Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The other Binayak Sens - attack on civil liberties

by Manoj C G

While the government's security offensive against the Maoists, coupled with statements to those extending intellectual support to the insurgents to condemn their violent ways and disassociate with them, continue, civil rights and citizen groups are claiming that it is they who are feeling the heat. For, they claim that labelling a person as a Maoist is increasingly used as a tactic by the security agencies to silence democratic voices of dissent and stop them from raising issues of forced displacement of tribals or farmers, as incidentally these are the same issues being taken up by the Left-wing insurgents.

Human rights groups operating in Naxal-hit states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh as well as in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Maharashtra say several of their activists are being dubbed as Maoists and either harassed or arrested. The latest such case, they point out, is the arrest of PUCL UP state executive member Seema Azad.

"I had filed a PIL in the High Court some time ago seeking a direction to the state government to vacate security forces stationed in 50-odd schools. The government in its affidavit labelled me a Maoist and called the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners, of which I am a member, a frontal organisation of the Naxalites," says Shashi Bhushan Pathak, secretary of the Jharkhand branch of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. Pathak said the argument of the police was that he was a signatory to a petition seeking the release of a woman Naxal leader arrested by the Jharkhand Police. "I was a signatory, so was Mallika Sarabhai and Justice Rajinder Sachar. Are they also Naxals like me?" he asks.

Civil rights groups in Chhattisgarh say the police are trying to create more Binayak Sens in the state. "There are several instances of police arresting activists and dubbing them as Naxalites in Chhattisgarh. The arrest of documentary film-maker Ajay T G, lawyer Satyendra Kumar Choubey and journalist Sai Reddy are before us," trade unionist and civil rights lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj told The Indian Express.

Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Commission general secretary S Seshaiah said one of the joint secretaries of APCLC has been booked under the AP Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for protesting the alleged rape of tribal women by the personnel of the AP Greyhounds engaged in anti-Naxal operations. "The incidents occurred in Visakhapatnam. He took the victims to a hospital. Now there is a case lodged against him and he has gone underground. We have asked him to surrender before a local court, but he is facing difficulty in reaching the court as the police may arrest him before that," he said.

Even in Azad's case, PUCL secretary Chittaranjan Singh claims that she and her husband Vishwa Vijay became the victims of vendetta for exposing forcible acquisition of land by the Mayawati government for the Ganga Expressway project through her magazine Dastak. Besides, she was also part of the PUCL team's effort to gather information about and protest against the encounter killing of one person in Sonebhadra and raised her voice against the mining mafia in Allahabad and Koshambi districts. "There is no evidence to prove that she is a Maoist," Singh said.

Gautam Navlakha of the People's Union for Democratic Rights and G N Saibaba, who is a member of several civil rights groups in Delhi, are of the view that the police are using "fabricated" disclosure and confessional statements of so-called Maoists arrested by them to harass civil rights activists. "Despite the fact that these confessional statements have no legal standing in a court of law, these documents are being used to intimidate us," Navlakha said. Even in the Home Minister's constituency of Sivaganga, a man was arrested and slapped with sedition charges for distributing leaflets which raised a question as to why a tribal should celebrate the Republic Day when the state has not given anything to him in the last 60 years of Independence, he added.

Rebecca M John, a lawyer who is defending arrested Maoist leader Kobad Ghandy, says confessional or disclosure statements have become the "biggest jokes" in India. "People are made to sign on blank papers and later these so-called statements are added. Very often, people are forced to sign under pressure," she said.

(The Indian Express, 2nd March 2010)

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