For Immediate Release
DGP Chhattisgarh Under Fire for Human Rights Record at Berkeley Conference
Berkeley, CA, September 30, 2008:
For a change it was the turn of Vishwa Ranjan, the high profile Director General of Police of Chhattisgarh, to be subjected to a grueling interrogation, about massive human rights abuses perpetrated by the police under his direction. Questioning him were students, faculty and members from a coalition of South Asian community groups at a conference on Indian Democracy at Berkeley, California, where he was one of the invited speakers.
And some of the ‘confessions’ that emerged from him were startling. The controversial arrest of film maker Ajay TG, the DGP said, was a ‘technical mistake’. The continued incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen in Raipur jail was the responsibility of the Chhattisgarh government and not the police.
In fact, so flustered was the DGP by the persistent questioning he ended up signing a petition to the Prime Minister asking for Dr Sen’s release! The card he signed reads ‘The imprisonment of this brave and good man is outrageous. I demand his immediate unconditional release’.
Ranjan earlier spoke at a panel at the FDRI/Berkeley Conference on Indian Democracy, trying to defend his record of jailing critics and supporting the Salwa Judum, a civilian vigilante army armed and backed by the state. Ranjan was handed a letter written by 106 academics calling for him to address a number of egregious human rights and police brutality cases; the signatories comprised professors from many universities including Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT, seven campuses of University of California and UC Berkeley’s Center for South Asia Studies, the organization co-hosting the conference.
Chhattisgarh is the site of an ongoing conflict between Naxalites and state security forces, including the state-backed “Salwa Judum” vigilante army; counterinsurgency programs have displaced over 300,000 people from their villages. Ranjan defended the Salwa Judum’s “peaceful”, “spontaneous,” nature, despite widely available evidence to the contrary, including a recent Human Rights Watch report. Ranjan’s position was strongly criticised by his co-panelists.
Former Indian Supreme Court justice B. N. Srikrishna forcefully pointed out that there was no role for vigilante armies in a democracy, while sociology professor Nandini Sundar described Salwa Judum’s history of widespread murder, rape, arson, and theft. Graduate student Dipti Bhatnagar, who was added to the panel on the insistence of student groups, directly challenged Ranjan, as the chief of Chhattisgarh police, to explain his role in the silencing of dissent in Chhattisgarh. She pointed to specific cases, such as the fabrication of evidence during the ongoing trial of the public health activist Dr. Binayak Sen, the arrest of documentary film maker Ajay T.G. without any charge-sheet, and the tacit complicity of the security forces with Salwa Judum after it exacted revenge on Nendra villagers for testifying against it in front of the NHRC.
Rajeev Dhavan, senior Indian Supreme Court lawyer, started off the question and answer session by challenging Ranjan’s facts and asking for his resignation. Students attending the event silently carried signs referring to children being held in police custody, a Chhattisgarh police superintendent accused of rape and murder, ongoing harassment of Dr. Binayak Sen’s family, and the suggestion that even Gandhi would be jailed as a dissenter under Chhattisgarh law. Ranjan went on to evade many of the highly specific questions about human rights abuses directed at him by conference attendees.
Girish Agrawal with Friends of South Asia said, “Ranjan mentioned that there are 3200 Special Police Officers (SPOs) today, while two weeks ago he had written that 3250 SPOs have been discharged for indiscipline. At two different times he was asked whether he agrees with the conclusion that most SPOs have committed crimes. Leave alone answering these questions, he even refused to acknowledge them.”
Anirvan Chatterjee of Alliance of South Asians Taking Action adds, “Amnesty International, 22 Nobel Prize winners, and thousands of individuals from around the world have called for Sen’s release. Now, more than ever, it’s time for us to stand with Sen and other less visible detainees arrested under the Chhattisgarh ‘Black Law.’” Apart from the unconditional release of Dr. Binayak Sen and other political prisoners, community members were also demanding the disarming of Salwa Judum, the repeal of the Black Law (Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act of 2005), and a prohibition on the use of child soldiers in counter-insurgency measures.
- FDRI/Berkeley conference is an annual conference organized jointly by the Federation of Democratic Reforms in India and the Center for South Asia Studies, Berkeley
- Human Rights Watch report on Chhattisgarh: “Being Neutral is “Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime” Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India’s , Chhattisgarh State, 2008
- Faculty Petition with signatures, Questions for the DGP