Let justice take its course


The Gadchiroli court verdict in the Saibaba case shows disdain for established law and judicial principles.

On March 7, 2017, the Sessions Court of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, pronounced a life sentence on Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and four others, and a 10-year imprisonment on another. Many are now questioning the wisdom of handing life sentences to persons who had no accusation of violence against them and had, at the most, been charged only with sympathising with and supporting the Maoist movement. The security agencies, in their turn, attempted to justify the court’s verdict through press statements that painted Saibaba as a “mastermind of many arsons, murders, and abductions”. The Maharashtra Anti-Naxal Operations (ANO) office even seemed to criticise the Supreme Court for granting him bail earlier, stating that “72 offences were registered during this period [when Saibaba was out on bail], which included the murder of two policemen in explosion and encounters, 15 other murder cases and other offences”.

Many in the mainstream media were quick to pick up the ‘mastermind’ angle, without pausing to ask how a person with 90 per cent disability, who spent much of the period in question in Delhi hospitals, could direct violent operations 1,200 km away in Gadchiroli.

Some did point out that the ANO statement conveniently did not specify whether the cases were registered against the professor after his release on bail in April 2016; 72 registered crimes “masterminded by Saibaba”, but without a single FIR in his name!

What’s more worrying is when trial court judges start buying into this narrative of “violent resistance directed by ‘white-collar naxals’ in far-off metros”.

The 827-page judgement of Suryakant S Shinde, the principal district session judge in Gadchiroli, displays a reasoning that runs counter to the maxim “Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.”

‘Not harsh enough’

In para 1,013, the judge says, “Hence, merely because the accused no.6 Saibaba is 90% disabled is no ground to show him leniency and though he is physically handicapped but he is mentally fit and he is a think tank and high profile leader of banned organization CPI (Maoist) and its frontal organization RDF and by the violent activities of accused nos. 1 to 6… the situation of Gadchiroli district from 1982 till today is in paralyzed condition and no industrial and other developments are taking place because of fear of naxal and their violent activities. Hence, in my opinion, the imprisonment for life is also not a sufficient punishment to the accused but the hands of the Court are closed (sic)…”

The judge makes it plain that he personally feels the accused deserved the only harsher sentence available in Indian law — death by hanging. The law restricts death sentence to only the rarest of rare cases when aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances. Shinde, however, offers no convincing basis for his assertion in favour of a death sentence.

His mention of “violent activities of accused nos. 1 to 6” is without basis, as there is nothing in the charges, chargesheet or judgment that alleges (let alone proves) this charge against any of the accused. There is also no evidence linking the development of Gadchiroli, or lack of it, to naxal violence.

These assertions are merely the judge’s personal opinions, which have limited weightage under the Indian Evidence Act. They would, however, certainly have served to prejudice him in favour of conviction and the harshest possible sentence. This bias is also seen in the rest of the judgment, particularly during the crucial evaluation of evidence.

Rules bypassed

The case rests heavily on the authenticity of the electronic evidence — memory chips, hard disks, pen drives and the like — shown to be seized by the investigating authority. As it is easy to tamper with electronic evidence, the law is stricter on its admission. The essential requirement of a certificate under section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act has been bypassed under the pretext that “prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that at no point of time there was any alternation (sic) or manipulation in the electronic data contained in electronic gadgets.”

A trial court cannot waive the statutory requirement, but Shinde just brushed it away.

Biased evaluation

Eighteen of the 23 witnesses examined were police or government officials, and most others were professionalpanchas(apanchais a person called to witness and check the truthfulness of a police action), who had been used by the police in several cases, and included one who was a home guard and another employed to clean the police station. Among the most crucial witnesses was Jagat Bhole, thepanchfor the search-and-seizure at the Delhi University home of Saibaba. Illiterate, he had been specifically picked by the police over the numerous professors and students present there at the time — possibly because they felt he would be more amenable to manipulation.

Bhole, however, told the court that “the police kept myself and Saibaba out of the house and locked the door from inside while the search was going on”. This obviously rendered thepanchnama(a record of the search) unreliable, as it violated the provisions for searches and evidence gathering.

Judge Shinde got around this by simply rejecting this part of the witness’s evidence. His logic: “It is to be noted that this witness is illiterate witness. He cannot read and write English language and his cross examination was held in whole day that too by eminent lawyer having standing practice of more than 25 years and this witness might have frightened because of Court atmosphere.”

But the judge did not use the same yardstick for other crucial evidence — for instance, the confessional statements of accused 1 and 2. Both young Madia and Gond tribals, they retracted their confession after alleging that it was extracted from them in police custody through torture and intimidation.

Judge Shinde chose to disbelieve the complaint of ill-treatment and used an unbelievable leap of logic to assert that Marathi, the language in which the confession was recorded, was known to the accused. He states that the confession was retracted through an “application in Hindi language and… accused no.1 Mahesh and No.2 Pandu also signed in Marathi language”. Since Hindi, Marathi and even Gondi (the mother tongue of the accused), all use the Devanagari script, it is meaningless to conclude that the “accused were well conversant with Marathi and Hindi” from their Devanagari signatures.

Contrast this with the confessions of Swami Aseemanand, a blast accused, that were made well after he was out of police custody and in jail. His subsequent retraction was accepted, leading to his acquittal.

Going bananas on evidence

The court uses the flimsiest of reasons to convict Prashant Rahi and Dilip Tirki. It says, “Finding of incriminating article i.e. Yatri card (Art.126) shows that accused no.4 Prashant Rahi was going from Delhi to Raipur and finding of newspaper with him which was usually used by the members of CPI (Maoist) and its frontal organisation RDF as identification code to recognize each other shows that he was going to forest area to meet underground naxals as alleged by the prosecution.”

The court arrived at this conclusion based on an article by award-winning Hyderabad journalist C Vanaja, who once reported how she established contact with Maoists by using a particular newspaper and bananas as identification codes. This article was shown to have been found on Saibaba’s computer and used as evidence at the trial — a bizarre reasoning that was considered sufficient to grant Rahi a life sentence.

Saibaba has been the joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF). In trying to establish that it is a terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the judgment attempts to take upon itself powers that only the Central Government has. Its logic: “there is photo of accused no.6 Saibaba and there appears a meeting under the head of banner “Release all political Prisoners unconditionally”… Saibaba is addressing to the people. This shows that accused no.6 Saibaba is the active member of banned organization.”

Similarly, elsewhere it states, “Slogan “Lal Salam” is used by naxals and members of banned organisation RDF and hence it is clear that accused no.6 is a member of banned organisation CPI (Maoist) and its frontal organisation RDF and inciting the people with slogans Lal Salam Lal Salam.”

The Supreme Court has often held that the implementation of procedural provisions must be more rigorous in the case of special and stringent laws such as UAPA. In a similar case involving writer-activist Sudhir Dhawale and eight others, the Gondia Sessions Court had acquitted all on the grounds, among other things, of the non-fulfilment of provisions under the UAPA. The State appealed against the acquittal, but was rejected outright by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. In an order passed just seven days after the Gadchiroli judgment, the HC gave prime importance to the sanction order showing compliance with the mandatory provisions of law, such as an independent review within the time limit, and that the sanctioning authority was aware of material that would constitute an offence punishable under the UAPA.

Overlooking basic principles

In contrast, the Gadchiroli court has been lenient to the prosecution, holding that the relevant sections of the UAPA were non-mandatory, and non-compliance did not vitiate the proceeding. Another important provision of law was given the short shrift.

In a criminal case, the proof should be beyond reasonable doubt — that is, no other explanation can be derived from the facts except that the accused committed the crime. A civil trial, on the other hand, simply requires a preponderance of probabilities — that is, its version of facts is more likely than not the correct version, as in personal injury and breach of contract suits.

At several points the judgment has dispensed with the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt. On the other hand, it seems to be applying the civil trial principle in what is clearly a criminal proceeding. “According to the defence, the newspaper Sahara dated 19-8-2013 was found in possession of accused no.3 Hem Mishra and newspaper Lokmat dated 20-8-2013 was found in possession of accused no.2 Pandu Narote. This shows that accused were arrested on 20.8.2013. However, merely because the accused persons were found in possession of newspapers dated 19-8-2013 does not mean that they were arrested on 20-8-2013. According to the prosecution, newspaper is used as identification code by the members of banned organization… Hence, the version of the prosecution appears to be more probable than the defence”.

Similarly, the principle of adverse inference — “evidence which could be and is not produced would, if produced, be unfavourable to the person who withholds it” — has been turned on its head. The prosecution admitted to obtaining the CDR (call details report) of accused 1 and 2 but withheld it despite the defence asking for it to be produced, as it would prove false the prosecution’s arrest story (according to the prosecution, the accused were arrested along with JNU student Hem Mishra on August 22, 2013, from Aheri, whereas the defence contends they were picked up from Ballarshah on August 20 and their phone SIM were removed. The CDR would have settled the question and, had the defence been found right, proved the falseness of the very FIR on which the whole case is based).

Judge Shinde blames the defence for not obtaining the CDR on their own, overlooking the fact that such information can be shared by a telecom company only on the orders of a court. The judgment abounds with numerous such transgressions. The defence plans to appeal before the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court at the earliest, given the fragile health of Saibaba.

Apart from his disability and cardiac and orthopaedic problems, Saibaba is suffering from acute pancreatitis, for which he was hospitalised in Delhi for four days just ahead of the judgment. Amnesty International has raised the issue of the alleged denial of medical treatment to him in jail.

Saibaba the human rights activist, however, is more pained by the misinformation shrouding the case.

In a letter to his lawyer from prison, he says, “We are deeply pained by looking at the false and defamatory and negative propaganda stories in newspapers… targeted for exerting pressure and influencing public opinion, in turn seeking to affect the legal process.”

Several civil liberties activists and organisations have raised their voice against the judgment. Two members of the European Parliament from Spain and Germany have written to the European Commission, calling for measures to ensure “all legal guarantees are respected under the highest human rights standards for him and the rest of prosecuted people”. Saibaba and his co-convicts can only hope that, whatever be the views on the bench, they will not be permitted to stand in the way of justice.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 8, 2017)

Why repression of adivasis in Chhattisgarh doesn’t worry the media


However, amidst diminishing democratic space the struggles of the state’s tribal activists offer hope.

The Press Club of India should probably be one among the sacred-soil sites of Indian democracy. It ought to be a place from where the Fourth Estate sallies forth to test and stretch the spaces for free speech and democracy. Regrettably, these days that’s rarely the case. Nevertheless, on August 18, 2015 this was the venue selected for a press conference where three representatives of the tribals of Bastar in Chhattisgarh – Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Kawasi Hidme – came to tell of how democracy functions in their land.

Sori and Kodopi have done this before. In 2010 and 2011 they had exposed before the press the atrocities committed on the common people by the police in Bastar. They were then wrongly implicated and pursued by the Chhattisgarh police on patently fabricated grounds, arrested in 2011, faced severe torture and were only released on bail by the Supreme Court after they spent over two years in jail.

After release and return to Bastar, they have insisted on continuing to stand up against the innumerable cases of illegal detention, false implication, custodial torture, fake encounters and disappearances that have come to be a part of daily life in that area. Sori, in particular, has been in the forefront of numerous protests where thousands of adivasis have gathered in rallies and demonstrations at police stations and before district headquarters of the police and civil administration.

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The latest was her exposure of a fake encounter killing of an unarmed villager, Hemla Podiya, in Nahadi village of Dantewada district on July 29, 2015. This killing done by Special Police officers, who have been outlawed by the Supreme Court, was protested by the villagers, who assembled under the leadership of Sori. The Bastar inspector general of police, SRP Kalluri, retaliated by calling for her, and Kodopi to be excommunicated from the area and by instigating local traders to demonstrate outside Sori’s house.

The attempt to “excommunicate” Sori and Kodopi is not something new. It is only the latest in a long line of such attempts and it is definitely not going to be the last. Binayak Sen was targeted in 2007 for his aid to Maoist political prisoners like Narayan Sanyal, as also for his exposure since 2005 of the first armed Salwa Judum campaign launched and equipped by the Chhattisgarh government. Gandhian Himanshu Kumar is another example of an activist and dissenter who has been hounded out of Chhattisgarh, who has had around a hundred cases registered against him and whose centre, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, was bulldozed and destroyed.

There have even been attempts to keep out those attempting to approach the judiciary for relief. In September 2013, activist and journalist Prashant Rahi was picked up from Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, where he had gone to consult and coordinate with lawyers who were defending political prisoners. He was whisked off to Maharashtra, tortured and shown to be arrested there and remained in prison for one year. The lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group providing much needed legal help to the local tribals have also faced thinly-veiled threats of implication in cases of abetting Maoists.

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The abiding reason for this insistence on the eviction of all democratic dissent is the state’s gameplan to use maximum force to crush the challenge of the revolutionary movement of the tribals led by the Maoists. Such militaristic solutions require not only the deployment of lakhs of armed personnel, but also the management of “facts” and therefore the evacuation of all civil society support that could potentially carry the truth to the outside world.

The immediate reason for the repression is, however, the land hunger of the corporate class. The country’s biggest corporations and some foreign biggies have all lined up investments to exploit the minerals below the forests of central and eastern India. They are in a mighty hurry to realise their gains and will brook no delay in seizing the land. Both the Centre and state governments alike are therefore scrambling to pander to this hunger. Ten months ago, the Centre spelt out its “Clear, Hold, Build” doctrine that promised “to use any element of its national power” to wipe out resistance. The state government, after the utter failure of its first Salwa Judum campaign, is now getting ready to sponsor a new round of civil war – Salwa Judum 2.0. These cannot smoothly move ahead without the systematic and complete closure of all democratic space.

Such unholy stratagems call for comprehensive exposure, but it would be far-fetched to fancy that today’s mass media organs have it in them to do it. Creeping control of the media by big corporations, with its complement of self-censoring editors, ensures that material inconsistent with corporate interests can rarely slip on to the front pages. Corporate-controlled media is unlikely to report on the effects of corporate land grabbing. This was also probably why, despite a packed house of journalists at the press conference mentioned earlier, there was hardly any reportage the following day.

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During these days of rising undemocratic tendencies and shrinking democratic spaces, the decay of democracy’s fourth pillar is a cause for concern. There are, however, voices that make the horizons less bleak. One such voice is that of the frail-looking Kawasi Hidme, who was arrested at 15, tortured, gang-raped, falsely implicated and thrown into prison for seven years before she was acquitted and released in March this year. As she, with rare daring and dignity, related the horrors she had gone through, her mentor, Sori, had this to say: “I need to give her strength again, I want her to fight. Perhaps we can do something for all women who come out of jail but are still unhappy, to help them get their lives back.” She added: “Who knows, perhaps Hidme can become the strongest fighter of us all.”

Voices such as these, with their staunchness and stubbornness in the face of mighty odds can bring the greatest hope. Sori and Kawasi are after all only representative of thousands of other courageous people in their area who are standing up and refusing to give in. Long considered the wretched of the earth, it seems to be their struggle that is redemarcating and redefining what democratic spaces and democracy can mean. Their struggle to attain and sustain liberty, land and livelihood in the remotest forests of the country may be primarily their struggle to survive, but it has the potential to show the way for democracy in our country to thrive.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/maoism-bastar-chhattisgarh-soni-sori-salwa-judum-binayak-sen-naxalism-lingaram-kodopi-kawasi-hidme/story/1/5834.html

How Maharashtra robbed Dr Saibaba of his rights


BannerUntil police can be compelled to respect basic human rights, we will continue to remain far removed from the democracy we claim to be.

“I hope you are doing well, despite the fact that you are all in a larger penitentiary, as Uncle Sam would call it. I have been in a smaller enclosure here for the last ten months. My wish to join you back in the larger prison-house has been thwarted once again. I am sure you all understand the anxieties of your friend’s existence in the claustrophobic sealed concrete enclosure of an ‘anda cell’ behind seven heavy and gigantic gates.” Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba’s words (written over three months ago from the confines of the Nagpur Central Prison) carry that gritty tone characteristic of the man ‘guilty’ of supporting and participating in sundry issues and causes of the poor and dispossessed in various parts of the country over the last three decades.

Dr Saibaba, a Delhi University Professor in English, with 90 per cent permanent physical impairment of his lower limbs, was abducted on May 9, 2014 from a Delhi road by the Maharashtra police and has since been behind bars. His story is a telling commentary on the biases of a criminal justice system that readily releases convicted film-stars and politicians but insists on incarcerating those accused of committing the ‘crime’ of supporting or believing in thought contrary to the ruling ideology. Despite many Supreme Court rulings and the recent Kerala High Court assertion that ‘being a Maoist is no crime’, the reality is that it is just this accusation that keeps Saibaba and hundreds of others like him in prison for years on end.

Excuses for Denying Prof Saibaba his Rights

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In the last thirteen months, Saibaba has had his bail rejected four times – thrice in the Sessions Court and once in the High Court. Despite his severe disability and his rapidly deteriorating medical condition, the State has not only vigorously opposed bail, but also gone out of its way to deny him proper medical care. Whenever Saibaba has applied for bail on medical and disability grounds, the prosecution has adopted the tactic of ensuring that facilities were provided in the jail when the bail application came up for hearing, but after the bail application was disposed of, those facilities are withdrawn.

It was these tactics leading to a rapid deterioration in Saibaba’s health that prompted the bench of the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court to take suomoto cognisance of the matter and pass orders on June 17, 2015 directing that Dr Saibaba should be taken from jail to a private hospital within 24 hours and be allowed to be accompanied by his wife and brother and a court-appointed doctor, where he was to be kept for a week until further orders of the court. Despite the detailed order of the High Court, the prison authorities, under the directions of the police anti-Naxal operations (ANO) department, did not implement the court’s directions and no one except the police were allowed to be with Saibaba when, as a formality, he was taken to the hospital for an hour and returned back to jail. Though Dr Saibaba is in jail custody and the court directions were to the jail and medical authorities, it was the ANO’s Inspector General of Police, Ravindra Kadam, who was directly supervising operations and even giving medical updates to the press on behalf of the doctors. It can now be expected that the doctors’ earlier report submitted to the court, which showed he required hospitalisation, will now, under police pressure, be changed to show some miraculous recovery. The long weary battle of Saibaba to salvage his health and reclaim his liberty is likely to continue its uphill course.

His letter relates an earlier experience when the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Nagpur was questioned by the Sessions Court why his treatment constituted primarily of diclofenac tablets. The CMO explained that this was because all physically handicapped persons were affected by excruciating pains for which medical science had found no answers except pain-killers. All this when Saibaba was known to have a number of medical problems, including stones in the kidney, heart problems, neurological and orthopedic issues, which were continuously being aggravated by the jail conditions.

Meanwhile the prosecution sees that the trial is deliberately delayed so that Saibaba can remain imprisoned as long as possible. Aside from the first production in court, there has been no attempt to take him to court – on the plea that the police lack a low-carriage vehicle suitable for the physically challenged. This was also a reason earlier given at an earlier hearing for not even taking Saibaba to the hospital, until a strict order from the court forced the authorities to bring such a vehicle, which had always been in their possession.

Have your say. You can comment here.The High Court is now seized of the matter and has again on June 22, 2015 taken serious note of non-compliance by the state of its earlier directives and has passed further orders in this regard. But for a Dr Saibaba, long languishing in Anda dungeons, this perhaps would bring scant comfort. One could not fault him if he were to be a bit cynical of the outcome of such orders – he has after all seen the casual contempt with which the authorities have treated many such judicial orders thus far. Until ways can be found to compel the police to respect basic human rights and the rule of law, we will continue to remain far removed from the democracy we claim to be.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/dr-saibaba-gadchiroli-police-high-court-maoist-anti-naxal-operations-naxalites-human-rights/story/1/4555.html

How Salwa Judum is making a comeback in Chhattisgarh


ColoursOfTheCage tries to visualise how a conversation between Chhavendra Karma and an agent representing the corporations must have arrived at this plan of action.

The Salwa Judum launched in 2005 in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh has gone down as one of the most notorious counter-insurgency campaigns of post-1947 India. The governments of state and Centre joined together to arm an unlawful mercenary force of landlords and their henchmen that terrorised the local tribal population who supported the Maoist movement. Villages were burnt down, hundreds were murdered and raped, and 3,50,000 were forced out of their homes, and it was only in 2011 that the Supreme Court declared that the Salwa Judum was unlawful and that the state support for it was unconstitutional. Its main leader, the landlord politician, Mahendra Karma, was himself killed by the Maoists in 2013.

Now two years later, his son, Chhavendra, has created a furore and a new wave of fear in the area by announcing that he intends to launch part two of the Salwa Judum. Many are asking the question: why does Chhavendra Karma want to now relaunch something which has not only failed miserably but has also been prohibited. StoriesUnscene decided to go behind the rhetoric of Salwa Judum 2.0 to find out the motivation and support behind it and the corporate forces that mainly stand to gain from a new reign of terror. We try to visualise how a conversation between Karma and an agent representing the corporations must have arrived at this plan of action.

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Corporate agent: Namaste Shri Karma! How do you keep busy these days?

Chhavendra Karma: What to tell you Shethji. Forget about me, I’m worried about my boys. After the collapse of Salwa Judum, nobody is giving any funds and all my boys are deserting me. If this goes on for long I won’t have any body left.

Agent: That’s not good. There’s lots of work to be done. And lots of money to be earned. So many big companies are ready to spend thousands of crores – just two projects are worth 24,000 crores. They know they can make hundred times more in profit.

Karma: But we don’t see any of it. Nothing reaches us. Don’t you want the locals to develop.

Agent: Of course, of course! You local landlord guys should do well. You are our main support and we will definitely give you something. But the big bosses want results. The land has got to be cleared no. if your villagers are allowed to stand in the way how can we get profits?

Karma: They think their whole livelihood will be destroyed.

Agent: See Karmaji, both you and I know that there cannot be development without pain. Someone has to suffer. No construction without destruction. Vikas requires Vinash. Destruction of hundreds of villages and lives of lakhs of villagers may take place, but think of how many billion dollars of construction will take place. Tata, Essar, Jindal, Mittal, all ready to put money – even big American capitalists like Texas Pacific Group. If people like you handle things properly, your earnings will be in hundreds of crores. But the villagers shouldn’t be selfish and stop development. They should quietly leave.

Karma: You know they won’t leave quietly.

Agent: That we know. They are even forming their own government. But our government is making arrangements. Number of para military is being increased. Big part of Abhujmaad is being handed over to the military. If people start opposing the military, then the air force will have to help them. Drones are anyway there. All means will be used. No one should be allowed to stand in the way of development after all. Do you know how the USA became the most developed country? They did not allow some few lakh tribals to stop them.

Karma: My father was all for development. I am all for development. I know our adivasis – they won’t cooperate and sacrifice quietly for development – we will have to force them out like my father did in the Salwa Judum. My father worked at a different level and achieved much more than the para-militaries.

Agent: Why do you think I came to you? Your father’s work must go ahead.

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Karma: Aah, but that Supreme Court will also create trouble.

Agent: That too can be seen too. Last time we made a mistake and didn’t give that enough importance. This time we’ll see that all that is arranged. Companies will even be ready to put some crores to buy the cleverest lawyers.

Karma: But do you think these parties have guts to fight in the open. Even Congress, my own party may not support me. And who can trust the BJP!

Agent: Parties no need to worry. My bosses will see to that.

Karma: This will all cost money. My boys like to enjoy …and they need modern arms and equipment.

Agent: That is our responsibility. It is called CSR – corporate social responsibility. We are all for the development of you and your boys. In fact you should give up the old ‘Salwa Judum’ name. I think it has got something to do with hunting, which is quite primitive. Let us be modern and give a name with ‘Development’ in it. Then our companies can even directly give you hundreds of crores from our CSR funds. Your ‘Development’ is the social responsibility of our big corporations.

Karma: (eyes lighting up) I will be responsible for proper usage of the funds. We will see that all the iron ore hills from Raoghat onwards are cleared of all villages. Along with the Bastar region we will also develop Rajnandgaon and Gadchiroli. And this time we will see that everyone sacrifices for the sake of development. We will call ourselves Vikas Sangharsh Samithi. We will do the Vinash necessary to attain Vikas.

(And this is how the idea of Salwa Judum 2.0 was conceived.)

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/salwa-judum-bastar-chhattisgarh-mahendra-karma-chhavendra-maoist-supreme-court/story/1/4233.html

Allahabad lawyer killing shows how khaki is above the law


All-India advocates’ strike fails to have any impact on rising police impunity.

 

The story of the near-total strike on March 16, 2015 by 1.3 million advocates throughout the country began on March 11 on the steps of the entrance to the Allahabad District Court building. The shaky mobile-shot video available on YouTube shows a sequence of events which started with an argument between a uniformed sub-inspector, Shailendra Singh, and an advocate, Nabi Ahmed. The cop decides to settle the argument by other means and reaches for the gun in his holster. There is a scramble as other lawyers try to intervene. The police officer however fires from his weapon, felling the advocate. As shocked lawyers and standers-on run helter-skelter, the cop brandishes his gun, pointing it all around. As howls of protest rise he runs for the gate.

The advocate died even before reaching the hospital. Lawyers immediately started protests both at the District Court and at the Allahabad High Court, the largest high court in India, but had to bear the brunt of police lathi charges even within the court premises. They also marched to the office of the SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police), where the killer cop had reportedly taken shelter. As the protests there turned violent there was police firing. The lawyers struck work and boycotted the courts, first in Allahabad and Lucknow and from the next day, throughout Uttar Pradesh. A one-day All-India lawyers strike was called on Monday by the Bar Council of India. The lawyers of UP continued their strike, demanding action on the SSP, among other things. On the seventh day however, the Allahabad High Court Bar Association withdrew the strike without this demand being met. A mahapanchayat of all the District Bar representatives of the state has also decided to bring the boycott to a close on March 23rd.

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The incident and its aftermath raises questions germane to the function of the system of justice in our country.

First, is the extent to which the police have become a law unto themselves. The sub-inspector not only used his service revolver to settle his dispute, but, after the incident, even visited his own police station and another police station, without any attempt being made to arrest him. The dispute itself arose from a criminal complaint filed by Nabi Ahmed, which was to have been investigated by Singh. The advocate’s grouse was that Singh has taken a bribe from the accused and had filed a closure report in the matter, without doing any investigation. That he dared to accost and question the officer about it cost him his life. A press report, which gives some indication of the police mindset, quotes the officer after the incident as saying there was nothing greater than sanmaan – thus implying that it was his “respect” that was at stake and hence the firing.

But it was not only the sub-inspector’s mindset. During the lawyers’ agitation the higher level officers too went out of their way to present a story indicating that the firing could be an act of self-defence. In a way they were merely mirroring the numerous fake stories of “encounters” in “self-defence”, used by police all over the country. To a society which has grown to accept hundreds of such stories without question, the story of an unarmed lawyer in a court building being a threat to the life of an armed sub-inspector does not seem too absurd.

The killer cop was no criminal in the eyes of the police. Though he continued to remain with the city limits he was not arrested until the rising tide of lawyers’ anger forced the authorities to show his arrest after 48 hours. Some police officers even started sending out messages on WhatsApp calling for contributions in Shailendra Singh’s support from all officers-in-charge of police stations in UP. The collection was reported to have touched twenty lakhs on the second day itself. Such measures quite possibly had the support of police higher-ups.

It is such brazen operations of a police force that call to question any claim that rule of law has sanctity in most parts of the country. Both of us (Arun and Vernon) have spent time in police custody and, having experienced torture and threats of being finished off in an ‘encounter’, are quite aware of the extent of the lawlessness of those assigned to uphold the law. We have seen officers react angrily when questioned in court on such illegal acts, implying that it was a question of their “honour”. But in advocate Nabi Ahmed’s case, the contradictions are all the more stark. Here is a case concerning the courts and the bar, which could at least have been expected to be immune to the acts of a lawless force. It is a case where the local lawyers fought resolutely to protect themselves and their rights. They were joined by all the lawyers of India’s largest state and then by all the lawyers of the country. However, even such a large and organized body could not achieve their demand of action on the district police chief, who sheltered the killer officer. It is perhaps indicative of the degree to which the police have been given a free hand that the government is unwilling to act on members of a coercive arm of the state.

Another less important, but nevertheless worrying aspect of this whole episode is the way such a massive All-India strike action by lakhs of lawyers has simply gone by without much of a ripple in society. Outside Allahabad, reports and commentary in the mainstream media have been minimal. Parliament too, despite being in session, and despite having many legal leading lights among its members, did not notice the strike. An event having a direct impact on crores of litigants has passed off relatively unnoticed. Another telling comment on our level of acceptance of the “tareek pe tareek” court-delay syndrome that ails the whole justice system.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/allahabad-lawyer-killing-nabi-ahmed-shailendra-singh-lathi-charge-high-court/story/1/2710.html

Kerala cops’ campaign to criminalise dissent


Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is being used to harass and arrest activists and snuff out criticism and opposition to government policies.

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Malayali social media is known to be substantially alive to people’s issues. Within that, the Facebook page of Kerala social activist and blogger, Jaison C Cooper is a particularly lively space. Here, support for the long-standing adivasi “Standing Struggle” protest and anger at indiscriminate environmental degradation rub shoulders with opinion and debate on Kiss of Love and Obama’s visit – all actively shared, liked and vigorously commented upon. From 29th January, 2015 however, an eerie stillness rules – that was the day Jaison was picked up from his office at the State Insurance Department in Kochi and placed under arrest.

The very next day, Adv Thushar Sarathy, secretary of the People’s Human Rights Forum and of the Kerala Chapter of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), was picked up at Kozhikode from the site of a press conference. Both Cooper and Sarathy were charged with the crime of ‘unlawful activity’ u/s 13(b) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA]. Their crime was “spreading Maoist thought“. The evidence against them was nothing more than the “pro-Maoist” literature allegedly seized from their homes.

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The two arrests were part of a much larger crackdown spread out over many of the districts of North Kerala. The Kochi city special branch even conducted a combing operation of the men’s hostel of Maharaja College in search of Maoist sympathisers, but only ended up booking two students for possession of ganja. On the evening of 1st February, Students Islamic Organisation leader Shahid M Shameem and Uday Balakrishnan of Youth Dialogue were picked up off a street in Kannur merely because their appearance aroused suspicions in the police that they were Maoists. They were released the next afternoon after intense online and offline protest. Similarly activists in Ernakulam and Wayanad districts, whose houses were raided at night, could prevent their books being taken off by demanding that the police give a seizure receipt – a statutory requirement which they did not want to comply with. On 22nd-23rd December, the midnight knock came for the Thrissur office of a monthly magazine, Keraleeyam, noted for highlighting tribal issues. Computers and materials were seized and three staffers sleeping on the premises were taken in only to be released the next day after extensive protests.

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Not everyone has however managed to get let off. The last week of December 2014 had seen the arrest in Palakkad district of Sreekanth Prabhakaran, a B.Ed student, and Arun Balan, a journalism student. Raids on their homes in Kasargode, Kerala’s northernmost district, had allegedly yielded pro-Maoist and other Left literature and this was considered sufficient evidence to hold them under UAPA. They continue to remain in jail due to the stringent anti-bail provisions.

UAPA provisions criminalise thought!

Thus the Kerala police are adopting the classical model of security agencies throughout the country of using UAPA and other anti-terror laws to stifle protest and stamp out resistance to the establishment viewpoint. The bare provisions of the UAPA law do not require that any physical act of violence or intimidation be committed to constitute a terror crime. The enunciation of various penal and procedural provisions related to “unlawful association”, ‘unlawful activity”, “terrorism”, “terrorist organization”, are so all-encompassing as to make it easy to ban an organization and to criminalise anything indicative of even sympathy or support for an ideology or organization, or espousal of causes similar to those taken up by an ‘unlawful’ association.

Recently there has been a perceptible groundswell of genuine opposition from large sections of civil society in Kerala on a number of issues, particularly the exploitation of tribals and their displacement from traditional homelands in Kerala’s northern forests and the large-scale grabbing of scarce natural resources and poisoning of the environment by foreign and big Indian corporates. A number of peoples’ organizations have been successful in mobilizing in large numbers against government policies in this regard. Simultaneously, the CPI(Maoist), which is proscribed under UAPA, has also been championing similar demands and taking stands against the government and corporates. This commonality or even mere similarity of objectives has been treated by the police as sufficient ‘proof’ to target activists for ‘terrorist’ or ‘unlawful’ activity. This perverse logic extends to even the simple possession of literature that propagates issues that the CPI(Maoist) has talked about.

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Thus the list of subversive literature submitted in court as evidence of Adv Sarathy’s culpability under UAPA includes an article collection entitled “Vinasa Vikasanam” (destructive development). This collection, published in 2012 and prefaced by eminent economist Dr MA Oommen, comprises essays critical of the Emerging Kerala Summit held by the State Government promoting Kerala as an investment destination for private capital. Police reasoning here is apparent – if you propagate against, or even possess material that propagates against government development policy and big corporates, you are guilty of ‘unlawful activity’ or probably even “terrorism”. Sarathy’s investigating officer would probably make the absurd contention that since the CPI(Maoist) too, in statements and interviews, has talked on ‘destructive development’, Adv Sarathy’s possession of a booklet of the same name shows a link and warrants his arrest.

Of course most courts do not buy such arguments. The Supreme Court itself has ruled that the penal provisions of the UAPA and similar laws would only be applicable if the accused actually committed violence or incited to imminent violence. Thus most trials end in acquittal, but that is only after several years spent in custody due to denial of bail under the harsh UAPA provisions. Accused in similar cases, Hem Mishra, a cultural activist and student of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, arrested in August 2013 and Dr. G N Saibaba, a professor of Delhi University, arrested in May 2014, continue, to this day, to stoically soldier on in the Anda Barrack of Nagpur Central Prison due to the power of the bail denial provisions of UAPA. They too were prominent activists in the forefront of opposition to state policies. Their continued incarceration is a standing testament of the power of such law to criminalise and penalize dissent.

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Resistance to Repression

And it is this law that the Kerala police pins its hopes on, to push resistance into retreat. The current phase of their arrests, combing, raids, seizures, interrogations, commenced in April 2014 with the release of a so-called look-out notice listing many of the most prominent names active on civil liberties and people’s rights. This and the later raids were intimidatory acts designed to frighten off at least some of those named and targeted, and to isolate the rest, who could then be put behind bars.

This may have had some impact and created some sense of aloneness among those standing, a feeling probably intended to be expressed in Jaison Cooper’s last post on his Facebook page – “I am a lone monk walking the world with a leaky umbrella”. It is Mao Zedong’s concluding comment at the end of a conversation with American journalist, Edgar Snow in December 1970.

Whatever be the import of Cooper’s post, he nevertheless would have no reason to feel alone in the response that has arisen to his and Sarathy’s arrest. There has been a surge of support throughout the country and even internationally. Within a short time Kerala has seen many protests to the arrests. Among others, Amnesty International has also called for the release of the four in prison in Kerala. A number of noted intellectuals and activists, including Arundhati Roy, have also petitioned the chief minister for releasing Cooper and Sarathy.

Have your say. You can comment here.They have unequivocally declared, “We, the undersigned, believe that this police action is a well concerted political act to silence all voices raising critical questions about the political, economical and social issues in the country.” It remains to be seen whether the silencing will succeed, or whether the reaction to the police action will build up into a movement that will bring into focus an alternative voice and view on crucial questions that concern us all.

On Academic Freedom- by Sushmita Verma


2015-01-08 15.24.45Recent times have seen an attack on educational institutions like no other . This attack is not necessarily physical, rather an attack on the free space of the university. A recent incident at a very reputed higher education institution in Mumbai provoked me to think a few things.
I work at Majlis, which is a women’s rights organisation. It encourages its employees to have a knowledge of different social issues so as to have a rounded approach towards the society in general and women in particular. So when I received the invite for a talk on Kashmir from a reputed educational institution ( same as mentioned earlier ), I could not not resist the temptation to attend it and my programme co-ordinator at Majlis was very supportive of this .
As the audience which mostly comprised of students of MA, MPhil, PhD, some faculty members, visitors from Kashmir, a few journalists and writers, immersed themselves in the flow of the talk which was preceded by a subtle yet moving song of resistance from a group from North east, very interesting points were presented by the speaker on Kashmir . The content of the talk is not the concern here. But what happened during the question answer session was rather uncalled for . The head of the institution suddenly appeared and bombarded a set of questions on the person who was chairing the talk . The questions were related to permissions for the talk but sounded more like a threat to the extent, ” how dare students deliberate about this contentious issue of Kashmir  ” . As the head of the institution left infuriated , the shock and dismay of the audience was beyond comprehension , about what just happened !
This incident is not an aberration in the desired free thinking space of the university .Rather it is only another instance of how educational institutions have been attacked extremely directly and systematically by fascist and right wing forces . The institution referred above has been known in the past for giving space to many kinds of alternative voices. But today that space is shrinking . We are hearing everyday about various kinds of curbing of freedom of students in the form of direct policing, moral policing, emotional threatening in the forms of cutting down stipends, expulsion etc. Jadavpur University, Himachal Pradesh University, IIT Powai, TISS, IIPS, Delhi University, North Bengal University are only some of the big names in a long list of universities that are trying systematically to curb down students’ voices in the present times .
University is a space where students do not just enroll to pursue a degree, it is also the space where they are trying to make sense of the world . It is important that there is space for all kinds of perspective in the university and the platform to discuss those. Only then can the real purpose of the University space be fulfilled . However, in the present situations, universities are being run like empires through the stronghold of individuals or small groups of individuals. Democratic processes have been diminishing day by day and a Right wing inclination as well as the desire to maintain the status quo can be clearly seen. The strategic suppressing of left leaning voices means more space for the right and hence more space for all the evils that are confronting us today, starting from communal disharmony to patriarchal oppression to caste differentiation and more . It has become very important to resist this kind of suppression by means of more democratic dialogues both within campus and a networking with other campuses..Let not the University become a space to organize ignorance !

 

Why Modi won’t remove some colonial-era repressive laws


Decoding sedition, preventive detention, unlawful activities, armed forces special powers.

Once upon a time a group of traders came to India from a cold distant land called Britain. Bit by bit they took over the country and came to rule through a combination of trickery and tyranny. They built up their system of rule around an elaborate scheme of laws governing all areas of people’s lives. Each time the Indian masses rose to oppose British rule, more stringent laws were brought in to sustain their regime.

Law of Sedition and Other Colonial Laws

Thus, soon after the First War of Independence in 1857 was crushed, the British Crown brought in the Indian Penal Code 1860, where the initial chapters defining crime were all political and dealt severely with offences against the state, armed forces, public tranquility, etc. Later, as discontent continued, the British introduced Section 124A, which prescribed life imprisonment for the “crime” of sedition. It defined sedition as an attempt to excite “disaffection towards the government established by law”. It was soon used repeatedly against all leaders of the independence movement, including Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Annie Besant and others. Gandhi in his defence statement in court said, “Section 124 A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law.” History proved him right. Section 124A did not succeed in gaining any affection of the Indian people for the British Crown.

But that did not stop the Britishers from introducing other laws to try to halt the rising tide of disaffection of the Indian masses. They brought in Preventive Detention laws like the Defence of India Act 1915 to imprison political activists even before they committed any offence. The Rowlatt Act – called the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919 – was the first “anti-terror” law designed to suppress revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh. When all these failed and the masses took to the streets during the Quit India movement, the British brought the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942 giving powers to armed forces personnel to shoot to kill the protesters agitating for Quit India, without fear of prosecution. But all these were of no avail and the movement against British Rule went on rising, finally forcing them to retreat and hand over power to another set of rulers from the Congress in 1947.

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New Rulers, Same Laws

Post 1947, it was naturally expected that the new government had the affection of the people and did not need any of these laws. As Gandhi had said and British experience had shown, affection could not be manufactured by law. The Constitution, which came into effect in 1950, guaranteed freedom of thought, expression and association, the right to life and liberty, and various other fundamental rights which were to override all the repressive enactments of the British period. The government would now win the affection of the people by its actions, not demand it by fiat.

But that was not to be. The Constitution itself allowed preventive detention and the Preventive Detention Act 1950 was introduced within a few weeks of the Constitution coming into force. This was supposed to be a temporary measure for one year, but it lasted for 19 years. It was then replaced, within two years, by the Maintenance of Internal Security Act 1971, the notorious preventive detention law used widely during the Emergency of 1975-77. This was withdrawn by the post-emergency government in 1978, only to be substituted by a new preventive detention law, the National Security Act, 1980, which is in use to this day.

The First Amendment to the Constitution provided another indicator of how soon the new rulers would revert to the ways of the British. It was brought to restrict Article 19(1)(a), the right guaranteeing freedom of expression, because the courts had ruled in favour of certain political magazines critical of the government. Later, when the High Courts struck down Section 124A as being ultra vires of the Constitution, the government fought in the Supreme Court to preserve sedition law in the statute books. The Supreme Court preserved Section 124A but prescribed that it should only be applied when there was a direct incitement to violence.

This of course was not to be. Sedition today is being applied in more harsh and absurd ways than ever before. Award-winning Doctor Binayak Sen has been sentenced to life imprisonment for providing human rights assistance to Maoist accused prisoners; Kashmiri students in Meerut who cheered Pakistan during a cricket match on TV faced sedition charges which soon had to be removed; a Muslim youth who did not stand during the National Anthem in a movie-house in Kerala is in jail for sedition; and more than seven thousand cases of sedition have been registered against opponents of a nuclear plant in Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu.

The “anti-terror” Rowlatt Act too was brought back in much harsher form, first with the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act 1986, then with the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2001 and now with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. And for places like the North-East and Kashmir, where the level of disaffection of the people towards the government is seen by the authorities to be as high as it was towards the British during the Quit India movement, the government has enacted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. It is a copy of the British Ordinance of 1942 with the difference that the British government gave power to order shooting to kill to the level of Captain and above, whereas our government has given the same power to even a non-commissioned officer who is several ranks below.

Thus we have the irony of a situation where, sixty-seven years after the end of British rule and almost sixty-five years after the Constitution, we have in use all the repressive laws that the imperial rulers had unsuccessfully deployed to hold down the Indian people. Many of the laws have had harsher provisions added to them, but there are no signs that they are achieving the objective of reducing the disaffection of the people they are targeted against.

Naturally many democratic rights organisations and activists are campaigning for the repeal of these colonial-type oppressive laws. Since these laws are basically undemocratic, many would like to see them join the list of obsolete and archaic British period laws that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to junk by January 26, 2015. But there is no likelihood of such desires being fulfilled. As struggles of the people continue to grow, these laws are being used frequently and more intensively. If anything, these laws are only likely to get further strengthened and entrenched.