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)

Prison hunger strikes are part of struggle for azadi and democracy


When the cases are false, the authorities try all means to extend the period of the trial.

Naxalism, Odisha, Prison Reform

It is a battle for democracy and justice, a battle for azadi. It does not have the sound and lights and the cadence of the catchy “azadi” sloganeering of the current student agitations.

But that does not make it less of a fight for rights and freedoms than any of the other struggles that have captured the imagination of the country and its media over the last few months.

It is a silent, grim, almost wordless fight that is going on right now in Odisha, behind the walls of Bhubaneshwar’s Jharpada Special Prison.

There are no marches, no speeches, just a bare statement, by seven prisoners, asking for implementation of the most basic fundamental rights granted by law and by the country’s highest constitutional court – the right to a speedy trial and the right to be produced regularly from prison in order to be present at one’s own trial.

Those raising these demands are undertrial prisoners, mostly tribals and Dalits, implicated in cases of Naxalite violence. But the only violence in this struggle is the violence caused to their own bodies by their chosen mode of protest – hunger strike.

As these words are being written, the ongoing hunger strike of the political prisoners in Odisha, which began on March 30, 2016, is in its third week. This is the stage when the medical condition of the person on hunger strike worsens dramatically and it becomes difficult to even stand.

Two of the seven hunger strikers have already been shifted to hospital. The authorities, however, are not showing any signs of acceding to any of the demands. In fact, the delays in trial are mainly owing to deliberate non-appearance of police witnesses on several dates.

Since the cases are false and mostly end in acquittal, the authorities try all means to extend the period of trial so that the prisoners remain as long as possible in jail as undertrials. The police are in no mood now to give up this strategy.

The experience of the Odisha political prisoners is nothing new. Arun Ferreira (one of the authors of this article) had himself undergone a 27-day-long hunger strike along with 12 other political prisoners at the Nagpur Central Prison in 2008.

The demand of the hunger strike then too was a mere implementation of the law. They were demanding a stop to the illegal practice of re-arresting political prisoners at the prison gates immediately on their acquittal and release in earlier cases.

A recent example was the two-month-long hunger strike in August-September 2015 by 26/11 Mumbai attacks accused Zabiuddin Ansari at the Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai. He was protesting his illegal solitary confinement and non-production in court.

Thus the demands of these and numerous other strikes of political prisoners over the years have mostly been to merely secure implementation of the law and to stop violations of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

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Prisons follow colonial standard operating procedure for hunger strikes

It is, however, rare that the prison and police authorities accede to the demands of political prisoners. The standard practice is to turn a deaf ear to even the most reasonable of demands while ensuring that the prisoners on hunger strike are kept completely cut off, not only from the society outside, but also from the other prisoners. During the present Odisha prison struggle, the striking prisoners have been denied all visits – even by close relatives or defence lawyers.

Meanwhile, while keeping each hunger striker separate, all attempts are made to dupe or tempt them into giving up the strike. If such attempts fail, the next method is force-feeding. This standard operating procedure was laid down during British rule and is still followed in all the prisons of the country. It is mostly successful in breaking a hunger strike without acceding to the demands.

In spite of the low possibility of the administration agreeing to their demands, political prisoners still very often resort to hunger strike. As Arun has explained, hunger strike is often the only option to get basic human rights in prison. This was also the approach of the revolutionary prisoners during the struggle against British rule.

Bhagat Singh launched several such hunger strikes during his period in jail. It was during one such hunger strike in 1929 that the revolutionary Jatin Das gave up his life after going 63 days without food. His death anniversary on September 13 is commemorated to this day by political prisoners in jails across the country. His protest was against the discrimination between Indian and European prisoners and the inhuman conditions in prisons. Soon after his death, some changes came about.

Hunger strikes in prisons increase the democratic space

Even if demands are not immediately agreed to, the mere assertion and determination involved in a hunger strike in prison is an announcement to those who rule that the political prisoner is not one to take things lying down.

This in itself often manages to open up a democratic space where none existed and forces a re-working of the equations of power in jails. When such struggles are repeated by the same prisoners and by future batches of prisoners, the administration is forced to give in to some, if not all the demands.

The results of such repeated struggles can be seen in better prison conditions in places where political prisoners have fought for their rights, such as Punjab, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Struggles have even forced the administration and judiciary to ensure better implementation of the principle of bail as the rule and jail as the exception.

In most states, however, prison conditions continue to be extremely inhuman with the deliberate violation of most constitutional guarantees. It was Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky who said: “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

By that yardstick, the civilisational standard of our society would be pretty low. But all is not bleak. Struggles in prisons, like the present one in Odisha, are growing. Many of these struggles may not achieve their immediate demands. But they will nevertheless make their own significant contribution to the ongoing struggle for azadi and true democracy.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/prison-reform-odisha-naxalism-mumbai-attacks-bhagat-singh-maoist-azadi-british-rule/story/1/10131.html

Bihar elections are guilty of not bringing up Ranveer Sena massacre of Dalits


The silence of all major political parties speaks volumes for the ruling class consensus on not identifying or punishing the perpetrators of the killings.

It was on August 16, 2015 that Cobrapost.com announced that they had captured “on-camera the confessions of perpetrators of six major massacres of poor, unarmed Dalits in central Bihar, revealing how the Ranveer Sena militia planned and conducted these indiscriminate killings with impunity and how they twisted the long arm of the law, who trained them, who armed them, who financed them and who lent them political support”.

In a remarkable sting operation, the journalist, posing as a filmmaker working on a film on Ranveer Sena, had managed to obtain videographed admissions by important Sena functionaries of their own direct role in the massacres – though the courts had acquitted all the five interviewees who had faced trial. They also talked of the backing and concrete aid in sophisticated arms, finance and help to escape that they received from high level politicians of the likes of former prime minister Chandrasekhar and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha. The high court judge, who had been appointed to inquire into some of these massacres, was also interviewed and he named the RSS and spoke of the role of high level BJP functionaries like Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushil Kumar Modi, CP Thakur and others.

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Bihar elections

It is now well over three weeks since these videos have entered the public domain. All the parties in Bihar have been in election campaign mode, with a flurry of public meetings featuring central leaders of all political parties. Amidst the din and noise of the campaign, the silence around these disclosures is absolutely deafening. Not one major leader has made even the smallest reference to the blatant, even arrogant, professions of guilt of the killers; or even pointed a finger at the high profile politicians named in the sting.

At the press conference for the release of the videos, Cobrapost was accused of timing the release to help RJD and Lalu Prasad Yadav in the coming Bihar elections by targeting the BJP and RSS. But neither Lalu nor Nitish Kumar, nor even Sonia Gandhi have shown any inclination to use the revelations. The reason is obviously because none of the major parties are shown in a favourable light in the exposure – while the BJP and RSS were much more directly involved, Nitish’s  JD(U) ensured that the Justice Amir Das Commission, which was to name the politicians involved, was dissolved without warning, so that it could not submit a report that would expose his alliance partner, the BJP. The RJD and Congress too have not done anything effective to either prevent the massacres or punish the culprits and are today in an alliance with the JD(U).

Ruling class consensus

The silence also brings on display the consensus among the ruling classes and dominant castes vis-à-vis the Ranveer Sena, which received a much wider political backing than similar such groupings. Earlier private landlord armies set up to suppress the Dalits and other oppressed poor peasant sections and their Naxal leadership normally based themselves almost exclusively on a single caste, using the caste affiliation to mobilise even the poorer sections of the caste as foot soldiers. Thus the Kuer Sena comprised of Rajputs, the Bhumi Sena was of Kurmis, the Lorik Sena of Yadavs and the Bramharshi Sena of Bhumihars. There were only some groupings like the Sunlight Sena set up by Pathans and Rajputs that involved more than one community. These private feudal armies disintegrated by the late eighties and early nineties in the face of determined Naxal-led resistance.

The Ranveer Sena however, though begun by and led by the Bhumihars, managed to gain much wider support from all landlord sections. Politically too, though most closely aligned with the BJP, they got the support of the other ruling parties too. They were also much more ruthless and violent than their predecessors. They set up a more organised leadership structure. They gave the impression of a much more class-conscious force representative of landlord interests. These factors managed to gain them much more durable support of the feudal sections who are out to somehow suppress the struggles of landless labourers and poor peasants. This also explains why, none of the political parties campaigning the Bihar elections would risk raising the Cobrapost issue and disaffecting these feudal sections.

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Tilted scales of justice

This ruling class consensus is also reflected in the “justice” provided by the criminal justice system. Things were weighed in Ranveer Sena’s favour from the very beginning. The Inquiry Commission Chairman told Cobrapost how Murli Manohar Joshi threatened investigating officers to go soft on the investigation or they would be put in place when the BJP came to power. Soft investigations obviously led to acquittal of most massacre accused at the trial stage itself. Those who were convicted by the sessions judges were let go by the high court. Another Cobrapost interviewee – a relative of the victims – related how Bhumihar judges in the Patna High Court released all Ranveer Sena members convicted by lower courts. Thus, almost all Ranveer Sena members who faced trial have been acquitted by either the trial court or the high court.

On the other hand, any retaliatory action by the oppressed has experienced the heavy hand of the law. In one case, four are on death row with their mercy petitions pending since the last 13 years, whereas two have had their death sentence commuted to imprisonment for the rest of their natural life. In another case eight were given the death sentence, which was later commuted to life. The scales of justice seem grossly tilted in the Ranveer Sena’s favour.

Maoist tactics

Small wonder then that the Dalits and most exploited classes look to the Maoists for justice and protection from the Ranveer Sena. The earlier Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) had, in the 1980s adopted the method of mass retaliation, which even took the form of massacre similar to that perpetrated by the upper caste senas. There was, however, a review and change in tactics. After the formation of the CPI (Maoist) in 2004, these tactics took the form of selective attacks on ringleaders while sparing the rank and file. Thus when the Maoists organised the mass jail-break in Jehanabad in November 2005, they killed two of the Ranveer Sena inmates, who were leaders known for their cruelty, while allowing 30 to 40 other Ranveer Sena accused to escape. The assassination of Brahmeshwar Singh, the Ranveer Sena Mukhiya, in 2012 within two months of his release too seems to be part of the same tactics.

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These tactics seem to have yielded some results for the Maoists. The Ranvir Sena is today a spent force and there does not seem any other private sena coming up which is willing to take its place. This does not however mean that that the movement of Bihar’s poor for their legitimate rights does not face any opposition. The task of protecting and advancing the interests of the feudal forces, earlier performed by the private landlord armies, is now being directly undertaken by the state forces. Central forces like the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and CRPF have been moved in along with the Special Task Force (STF) of the Bihar Police. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to do what the private armies were unable to do.

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

The relevance of Kawasi Hidme’s unheard story


Sushmita

Being an adivasi, a woman and being born in a region desired by greedy multi national companies does not serve one well. That is the story of Hidme and many more like her in the regions of Bastar, Chattisgarh. Kawasi Hidme was a young girl, full of energy from Borguda village in Sukma, Bastar region. She helped her widowed aunt till a small piece of land. The rice grown was just enough for them and Hidme would, during the season, sell Mahua in the local market. Like every girl of her age, she would be excited about the occasional fairs from where she can buy colourful bangles and other items which were otherwise not available in the local market.

In January 2008 just after harvest, as in previous years, a fair was organised in Ramram, the nearby village. Kawasi accompanied her aunt and her other cousin sisters to the fair and to buy ribbons andchoodis. There she joined a group of other tribals who were dancing and singing. Having danced vigorously, she soon became thirsty and approached the nearby hand-pump for water. But as soon as she held the pump, someone very forcefully grabbed her. She looked up angrily and was shocked to see Police personnel. They had surrounded her and began dragging her by her hair towards their vehicle parked outside the fair. With hands and feet tied, she was thrown on the floor of the truck and driven to the Police station.A

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Art : Sushmita

This was just the beginning- the start of the atrocities that were to be perpetrated on Kawasi Hidme for the subsequent seven years or so. As the staff at one police station would satisfy themselves, she would be sent to another. Repeated torture resulted in a death like situation for her. The policemen however, got apprehensive that she might die in the station itself. That would be a major problem. Her detention had to be formalised and she had to be sent to prison. This was not something uncommon for this area- adivasi girls like Hidme were detained and tortured for months on end and would ultimately be falsely charged under draconian laws such as the Chattisgarh Public Security Act, UAPA, etc.

However before sending her to the prison, the formality of producing her before the court remained. Kawasi’s condition was such that she had to be admitted to the hospital. It was only after a few days that she was produced before the local Magistrate. The Police had conveniently accused her of an offence that related to the murder of 23 CRPF personnel and the Magistrate remanded her to the Jagdalpur prison. On reaching the prison, the excessive physical and possibly sexual torture ultimately paid its toll and her body suddenly ejected her uterus. She bled profously. Horribly scared, she somehow attempted and suceeded in putting her flesh back into her body.

Till then, she couldn’t share her experience with anyone, but now in prison she would be comfortable to talk to the other Gondi speaking women inmates. The next day as her uterus was again thrown out of her body, Kawasi decided to cut it off. She asked an inmate for a blade and when all the girls had gone out of the barrack, she sought to operate herself so as to end the pain. As she was about to act, a girl entered the barrack and screamed on seeing the bleeding Hidme. The other women inmates gathered. The blade was taken away from her and the jailor was called, who sent her to the city civil hospital for treatment. After a surgical operation at the hospital she was brought back into jail.

In court, the fabricated case against Kawasi was not progressing. The Police had mentioned two women and two policemen as witnesses. The two women never came to depose before the court and the two policemen denied having any information about her involvement. The evidence put up was itself suspicious at face value. The offence in which Kawasi was alleged to be involved, took place on the 9th September 2007. Statements of police personnels (with ‘remarkable memories’) were recorded on 5thDecember 2007, mentioning names of around 50 Naxalites supposedly calling out to each other. This list did not contain Kawasi Hidme’s name. However after 15th December 2007 when the police personnels added a few more names, her name suddenly appeared in newly recorded statements. And finally in court they denied her involvemnet.

Soni Sori, an adivasi teacher, was also in prison during this period and could interact with Kawasi. Soni Sori had undergone a similar treatment in police custody. She was administered electric shocks and stones were inserted in her private parts. After her release Soni Sori had informed human rights activists about Hidme’s condition who in turn, with sympathetic lawyers, started raising their voices for Kawasi. One such lawyer argued before the Court that as all the witnesses were complete, orders to release Hidme should be given. The judge replied that since she had already spent seven years in jail, there should not be a problem in spending a couple of months more! So Hidme stayed incarcerated for many more subsequent months. Finally in late March 2015, as none of the charges against her could be proved the Court ordered her release.

On the date of her release, Soni Sori and her nephew, Linga Kodopi went to receive her from Jagdalpur jail. When Linga took her back to her village, her friends failed to identify her and as she called out to each one of them, they started weeping. Though she was now free, her body was almost completely wasted. She had undergone multiple operations for gallstones. And each operation resulted in further exhaution. The mental injury is almost beyond repair. She regularly faces depression and sudden mood swings. On the other hand, the IG of Bastar, Kalloori has planned to fabricate Kawasi in a further case as she continues to speak of her violations and join Soni Sori in their fight against these injustices

This is not just the story of Kawasi Hidme, but rather the story of thousands of Adivasi women and men incarcerated for longest years of youth and vitality.The hard question we need to ask here is, who is going to compensate for their lost years? In the absence of legal aid, the torture these young women and men have undergone are never proved . The even more shocking part is that we do not hear such stories in the mainstream media. Soni Sori was one of the few women whose voice did reach mainstream media, the reasons being her own courage and the extent of gruesome torture she underwent. Though among aware citizens, it is not unknown that the Police frame adivasis and vulnerable people in regions like Bastar in false cases by branding them as naxals, but serious documentation on it especially when it comes to women still remains minimalistic. But all this fades in the midst of the footage that mainstream media devotes to coverage of the IPL, paid-news reports or events that do not concern us. This has created an illusion in the minds of our youth that a good life means a good job and abundant money with no concern for society at large. The few courageous women who decide to stand up against the mighty and powerful state apparatus face hostility at every step of their work. Recently when Soni tried to help Bhima Madkam, a local injured in a police firing, from Madenar village in Bastar to file a complaint, the police started harassing and threatening her saying that they will send her back to the jail by getting her bail order cancelled by the Court on grounds that she is ‘instigating people against the State’.

Apart from investigatng the case and arresting people, the police in these areas also assume the role of delivering justice. The growing impunity they enjoy is disturbing. The power that comes from holding the gun with absolutely no accountability is indulging. They assume the role of the overarching patriarchal figure who under the pretext of ‘protecting’ society, extracts ‘small’ (sexual or otherwise) favours, ‘teaches’ the accused a lesson and gets away easily unnoticed. Unless we broaden the discourse and dialogue on these issues, there is faint hope that anything is going to change for the better.

Hidme’s question keeps haunting us: “I was never involved in any Maoist activity… What was my fault?” We, as concerned citizens, have to decide if we are prepared for more such questions or are we going to stand up and challenge these injustices?

(Note : Support for the facts related to Kawasi Hidme’s case has been taken from Jagdalpur Legal Aid group’s lawyer, also a large part has been translated from information available in Hindi on activist Himanshu Kumar’s facebook page. The relevance of Kawasi’s story in our lives is becoming more important than ever before, hence I chose to talk about her story. All views expressed are mine)

References:

http://www.indiaresists.com/bastar-villager-injured-in-police-firing-police-harasses-activist-soni-sori/

http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2015/04/magdalene-mailpidi-village-maoist/

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/maoists-naxals-jharkhand-ranchi-crpf-cobra-battalion-camp-police/1/431818.html

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/acquitted-after-7-years-tribal-woman-says-she-was-tortured/article7050393.ece

http://dantewadavani.blogspot.in/2015/03/blog-post_28.html

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-can-carrying-a-vessel-get-one-jail-yes-if-you-are-a-tribal-in-maoist-belt-2072969

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.

What US President Obama would have told Prime Minister Modi on 2015 Republic Day


The Republic Day 2015 Parade was a great occasion for Prime Minister Modi and President Obama to cosy-up and share experiences of governing two of the largest and most complex countries. Floats passing by, weapons on display and planes flying past was an ideal backdrop for a heart-to-heart exchange of ideas on development, good governance, and all those myriad little things that go to make great democracies. Stories Unscene tries to capture what a one-on-one tête-à-tête may well have been.

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Modi: Barackbhai, how are you enjoying your stay here? Hope everything is as you like it.

Obama: Saaru che Narendra, it’s been great! Everything’s simply awesome! Delhi’s a glorious city; long history, massive population… must be millions out there cheering the parade – though of course, can’t see much in this blessed fog. How do you do the security? Must be tough.

M: Oh, it’s easy. We just close down the Metro and cordon off the roads in advance; only let in those we want. No public, no trouble no? They can see it on TV. We all watch cricket that way.

(Shouts of of “Modi, Modi” fill the fog.)

O: How’re the Delhi elections going? Saw your hoardings all over – but who’s that guy in the muffler – your man for Delhi, huh?

M: Hey Bhagwan, not mine, not mine! He’s Arvind, an anarchist! I told him to go join the Naxalites. I’ll send him packing this time – no more elections for him.

O: So sorry Naren, no offence meant. But what’s this Naxalite business?

M: No business Barackbhai, those Naxal guys are anti-business. They’re Maoists.

O: Good God! You’ve got Chinese here? Get them out pronto. On that I’m with you all the way.

M: Not Chinese, Barackbhai. These guys are Indians. My biggest internal security threat. Those guys just don’t want us to do good business. They’re worse than those environmentwallas. They’re mostly adivasis and won’t allow us to clear forests and forest dwellers. So many of our mines, big dams, power projects are all on hold. No development!

O: Real backward guys, huh? Wall Street boys won’t like it one bit. You’ve gotta be firm man. Cannot let a few aboriginals get in the way of a country’s growth. We too had our Red Indians. If we hadn’t cleared them out where would the US be? Development comes with a price you know. Someone’s got to sacrifice for the greater good.

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M: Yeah yeah. No sweat Barackbhai, it’s as good as done. Our Raj is on the job. His home department has brought a new policy to handle this stuff. Clear, hold, build, you know. Clear out the locals, hold on to the land, build on top of their ruins. You guys did it Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Some say you guys made a mess, but Raj and I know you’ve done a great job. And no time to lose now. Our own chaps – Tata, Mukesh, the lot – are also getting irritable. Can’t blame them no? There’s gold to be got under those jungles – and lots to go around. That’s why I want more of your boardroom guys taking interest.

O: Our big boys will come on board, but they’ll need some guarantees. Can’t run around taking risks. Put in billions and then see them rot while some half-naked natives call the shots.

M: That hurts Barackbhai. We’re doing our best. (Just then an aging Chetak hovers over sprinkling rose petals. They wave to the helicopter and to the cameras.)

M: We’re putting in all we have to shove the adivasis out. We’ve even started using some of these helicopters. But those fellows have starting firing on them and our air-force boys don’t want to go in.

O: Our Apaches and Chinooks will come in handy for you. We’ve got real armoured choppers. But you can’t go on being so delicate. You’ll need carpet-bombing someday soon. We’ve learnt all this the hard way. No namby-pamby in things like this.

M: I know Barackbhai, I know. But these human-rightswallas go on creating a fuss. They say that adivasis are our own people, our own citizens. Some judges say our Constitution won’t allow it.

O: Aw Naren, we too have a Constitution. But that does not stop us from finishing off our citizens, when it’s got to be done. And all very legal, mind you. I myself sign the warrants. I’m using drones. Wonderful machines! Something like video games. Zero in… Wham, bam, boom.  There are mistakes here and there and many others get knocked off, but you can’t cry over collateral damage. You too must have them.

M: We’ve started on that. Manohar, our military boss is smart and will push through all deals in a jiffy. But don’t your courts and media guys raise a stink.

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O: You give them the right laws and the courts will do their job.

M: We’ve got UAPA, an anti-terror and unlawful activities law. But some judges are watering it down.

O: “You Paa” … Doesn’t sound too good. We’ve called our anti-terror law PATRIOT. Great name  and helps to get everyone on board. Everyone wants to be a patriot, most of all the media. Of course for the media you’ve got to get the owners on board.

M: I’ve got most of them to fall in line. And Mukesh and other friends can mop up some more. If anyone goes too far we’ll clamp down on them.

O: But … don’t you have First Amendment Rights – you know Freedom of Expression and all that.

M: Yeah, we have our First Amendment – Nehru got it passed. But it wasn’t for granting freedom of expression – it was for restricting it.

O: Wow! Our Founding Fathers didn’t think that way. Sometimes I wish they had.

M: Barackbhai, you’re just my sort of guy. May the force be with you! (And it was then that Michelle got into conversation mode and started asking about Jashodhaben’s health. That really spoilt the mood.)

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How villagers in conflict zones are terrorised into fake surrenders


Statistics of rising surrenders in Naxal-affected areas hide a hollow and more brutal reality.

Telling the truth can be dangerous, especially if your facts run counter to the propaganda of a government bent on trumpeting its “successes”.

Muka Kowasi, ex-sarpanch of Chote Longpal, a remote forest village in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, is facing its consequences.  He dared to talk to a major news channel about the fearful farce of fake and forced Naxal “surrenders” now being enacted in his area, and propagandised from Delhi. His testimony formed part of a television programme broadcast on December 18, 2014. The very next day, Kowasi became one more name in the long list of adivasi political prisoners that already over-crowd most of the jails of Central and Eastern India.

Propaganda farce around fake and forced surrenders in Bastar

The prompt clamming operation is understandable. It was only a few weeks earlier that the union ministry of Home Affairs had been publicising the statistic of rising surrenderees in Bastar as proof of the efficacy of the Modi government in dealing with the Naxalite movement. Figures were given out and projected as a “20-fold increase in Maoist surrender since May-end“. Pro-Modi websites announced it as “another feather in Modi’s cap“, saying that these were the fruits of a well planned central strategy and that a record number of Maoists had given up arms since the new government.

Such claims however were far from the truth. One news report on December 8 found that not one of the 377 alleged Maoists shown to have surrendered between June 1 and November 28 had handed in a weapon, and no one had got the post-surrender relief or rehabilitation. They were ordinary villagers without any case or warrant against them and most were not even eligible to be termed as “surrendered Maoists”. Another December report told of an atmosphere of fear in a number of villages where many were being forced to falsely admit to acts they had not done and to surrender. In one case there was resistance, with around twelve thousand villagers gathering at the Kookanur police station in Sukma district to protest the detention of a villager couple in order to pressurise them to surrender.

All these media reports only served to confirm the statements in August and September issued by Chhattisgarh office-bearers of Congress, CPI and AAP, and civil liberties organisations like PUCL giving specific instances of persons forced to pose as surrenderees. Thus, the so-called success of the Modi government in obtaining Naxal surrenders in Bastar seemed to be actually a cruel charade being enacted to serve a Goebbelsian propaganda machine.

Lucrative Gains from Surrenders

Besides the propaganda benefit, the officers involved also stand to profit heftily in this surrender game. While the government had announced massive increases in the amounts to be disbursed to those who surrender, none of this has been known to have reached these latest batches of surrenderees. No guesses needed as to who pocketed these amounts. Larger figures of surrenderees have further been known to earn service medals and promotions for the officers involved.

The present Inspector General of Police of Bastar, SRP Kalluri, who has been claiming credit for the dubious feat of an exponential increase in “surrenders”, is an officer who is facing CBI investigation on charges of arson, rape and murder in three villages of Bastar. Considering this and his overall tarnished track record, his transfer back as IGP, soon after the Modi government was sworn in, was opposed by human rights activists. When interviewed for the above mentioned December 18 programme, Kalluri, while admitting that his surrenderees did not have any case against them and had never touched a gun or even slapped anyone, made the unconvincing claim that they could be treated as surrenderees as they were associated with organisations he said were front organisations. Since he has often accused human rights activists and organisations of fronting for the Maoists, his farfetched argument could even make Swami Agnivesh, who was attacked in 2011 by police under his command, his next surrenderee.

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The Ranchi surrender scamsters

But Bastar is not the only centre of suspect surrenders. Less than six months ago, another major surrender scam was exposed in Jharkhand, where, between 2010 and 2013, 514 persons were made to pose as “surrenderees” and then kept under CRPF guard on the premises of the old and disused Ranchi prison. This too was part of another elaborate plan by the Union Home Ministry to boost surrenders. A former Military Intelligence officer, Ravi Borda, who had participated in surrenders of militants in Assam was brought in by the Home department to replicate the experience in Jharkhand. The modus operandi was to, through agents, contact youth of surrounding villages with promises of jobs in paramilitary forces in exchange for posing as surrendered Naxalites with firearms and explosives. These “surenderees” were even made to pay amounts of up to two lakhs for the promised job.

An FIR was later registered and Borda and some of his accomplices put behind bars. The National Human Rights Commission too took suo moto cognizance considering the numerous human rights violations involved and has launched its own investigation. But it seems clear that Borda is, at the best, a front man for a more entrenched system reaching well into the bureaucracy. No scamster could have gained possession and use of the former Ranchi jail and the services of a company of the 203rd Battalion of the CRPF as sentries without the connivance of the higher echelons of the paramilitary and home department. But there are no indications that any investigation is being directed towards weeding out the wider conspiracy.

Institutionalisation of fake and forced surrenders

Such conspiracies are not something exceptional however. Borda himself probably learnt the tricks of the surrender trade during his stint in the Army and in Military Intelligence in the North-East, where surrender scams are rife. In Maharashtra too, we, during our period in jail, met many villager victims who landed in jail on false charges, either for resisting pressures from police to surrender or for refusing to submit to extortionate demands of intelligence officials to share the amounts received for surrendering. One surrenderee couple, Shyamlal and Renuka, who received the rehabilitation amount but did not give an officer his cut, were even sent off to Madhya Pradesh, which did not have a surrender policy and where tens of old cases could be clamped on them.

CommentSurrender policy gained ground in modern counter-insurgency strategy during the British suppression of the Malayan armed struggle in the 1950s. It has since been part of the arsenal of various governments dealing with rebellion. In India, surrender policy provides fertile ground for conspiracies where lucre gains of scamsters and propaganda ends of government come together in unholy union. Such conspiracies are however no aberration. They have become very much an institutionalised part of the growing counter-insurgency complex.