Statement read out by Dipti Bhatnagar
Students for Justice in Chhattisgarh, UC Berkeley
The Berkeley Conference on Indian Democracy
Saturday 9/27, 2:00 pm
8th Floor, Barrows Hall
I appreciate this opportunity to express our views and ask some questions of Mr. Vishwa Ranjan, the highest police official of Chhattisgarh.
Others have talked about the broader issues, I wish to talk about the intimidation, the silencing of those who dare to speak out against the trampling of rights by the state. The best known example is perhaps Binayak Sen, an acclaimed doctor currently languishing in the Raipur jail. Binayak Sen has spent more than 25 years serving the poorest and the most marginalized communities of Chhattisgarh. He has also actively worked with these communities in their struggles to protect their rights and dignity, and is the national vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. An outspoken critic of the Salwa Judum, and of the reign of terror spread by state forces in the name of countering the Maoist insurgency, what has been Binayak Sen’s reward? He gets arrested and thrown into jail by the police. Another political prisoner paying the price for having a conscience!
Sixteen long months later, Dr. Sen continues to be held behind bars. Why, you may ask? Well, first it took almost a year before the trial even started. And during this year he had to spend 3 weeks in solitary confinement, a confinement that was illegal, without court approval. Once the trial did start, the police was unable to present any credible evidence, and the prosecution witnesses, nearly two dozen so far, have turned hostile. So what do the police and prosecutor do? They start fabricating evidence. A mysterious letter appears in the supposedly sealed evidence bag produced in court. A letter not listed on the search memo or mentioned in the charge sheet. Not properly authenticated. Conveniently for the state’s case, this letter is from the Maoists, thanking Dr. Sen for his help.
Mr. Vishwa Ranjan, can you tell us why the police feel compelled to fabricate evidence?
Another, and related, case of intimidation by the state is that of Ajay TG, a young film maker and Binayak Sen’s colleague in the PUCL. Ajay’s mistake was making a film about the strange circumstances surrounding Binayak Sen’s arrest and incarceration. So of course, Ajay too was arrested as a threat to the security of the state. In this case, the police couldn’t even produce a charge sheet, even after 90 days, the statutory maximum period someone can be held without charge. But even though they had to let Ajay out on bail, the police haven’t given up.
Mr. Vishwa Ranjan, why have you not dropped the case if you still haven’t come up with a charge sheet against Ajay, 150 days after his initial arrest?
Of course, Ajay TG and Binayak Sen, are not isolated cases of critics being intimidated and harassed into silence by the police. Equally egregious, even if less visible, is the continuing reign of terror in the lives of large swaths of tribal communities in Chhattisgarh. One of the most blatant instances of state intimidation is the case of Nendra village in Dantewara. Villagers from Nendra had been attacked multiple times by the forces of Salwa Judum, had 150 dwellings burnt, 4 women raped and 27 inhabitants, including 9 children, killed. On 10th June 2008, they testified before the visiting fact- finding team from the National Human Rights Commission investigating Salwa Judum atrocities. Five days later, the Salwa Judum forces exacted revenge on this village by attacking it yet again and burning 11 homes. And the police response? They shrugged off this case of arson, saying that Nendra was abandoned and the houses were likely Maoist hideouts.
Mr. Vishwa Ranjan, can you tell us why the police cannot even guarantee the safety and security of witnesses testifying before a team sent into the state under orders from the Supreme Court?
In the name of fighting the Maoists, the police and administration in Chhattisgarh have turned the state into a human rights nightmare.
I, and the other groups and individuals I represent at this podium, demand the repeal of Chhattisgarh’s Black Laws, we demand that the Salwa Judum be disbanded, all political prisoners, including Dr. Binayak Sen be released by the state and democracy be restored in Chhattisgarh.
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action
Association for India’s Development
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate
Friends of South Asia
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
People’s Health Movement