group and the Home Minister P Chidambaram and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister to ensure the safety of Sodi Sambo, Kopa Kunjam, Himanshu Kumar, the Adivasis of Dantewada, and all the visiting journalists, students, social workers and human rights activists. We demand an end to the abuse of power by the state in Chhattsigarh and by the Operation Green Hunt through out India and demand that the Centre and State be held accountable for every life that has been lost so far.
Contacts: Kirankumar Vissa, AID-Hyderabad +91-9701705743, firstname.lastname@example.org Tathagata Sengupta, AID-Kolkata, +91-9903462567, email@example.com Somnath Mukherji, AID-Boston, +001-732-423-6662, firstname.lastname@example.org