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India: Growing threats to human rights activists on eve of protest march and public hearing in Chhattisgarh

by Kavita Srivastava, 13 December 2009

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There Is No Stopping The Dantewada Padyatra

It Will Take Place As Planned

Appeal To All Activists To Get Their Act Together

Join The Padyatra From 14th To 26th Dec. 2009

Join The Satyagrah From 25Th Dec. 2009

Join The Jan Sunwai, 6-7 Jan. 2010

Jaipur,

13th, December, ’09

Dear Friends,

Himanshuji and other friends of Dantewada have brought to our notice the latest attacks of the Chhattisgarh Police and the State Government on the VCA. Many of us are aware that on the 10th of December, ’09 on Human Rights Day, Kopa, a VCA tribal activist, and Alban who is also a tribal and a human rights lawyer from HRLN, were both picked up, illegally detained and badly beaten. Alban was released next day but Kopa was arrested on charges of being involved in the murder of Punam Honga who was abducted by Maoists on June 2nd and later his body was found in a mutilated condition.

Kopa being charged for the murder of Punam Honga is absolutely rubbish. This arrest is part of the same series of arrests as was of Binayak in 2007, Ajay TG in 2008, Sukhanth in July, 2009 and now before the end of the year Kopa. The point is only one. If you disagree with the Chhattisgarh Government and try putting across another point of view then you will be removed from the scene. This is Chhattisgarh. And the Government of India ? It will watch in silence.

Kopa and the his work with the VCA

It is also very important to know that Kopa has spent more than 13 years of his life with the VCA. He is a brilliant singer and orator. Before joining VCA, he was with the Gayatri mission where he motivated people through his songs to stop drinking alcohol. It was his singer’s voice which got him a job in VCA where he not only continued to spread his anti liquor message, but now he also started organising kala jathas. On foot he and other workers started mobilising people to demand entitlements related to their Right to Food and Health and saving and reclaiming their Natural Resources. A very effective worker, he was responsible for putting together more than 750 community workers on these issues and more than forty main trainers in the district of Dantewada and Bijapur which is the work area of the VCA.

Kopa became uncomfortable for the administration and police since 2008. He took the courageous step of initiating the resettlement and rehabilitation work as per Supreme Court order of all those villagers who had left their villages due to the atrocities of the Salwa Judum and SPOs. He was the Rehabilitation coordinator of VCA. It was not just this work, he also exposed the Matwara massacre of 18th March, 2008 where three tribals were brutally killed and their bodies mutilated in a salwa judum camp. Kopa helped the families initiate legal proceedings in the High Court. He also got the widows of the three to file a complaint in the police station, which never got converted to an FIR.

He also exposed the Singaram massacre of 2009, where four girls were raped and murdered. Fifteen men were also murdered in this episode. Kopa got the families to initiate legal proceedings in the High Court and also got them to file complaints in the local police station. In 2009, he also exposed and took cudgels with the district administration regarding corruption in NREGA, including non-payment of wages to tribals. He was constantly fighting for people’s rights to get their share of PDS from ration shops, the only agency of the Government existing in the villages. Otherwise it is only the police and security forces.

The abduction of Nagesh Jhadi and Punam Honga, the 2nd June incident

Please recall that on the 2nd of June when Nagesh Jhadi and Kopa were returning from the Basaguda camp in Dantewada, their motorbike was stopped and Nagesh Jhadi the Panchayat secretary of Mallepalli was picked up by the Maoists. Kopa ran around chasing the abductors in the forest. He was unaware that Punam Honga (former Sarpanch), who was traveling in a mini truck, had been picked up later by the Maoists. Kopa decided to lodge a complaint about the abduction of Nagesh soon after, but then he was harassed by the SPOs and detained at the police station. So the next day Himanshuji went and brought Kopa out and they both decided to make their own enquiries about Nagesh’s abduction in the forest areas. But they were then led into a trap at Lingagiri by the SPOs, from where they managed to escape and drove hundred kilometres through forest areas and got out into the Bhadrachalam side of the forest where with the support of the late Sh. Balgopal of HRF, Himanshu addressed a press conference on the whole episode ( please see attachement- Himanshu’s statement from Bhadrachalam). We also know that Kopa had nothing to do with either the abduction of Nagesh Jhadi (he was released later) or the abduction and killing of Punam Honga, even then he had said that his life was in danger as he was being targeted for his work in exposing the Matwada and Singaram massacres and in trying to ensure justice to the families of those killed. In August, ’09 too Kopa was picked up and beaten up by the SPOs. See attachment of his interview published in Hari Bhoomi saying that his life was in danger.

On 20th October, ’09 Kopa, while addressing the meeting of the Citizen’s Initiative for Peace at Constitution Club in New Delhi, said that his life was in danger and that he would be arrested for his work.

Why the Arrest of Kopa now? IS Himanshu going to be the next one?

The arrest of Kopa has been made just five days before the padyatra that was to be undertaken under the leadership of Himanshu. The timing of the arrest completely gives away the Government’s motives. It is clear the Government does not want the padyatra to happen. They do not want the misdemeanours of the police, CRPFand other security forces to be exposed which the yatra will do as it will bring into the eyes of the public stories of people from areas where nobody has gone till now.

They also want to put the fear in the tribals of Dantewada that their fate may be the same as Kopa and Sukhnath if they connect with VCA. It is clearly an effort of trying to destroy the VCA completely. They felt that after the demolition, the VCA would shut up. But the VCA reorganised itself in Dantewada, the district headquarters. So the next attack was the arrest of Sukhnath on 30th July, ’09, who they arrested under CSPSA on flimsy charges. The police thought that now the activists would lie low, but they were proved wrong. Nothing seemed to abate the resolve of the VCA in its endeavour to ensure justice to the people, so when the operation Green Hunt began in the forest areas of Dantewada, Himanshuji and his workers took the message all over the country. They facilitated the entry of groups and journalists to these areas who came for fact finding. They traveled thousands of miles to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai and spoke to thousands to people and built a public opinion on stopping the ongoing war and potential genocide. They provided evidence of police and SPO atrocities by bringing the victims of these attacks to the fore. Media covered all this. Under the pressure of the public opinion thus generated, even the Home Minister P Chidambaram had to meet Himanshu and agreed to come to Dantewada if a public hearing got organised. To top it all, the Supreme Court also issued notices when a case got filed there on the basis of the testimonies of the victims of the police operation.

This development and the announcement of the Padyatra, Satyagraha and Jan Sunwai was the last straw. Hence Kopa was picked up on false charges of committing murder and supporting Naxalites.

And now the next person on the radar of the police and the SPOS is Himanshu. A rally of Salwa Judum and SPOs, taken out on the 10th of December had as its main slogans ’Himanshu ko maro”, ’Himanshu bhagao, Bastar bachao’, ’VCA ke karyakarta bhagao, Dantewada Bachao’ and “maro salon ko”.

Himanshuji informed me on the 12th morning that between 11th and 12th, the Thana Incharge of Dantewada sent police 6 times and also came himself investigating yet another false story that a jeep had left Himanshu’s house in the evening at 6 pm on the 11th and some of the persons in the jeep had tried to abduct one SPO who was on the road. The Thana incharge claimed that the SPO escaped under the pretext of wanting to urinate. On charges of attempt to abduction, this investigation is being carried out.

The latest incident of the Collector of Dantewada getting the Danteshwari Sarwajanik Dharmashala to return the money that VCA had deposited for booking rooms during the Satyagraha period, clearly shows that the State will not allow any other voice to express itself.

So friends, there is a clear cut war in Chhattisgarh. Whoever speaks out against this will be cleared from the scene.

This is a wake up call for all of us.

Come support the Padyatra, Satyagrah and the Jan Sunwai!!! See the attached announcement [posted below] for details.

You can send volunteers, blankets, food and money and, of course, above all come to Dantewada!! You can send your Cheques or Demand Drafts to Vanvasi Chetna Ashram payable at Dantewada. ( see details below.)

Please circulate this message to others.

With regards

Kavita Srivastava

(PUCL, National Secretary)

1. Name and address of the bank : State Bank of India

Dantewada (C.G.)

2. Bank A/C No. : 10753239968

3. Bank A/C Name : Vanvasi Chetna Ashram

4. Branch Code No. : 0545

5. IFS Code : SBIN0000545

6. MICR : 494002006

— 
Kavita Srivastava
- (General Secretary) PUCL Rajasthan

Address for correspondence :

76, Shanti Niketan Colony, Kisan Marg, Barkat Nagar, Jaipur-302015
- Tel. 0141-2594131
- mobile: 9351562965

Himanshu’s Statement from Bhadrachallam

as told over the Phone to Kavita Srivastava

Dear friends,

As many of you are aware Himanshu and Kopa of VCA managed to escape Lingagiri in the early hours today through the forest area of that region and got into Bhadrachallam AP more than a hundred kilometres away. The distance between Bhadrachallam and Dantewada is a good two hundred and fifty kilometres.

The moment he got into range he called up his family, his colleagues and friends and supporters and said that he had escaped to Bhadrachallam and would be soon getting back to Dantewada. This is great news and we are glad that Himanshu and Kopa managed to escape the wrath of the local police and Salwa Judum although there are many concerns that still remain. He has addressed the press in Bhadrachallam with Bal Gopalji of HRF who reached late afternoon.

Himanashu gave me a long dictation over the phone of what happened and wanted people to know about what happened in the last four days. I think there are some facts that we need to act upon urgently.

The body of Punam Honga not found says Bijapur SP, Sh. AnkitGarg

The Hindu report of the 5th July which I had circulated had said that Punam Honga had been killed by the Maoists and that his body had been found by the police. Both Himanshu and I talked to Bijapur SP Ankit Garg, who clearly said that they had not found the body of Punam Honga. Thus the PTI news report from Raipur which the Hindu published is false. He said that they are still in the process of investigation. When I checked with DG P Vishwaranjan in the morning about the Hindu report he said that it was correct and the body of Punam Honga had been found. It is a bit of a surprise that the DGP was going by the news reports rather than the police’s own information system.

We are glad that this report is false because then it gives us hope that he is safe and we hope that his abductors will listen to all our appeals and release him soon.

Himanshu’s story of the last four days as dictated over the phone is as follow.

Kopa a target of Salwa Judum and Police

Himanshu told that on the 2nd of July, 2009 when Kopa was returning from Basaguda camp Nagesh Jhari (Panchayat Secretary of Mallepalli) asked him for a lift. Kopa gave Nagesh a lift and moved in the direction of Avapalli, the village of Nagesh. Between Basaguda and Avapalli they were stopped by Maoists and before he knew they had taken Nagesh away. He tried his best to catch up with abductors and chased them but they fled quickly into the forest. There was quite a crowd on the road it was then he realised that Punam Honga (Former Sarpanch of Hirapur) who was travelling in a mini truck had also been abducted five minutes ago. Kopa kept roaming the area trying to look for them. He then went to Awapalli the village of Nagesh Jhari to enquire with the family whether they had got some news of his whereabouts. By then the family had lodged an FIR implicating Kopa too in the abduction.

All night the family members and members of the Salwa Judum troubled them. Nagesh also belonged to Salwa Judum and one his sons is an SPO.

Realising the Kopa was in serious trouble Himanshu came the next morning on the 3rd to Awapalli. Kopa was still being harassed by the family members and members of the Salwa Judum. They all alleged that he had a role in the abduction of Nagesh. Kopa and Himanshu soon left the place to go towards Basaguda and Lingagiri. Before they reached Basaguda camp the police stopped them at Basaguda police station and told Kopa to go back to Awapalli police station. They kept saying that why did Kopa not lodge an FIR after the abduction. The police also told them that the Salwa Judum were after them in both places and would kill Kopa. To which Himanshu told the police to save them if that was the case.

The police was adamant to take Kopa so Himanshu decided to go with him. They made Kopa sit in the jeep and they were accompanied by the same police man who was involved in an earlier rape and murder incident. They were taken to the spot of abduction which was between Basaguda and Awapalli and then they took his statement at the police station.

They also learnt unofficially that there was a serious threat on the life of Kopa. The police and Salwa Judum were very angry with him and wanted him out of the way because he had played an active role in bringing to light the Matwada massacare of 18th March, 2008 where more than 3 tribals were killed by the police and the fourth one was left in an unconscious state. It was Kopa who worked on that and the matter was taken up by VCA in the Chhattisgarh High Court. Kopa was also one of the key person’s who worked on the Singaram fake encounters of January, 2009. He was also the key person who was encouraging villagers to resettle back into the villages. Kopa had earlier written to senior police officials in the State that there was a threat to his life by the local police and Salwa Judum.

From there the two went to Lingagiri village late on the night of the 3rd trying to make their own enquries about the two who had been abducted. On the 4th too they combed the forest area. On the 5th they realised that the Salwa Judum would now get violent as they had been unable to get leads to the two abducted people. They learnt about this from several village women who returned empty handed from the ration shop in the Basaguda Camp. This is the only ration shop for more than fifteen villages. The women told them that they were dragged into the Basaguda police station by the Salwa Judum members and they were beaten up by them. The sales man was threatened by the police that he must not supply rations to them. The police also put a double lock on the shop and they were told that "go starve! you will not get one grain of rice till you do not tell us about the whereabouts of Nagesh Jhari anf Punam Honga". The police also enquired about Himanshu and Kopa so the women said that they are in Lingagiri village. The members of the Salwa Judum told them that now they would come and burn their villages unless they handed over the two who were abducted.

When the women returned they were in a state of shock as many were from the resettled villages and could not take another displacement. That is when Himanshu sent the sms "Trapped in Lingiri village. Kopa and me will be either jailed or or killed by Salwa judum if both those abducetd are not released. Rehabiliated villagers too in panic. Whole rehabilitation process in Danger, May revert. Himanshu".

Himanshu and Kopa took the decision to somehow get out of the forest area behind the village. Especially through routes where there were no police stations. In the early hours today, the 6th of June, 2009 they left the village on motor bike and drove non stop and reached AP. On reaching Bhadrachallam they contacted family, colleagues and friends.

With pressure put by all of us on the Chhattisgarh Police, directly and through the Governor, the Bijapur police reached at 12 noon. On learning in the village that Himanshu had left in the morning they came back. The SP Bijapur called Himanshu around 2.30 pm and took his statement.

According to Himanshu

* it is extremely urgent to get the ration shop reopened as people are totally dependent on that shop for food. He said that the villages that would be going hungry with the closure of the shop were Basaguda, Lingagiri, Pesapara, Korsaguda, Pakela, Dharmapuri, Kumarpara, Mallepali, Sarkeguda and a few others. He was keen that the pressure now be put on the police and Salwa Judum from keeping the ration shops from being closed.

* Ensuring the safety of Kopa should be a demand that we must make with the police and the Government who were keen to implicate him in the abduction case. Kopa had not run away from the scene of abduction and had coperated with the family and the police to tell as much as he knew. Why was he being held responsible for the abduction that the Maoists did, he asked?.

* The resettlement and rehabilitation process must continue uninterrupted.

* Finally, from the Maoists demanding the safety and release of Nagesh Jhari and Punam Honga at the earliest.

Kavita Srivastava,

National Secretary PUCL

Paper Cutting Kopa

[Related Material]

Announcement Letter

Dantewada Padyatra, Satyagrah and Jan Sunwai

14 December 2009 and 7 January 2010

For the People’s Right
• to say NO to displacement and Tribal Genocide

• And to demand the right to live with justice and peace

Raipur / Dantewada

1 December 2009

Dear Friends,

You are aware that the Tribals of Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh State are continuously facing large-scale displacement from their homes, fields and forests. Activists, journalists and scholars working in this area have also provided evidence of tribal genocide in the last five years by State and its various agencies, including the police.

The recent past of gross human rights violations has consisted of the aggressive onslaught by the State sponsored vigilante group called the Salwa Judum. Simultaneously, an anti-democratic draconian law called the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 was brought in to silence all dissent. In the last four years it has been systematically used against human rights defenders, journalists, film-makers, lawyers, intellectuals and ordinary citizens whenever they have the State has felt the need to silence people. The latest move regarding elimination of the tribal people has been an escalation of the offensive by the State, in the name of Operation Green Hunt in the heartland of Dantewada. Paramilitary troops along with the state armed police deployed in very large numbers by the Central and the state governments have been carrying out military operations against the tribals in the name of curbing Maoists and retrieve territories from them.
In order to build public opinion and to support the tribal people in their demand to stop this displacement and genocide and to reclaim their right to life with justice and peace, several community based and people’s organisations, trade unions and human rights groups from Chhattisgarh and outside are planning a series of activities in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh.
This letter is being sent to you so as to ensure your presence and participation between 14 December 2009 and 7 January 2010 at Dantewada and express your solidarity and raise your voice in support of the tribals. The list of events and dates are as follows:

1. Padyatra: 14 December to 26 December 2009

The first phase of this three week campaign consists of a padyatra from Nendra village to Dantewada town via Lingagiri. This padyatra will be led by Himanshu Kumar of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram and other tribal leaders of this region and will pass through more than 17 villages.. A group of approximately 40 students, journalists, academics and activists from different parts of the country will also join the padyatra. The main objective of the padyatra is to restore a sense of confidence amongst the tribals who are living in acute fear due to the continuous onslaught of the security forces. The padyatris will also document the atrocities that the tribals have been subjected to including the situation of hunger, food insecurity, lack of health and educational facilities and other forms of deprivation faced due to the ongoing displacement and war in the region.

2. Dantewada Satyagrah: 25 December 2009 to 5 January 2010

Tribal people from all over Dantewada and other regions of Chhattisgarh will launch a Satyagrah on 25 December 2009 which will have the support of tribals from Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh among other states. We are hoping that large groups of people from these states and from all networks, unions and organisations working on diverse people’s issues will respond to this call and join in the Satyagrah for atleast a few days. The objective of the satyagrah is to bring together concerned people from all over the country to demand in one voice an end to displacement of people and to the war that is underway in this region, apart from demanding the implementation of the SC orders on rehabilitation in the context of displacement due to the violence of salwa judum.

A Raipur Support Group coordinated by Chhattisgarh Unit of PUCL has been
set up for the Satyagrah. This group will provide assistance to the people
coming from the Northern, Eastern and Western regions India as well as from other parts of Chhattisgarh. Raipur is situated on the Mumbai-Kolkata route and is well connected by train from most parts of the country. Dantewada is situated 400 kms from Raipur and direct buses are available between the two towns through the day and night that take about 12 hours each way People coming from the South can take trains or buses from Vishakhapatnam or bus it down from Hyderabad. The distance between Hyderabad to Dantewada via Bhadrachalam is 500 kms and takes about 16 hours.

3. Jan Sunwai: 6-7 January 2010 (the date may be advanced or postponed
by a day)

The Satyagrah will culminate with a Jan Sunwai where tribal residents of this region will share their experiences of the Salwa Judum, Operation Green Hunt and their struggle for justice. This Jan Sunwai will be witnessed by a panel of ex-justices, senior activists from various people’s movements, ex-bureaucrats and policemen, journalists and intellectuals including those from among the tribals.

This letter is a request to you and your group/organisation to begin preparing for your participation in the series of events given above. A more detailed invitation shall be sent to you soon. For more details please contact at the phone numbers provided below.
We are:

• Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Chhattisgarh), Chhattisgarh Visthapan Virodhi Manch, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha – Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti, Nadi Ghati Morcha, Human Rights Law Network (Chhattisgarh), National Alliance of People’s Movements, Chhattisgarh Mahila Jagriti Sangathan, Chhattisgarh Bal Shramik Sangathan, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)-Chhattisgarh, Gram Sabha Parishad, Tribal Welfare Society, People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Committee for the Release of Binayk Sen-Mumbai and others (endorsments by other organisations are awaited)

Contact Persons:

  • Himanshu Kumar (Vanvasi Chetna Ashram) : 09425260031;
    vcadantewada at gmail.com
  • Veena Bhalla (Vanvasi Chetna Ashram )9424270922, Mithlesh (VCA):
    9407641487
  • Rajendra Sail, (PUCL-Chhattisgarh): 09826804519; pucl.cg at gmail.com
  • Sudha Bhardwaj (Chhattisgarh Vistahpan Virodhi Samiti and CMM-MKS):
    09926603877; advsudhacmm at yahoo.co.in
  • Vijendra (PUCL-Chhattisgarh) : 09406049737; vijend at gmail.com
  • Gautam Bandhopadyay (Nadi Ghati Morcha): 9826171304;
    gautamraipur at gmail.com