Jan 6, 2013, Deccan Herald
The rage of the ‘invisible masses,’ is a thread binding all democratic protests and people’s movements across the state. Be it in Konkan or Vidarbha or the deep dry jungles of Gadchiroli, the cries of ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ has faded in majority of cases into the darkness of the shadows of the prison cells. Throttling the voice and banning the thought has turned these regions into police state, where in the name of law shackles are clamped on every dissenting voice.
In Konkan, since 2006, the undulating hills dotting Maharashtra coastline has been echoing and roiling with angry voices questioning the nuclear and open cast mining projects pock-marking the green ribbon stretching along the seashore.
The movement, despite running on peaceful strategy, has seen incidents of violence from the police side; in April 2011, police in order to quell a protesting mob, opened fire killing one person.
Last June, when villagers protested against Jaitapur nuclear power project, armed police clamped Section 144.
Vidarbha farmers’ fault?
The region everyday witnesses a funeral of a farmer committing suicide, deaths due to malnutrition and starvation in tribal areas.
The story is not new; in 2001, thousands of tribal women ‘Tendu’ workers were just hauled up in police vans and bundled off to prisons, charged with various draconian sections. Their fault: they were demanding basic food security.
In December 2012, the government refused permission for staging any kind of demonstration to over a thousand widows of farmers, who took their lives to escape the sharp economic claws, under the pretext that it ‘is being spearheaded by Naxalites.’
Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti leader Kishore Tiwari says: “Raise your voice and you find yourself facing a non-bailable warrant. Since 2001 I have been charged with over 231 criminal cases…”
Gadchiroli’s eternal prisoners
It is the border tribal district and the news that filter out from this region focusses only on ‘violent clashes between the police and militant outfits’; the peaceful demonstrations of tribals asserting their democratic rights and ending up in prisons where sun rarely peeps in, never sees light.
On December 10, 2012, 50 tribal women languishing in Nagpur Central Prison for the past several years, under the charges of being “Naxal‘ sympathisers, went on a 11-day hunger strike demanding immediate opening up of the Gadchiroli Prison and an inquiry into ‘illegal re-arrests.’
Human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling said: “Using the 170-km stretch between Nagpur and Gadchiroli court as an excuse, the police deliberately delay the proceedings. What these women undertrials want is a speedy trial which is their Constitutional right.”
The hunger-strike once again brought to fore the brazen violation of human rights and Constitutional rights by the police and other para-military forces who clandestinely re-arrest political prisoners who have been acquitted or granted bail as soon as they emerge from the prison gate.
In 2007, human rights activist Arun Ferriera, was picked up along with one Arun Satya Reddy while he was distributing pamphlets to Dalits in Dikshabhoomi near Nagpur. In 2011, despite being cleared of all charges by a lower court, the police clandestinely whisked him from the exit door of the jail. In jail, he saw the re-arrest of tribal men and women in violation of laws and undertook a fast lasting 27 days, demanding an inquiry into ‘illegal re-arrests’.