Activists Welcome the SC judgement on Vedanta, and mining in Niyamgiri #Victory #Tribalrights


 

vedanta

PPSS welcomes the verdict of Supreme court yesterday (i.e. 18th April 2013)  on  the issues of mining in Niyamagiri hills of Odisha. The verdict said that it’s upto the Gram Sabha (Village-level Assembly) to decide whether to allow mining in Niyamgiri Hills by the Vedanta Group. The Supreme Court has upheld the authority of Gram Sabha to control, manage and use the mineral resources in Niyamagiri hills. This comes as a very welcome judgment where community rights over mineral resources has been protected. This is a victory of long-drawn struggle of the adivasis in Niyamagiri hills and throughout the state.

It may be reminded that Gram Sabha of Dhinkia Panchayat of Jagatsinghpur district in Odisha held on 18th October 2012 had passed a resolution unanimously against the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes. With the spirit of the Supreme court judgement on Niyamagiri hill, the state government should respect the decision of our Gram sabhha and scrap the POSCO project outright.

I would also like to bring your attention to the latest Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report. The CAG in its latest report, tabled in the assembly has found the Odisha government guilty of extending large scale undue benefits to steel major POSCO in allotment of a piece of land in the state capital Bhubaneswar. The government disregarded all norms in allotting the land with shameless favoritism.  While allotting the land, zonal regulation was ignored and the land was gifted away at an abysmally low premium. The CAG report is very scathing on it.

The CAG report said that the country arm of South Korean steel major Posco-India had applied for allotment of a plot measuring 12,000 square feet for its chairman-cum-managing director’s (CMD) residence-cum-guest house in 2006. However, later it enhanced the requirement twice to 25,000 sq.ft. in April 2007 and later 2 acres for the same purpose. Various committees, including committees appointed by Central Government, have unearthed serious illegalities in POSCO’s other operations earlier. Many more are still buried beneath as vested authorities try their best to hide those and get away with it. While proofs are piling up, our people are bewildered by a complete hijack of governance mechanism to patronize POSCO and connive with the POSCO and harming our basic life and livelihood sources as well as the interest of the larger society.

As the government is unwilling to play the ‘Rajdharm’ we are determined to put up a peaceful-democratic fight against this unholy alliance between the government and POSCO.

On April 12, 2013, the Left parties and various mass movements staged demonstrations at Bhubaneswar demanding withdrawal of police force from the proposed plant site area. Demonstrations were also held in various district headquarters in response to a call by CPI to observe ‘All India Solidarity Day’. The protestors held the placards saying “Posco Go Back” and “Stop Forcible Land Acquisition”.

As we have shared earlier a 12-member team consisting of human rights activists, journalists, academicians, democratic rights and civil liberty activists conducted a visit to our area on March 9, 2013  to take stock of the situation after the March 2 bomb blast in which three of our frontline activists died and one got seriously injured. The report of the fact finding team brings into the fore another evidence of the state’s cruelty. While releasing the report eminent legal luminary Justice Rajinder Sachar was awestruck by the fact that three people got killed in a bomb explosion and yet no inquiry was conducted into the incidence. ‘The incident was ghastly and the action of the government is horrible’, said Justice Sachar. That Committee in its report has demanded a high level judicial inquiry into the incident. You can read the whole report here.

In a separate but bizarre development we have come to know, from media reports, about POSCO’s attempt to influence a section media in its favour by sponsoring a pleasure trip for some journalists to Pune and other such places. But we firmly believe on the impartial character of our media friends who will continue to expose the POSCO’s illegalitiesand the government’s undue favor.

Attaching herewith an e-petition for your endorsement prepared by  an organization SOLIDARITÉ based in France for your information. Here is the petition, in French and English.

Kindly forward this mail widely.

Hoping for solidarity,

Prashant Paikary
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
Mobile no-09437571547
E-Mail – prashantpaikary@gmail.com

 

ATTN DELHI- Release of Fact Finding Report on the Bomb Blast in Dhinkia Panchayat


Release of Fact Finding Report on the Bomb Blast in Dhinkia Panchayat

On the 9th of March 2013, a 12 member team consisting of human rights activists, journalists, academicians, democratic right and civil liberty activists, conducted a fact finding visit to Dhinkia and Govindpur villages in Jagatsinghpur District of Orissa. On the 2nd of March 2013, a bomb blast took place in the Govindpur village and three people were killed on the spot. One seriously injured person also succumbed to the injuries in hospital. The police only arrived after 15 hours to Govindpur and took the first assessment of the incident. However, the district administration within a couple of hours of the blast issued the statement that the deceased were involved in the illegal act of bomb making. The villagers and families of the deceased are claiming that the administration want to fasten the process of land grab in favour of POSCO (Pohang Steel Company of Korea) and fear for their lives for opposing the project.

The fact finding team comprised of Mr. Meher Engineer (Former Director, Bose Institute, Kolkata), Mr.  Sumit Chakravartty (Editor, Mainstream Weekly, Delhi), Dr Manoranjan Mohanty (Retd Professor, Delhi University), Mr.  Pramodini Pradhan (PUCL Odisha), Mr. Saroj Mohanty (PUCL, Odisha), Ms Ranjana Padhi (PUDR, Delhi), Dr Kamal Chaubey (PUDR, Delhi(, Mr. Sanjeev Kumar (Delhi Forum, Delhi), Mr. Mathew Jacob (HRLN, Delhi), Ms Samantha (Sanhati), Mr. Partho Roy (Sanhati) and Mr. Gyan Ranjan Swain (Ravenshaw University)

 

The objective of the visit was to assess the situation in the wake of escalated violence caused by the land acquisition process which again resumed in the area on the 4th of February 2013. During the visit, the team had a detailed discussion with all the concerned stake holders.

The report will be released by Justice (Retd.) Rajinder Sachar on the 16th of April, 2013 at Press Club of India at 3 PM. Looking forward for your participation.

 

Date – 16th April, 2013

Time – 3 PM Onwards

Venue – Press Club of India

 

For information and clarifications please contact Sanjeev Kumar (9958797409, sanjeev@delhiforum.net) or Mathew (08860110520, mathew.tiss@gmail.com)

 

PRESS RELEASE- Under pressure Maharashtra government initiates dialogue with Medha Patkar and NAPM


Press Release

On the 7th day of Medha Patkar’s indefinite fast, slum dwellers in Mumbai barge in to Mantralaya

Demonstrations held in Bangalore, Delhi and other places in support of the struggle targetting Congress offices and Maharashtra government

Under pressure Maharashtra governemnt initiates dialogue with the Andolan

They can only demolish houses not our hopes and strength”

Mumbai, April 10 : Today is the sevnth day of the indefinite fast by Medha Patkar and Madhuri Shivkar in Khar Golibar, Mumbai. Early in the day basti dwellers and supporters in Mumbai entered the Mantralaya and raised slogans against the government, while the assembly was in progress. Later, by force they were moved by the Police to Azad Maidan, where the demonstrations continued all day. Medha ji’s is growing weaker every day but her health remained stable during the day.

In Delhi, many organisations, movements and individuals came together to protest the inaction by Maharashtra government and stood in solidarity with the struggle in Mumbai. Justice (Retd) Rajinder Sachar led the delegation and handed over a letter signed by Aruna Roy, Swami Agnivesh, Prashant Bhushan, Sumit Chakravarty, Sanjay parikh, Dayamani Barla, Chittaroopa Palit, K B saxena, Manoranjan Mohanty, Vimal Bhai, Rajendra Ravi and many others.

In Bangalore, members from different organisations and especially those from the Ejipura slum demolitions affected people gathered together and stormed in to the Karnataa State Congress office. They raised slogans against the Congress party and demanded that immediate action be taken by the Maharashtra government.

 

Support also came from Hussain Dalwai, Member of Parliament, Congress, who visited the fast site and extended his support and promised to take up the issue with Sonia Gandhi and the Central Govt. Shyam Sonar, Members of Swadhar, an NGO in Mumbai, Advocate Ghoge, Prakash Bendre, members of India Against Corruption and others kept visiting the fast site extending their support.

Later in the day, an emissary from Collector Office, came with a message from the Maharashtra government to initiate the process of dialogue. Andolan gave him the copy of the demand as below and showed its resolv to continue the struggle indifinitely on the site, unless and until, issues were resolved.

The first demolition in Golibar started in 2011. That was the time when Medha Tai Patkar went on an indefinite fast. After 2 years demolition started again for the SRA project developed by Shivalik Ventures. Residents are determiend to fight them, they say, “ Hamare sirf ghar tute hain… hosla abhi bhi buland hai” (they can only demolish houses not our hopes and strength). Children even udner duress have been writing their examination, the hope for a dignified life lives on in the struggle.

Prerna Gaikwad, Aba Tandel, Ajit Gavkhedkar, Jameel Bhai, Poonam Kanaujia, Sumit Wajale, Nasreen , Seela manswanee

Contact : 9892727063 | 9212587159 | nampindia@gmail.com

Demands of the Andolan are Following :

  1. The enquiry in respect of 6 S.R.A. Projects, under the chairmanship of Principal Secretary, Housing, is in progress since 13th January, 2013. We demand that the work in all these projects should be stopped un till the report of the enquiry is completed and actions taken on the recommendations.

  2. If demolitions are being carried out in accordance with court rulings but the preconditions put forth are not met, main issues and allegations of corruption through forgery, fraudulent consent are not resolved etc., then in such cases project work should be stopped and no further demolitions be carried.

  3. In cases where the residents have submitted self development projects or wish to submit the same, they should be sanctioned and encouraged and started immediately.

  4. S.R.A. Should ensure that in case of ongoing S.R.A. Projects all conditions in L.O.I. should be complied with.

  5. The L.O.I. of the developer should be withdrawn wherever the developers have submitted forged / false documents or wrong information in violation of the L.O.I – as in case of Shivalik builders.

  6. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra has agreed to implement ‘Rajeev Awas Yojana’ in the slums of Mumbai instead of S.R.A., on 2nd January, 2013. However these very slums are being buldozed even today. So, the displacement of these slums should be stopped till R.A.Y. is implemented. The same was conveyed to the State Government by the Union Minister Ajay maken on April 2, 2013.

  7. Pilot projects in respect of slum at Mandala, Mankhurd under the R.A.Y. Have already been submiited to the state as well as Central Governments. That should be approved and implemented at the earliest.

  8. Civic amenities (like water, toilets, nallahs, roads ) should be provided to all the slums immediately as per the written assurance given by the Municipal Commissioner.

  9. The Chief Secretary had given a written assurance on 25th May, 2011 that 19 bastis as agreed in the list, after 9 day fast by Medha Patkar, will be decalred slums within 3 months. There is no action on this assurance till date. The same should be done. The Chief Minister, and the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Housing had premised again in January, 2013 to complete this action during discussions held with them. They also gave a written assurance to that effect. The displacements that are being carried out at present are, therefore, grossly unjust and hence should be stopped forthwith.

  10. Shri Ajay Maken, Minister for Housing and Urban poverty alleviation, Government of India has written a letter to the Chief Minister, Maharashtra state on 2nd April, 2013. The Chief Minister should declare his stand on the letter in writing.

  11. The land of Sathe Nagar should be given for R.A.Y. . This land is currently under the hold of Bombay Soap company.

===============================================

National Alliance of People’s Movements
National Office : 6/6, Jangpura B, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110014
Phone : 011 26241167 / 24354737 Mobile : 09818905316
Web : www.napm-india.org

Twitter : @napmindia

 

 

Water privatisation is not for India


NEW DELHI, March 20, 2013, The Hindu

Smriti Kak Ramachandran

Apex court specifies that air, water, sea and forests cannot be with private sector

A social republic like India cannot have water in private ownership and deny the citizens their right to quality water at affordable prices, said Justice Rajinder Sachar here on Tuesday, criticising the Delhi Government’s move to undertake three public-private partnership projects in the city.

Speaking at a conference on “Water Privatisation: Learning from India and International Experiences”, Justice Sachar said: “There is nothing above the Constitution. The Preamble says India is a secular, socialist, Republic…and handing over ownership of water to private companies is cheating the Constitution.”

He said the Government is obliged to adhere to the Supreme Court guidelines that have specified several times that air, water, sea and forests cannot be under private ownership. He disapproved of the Delhi Government’s move to rope in private companies for doing work that is the State’s responsibility.

Rebutting the Government claims that PPP will usher in changes in the water sector, Jammu Anand, an employee of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation Employees Union, cited the example of Nagpur where privatisation and the promise of 24×7 water supply has not shown any positive results.

“Before the privatisation exercise the Government claimed there was 50 per cent non-revenue water and 45 per cent leakages. They said the Government is in a financial crisis, not capable of arresting these faults and the municipality does not have the political will to do so. Today the leakages are still 30 per cent and no one knows why,” he said.

Mr. Anand said the Government shrewdly chose a place for the pilot project in Nagpur that did not have a major water problem.

Also speaking at the conference organised by the Citizens’ Front for Water Democracy, Focus on the Global South, PEACE, Delhi Journalists’ Association, WS&SDEU and Water Workers’ Alliance, Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People said the move to have a Water Resources Regulatory Authority that will among other things serve to decide the tariffs needs to be opposed as well. PPPs are being encouraged, he said, adding the only state in India which has a water regulatory authority is Maharashtra, where it has been a failure.

“Post-Independence the biggest water scam is in Maharashtra where Rs.75,000 crore has been shown spent on irrigation in the past 10 years but in reality not one hectare has been irrigated,” he said.

S. A. Naqvi of the Citizens’ Front for Water Democracy said despite evidence of privatisation not being a success globally, India is keen on moving ahead with privatisation in almost all sectors from energy to water. “Privatisation is a failed model, yet India is pushing forwards towards it. The Government, it seems, is distancing itself from its responsibility.”


  • “Nagpur model has not yielded encouraging results”
  • “Government is distancing itself from its responsibility”

 

Justice Sachar alleges pvt water companies getting undue benefits


Nivedita Khandekar, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 12, 2013

Continuing his attack on ‘privatisation’ of water supply in Delhi, Justice (retired) Rajinder Sachar has questioned the role of Delhi Jal Board (DJB) in such policy decisions. He has also alleged that private companies were being given undue benefit in the name of 24×7 water supply programmes under public private participation (PPP) model.

A patron of water privatisation and commercialisation resistance committee, Justice Sachar had first written to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in November, raising pertinent issues vis-à-vis privatisation attempts by the DJB. However, instead of Dikshit, he received a reply from Jal board’s CEO Debashree Mukherjee. “Bureaucrats are not in the position to respond to constitutional and policy matters raised by me in the earlier letter,” Sachar has pointed out to Dikshit in another letter sent this week.

The DJB had in 2012 launched three pilot programmes for 24×7 water supply under the PPP model to improve the water distribution system in Malviya Nagar, Nangloi, Vasant Vihar and Mehrauli.

Sachar has pointed out that the DJB has referred to reduction of the non-revenue water (NRW) but the contract agreement signed by the Nangloi project shows that the private operator will not be required to reduce NRW for the first four years.

“This shows that the NRW is not an issue except for justifying privatisation,” he alleged.

Sachar also called for an independent tribunal, which will decide on the water tariffs and the changes required in them, with full public participation. “Despite an automatic 10 % hike incorporated in the cycle, the DJB has failed to guarantee that there would be no mid-term revision,” he alleged.

After the CM’s instructions, DJB has not affected its annual 10 % hike in tariff applicable from January 1. “We reassessed that the privatisation of water services will have serious ramifications for the people. I have drawn your attention to the latest anti-privatisation trends in the world (and), would like you to directly deal with the issue,” Sachar has appealed to the CM.

Despite repeated attempts, the CM remained unavailable for comments.

 

Terror Without a Clue- Peoples Hearing Court #Fabricated


The Indian Police has been methodically harassing those protesting the State’s atrocities by framing false charges against activists and citizens concerned, finds a People’s Hearing Court

Shazia Nigar
New Delhi, Oct 2, 2012

The People’s Hearing on Fabricated Cases, organised by academicians, civil society groups and concerned citizens, was held in the capital on 28 and 29 September. Even though those who deposed before the court came from places as varied as Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha, Jaitapur (Maharashtra) and the Northeast, but their stories were uncannily similar: fabricated cases, harassment and the use of the legal machinery to shrink the democratic space that is enshrined in the Constitution.

Abhay Sahoo, leader of Posco Protirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), from Paradip in Odisha, is a case in point. PPSS has been actively resisting the establishment of an integrated steel plant and a captive port by POSCO, a South Korean company, for the last seven years. The reason behind the sustained struggle is that more than 22,000 people belonging to Paradip will lose their land, livelihood and a sense of identity if the project goes ahead. Despite the peaceful and democratic form of protest employed by the locals, the government has strategically employed every means – democratic and undemocratic – to hand over the land to POSCO.

One of the strategies employed by the government, as Sahoo explains, is, “False cases. It is a weapon in the hands of the state governments to stop popular mass movements that demoralises activists and creates an atmosphere of fear. Almost 10,000 people involved with PPSS have not been able to come out of their villages for the last seven years. Isn’t this a lot more than a silent emergency?”

Implicated in fifty cases, ranging from murder, sexual assault, atrocities against Dalits and wrongful confinement, Sahoo spent fourteen months in jail in 2008-09 and another five months in 2011-12. Sahoo is not alone. There is Manorama, a young woman leader of PPSS implicated in 38 cases, including, bizarrely, charges of rape. Then there is Kamlesh who was implicated in a case that took place while he was still in custody. Besides these, 208 cases have been registered against 1,400 men and women who have dared to exercise their democratic rights. Fear of arrest makes it impossible for people to step out of their villages for basic needs such as medical treatment, education and even daily rations. The police are unable to pick them up from within the villages because of the strong resistance in the form of gheraos.

“Until now, I had been speaking about only others being implicated in fabricated cases,” said Seema Azad, a member of People’s Union of Civil Liberties and a journalist withDastak Ki Nai Awaaz in Lucknow. Today, she needs to defend her own case in a people’s court. She was arrested and spent a year-and-a-half in jail on charges of sedition and being a Maoist.

“Like in most fabricated cases, in my case, too, the place and time of my arrest in the police records are wrong. I was picked up in the morning, but the chargesheet says I was picked up at night. That day, I was carrying books with me, but they weren’t Maoist literature. The police planted these books. It’s not that I don’t read Maoist books, but on that particular day I didn’t have any on me.”

Throwing light on the dubious investigations carried out by the police, she recounted being asked whether she had visited Vishwanath temple. When she responded in the affirmative, the police said it was impossible because Maoists don’t visit temples. Then she was asked if she exercised, and on answering in the negative, she was told, “You must be exercising, as all Maoists do.”

“We should not call ourselves victims, we are the agents of change” said Shahina KK, a journalist and recipient of the Chameli Devi Award. She has been falsely implicated for ‘intimidating’ witnesses in the Muslim political leader Abdul Nasir Madani case. While at TEHELKA, Shahina had written an investigative piece on the fabricated case against Madani. But in an attempt to silence her, she was implicated in one.

Shahina says when she gathered some concrete evidence on how the false case against Madani had been built up, she received a call from the police, asking, “ Madam, everybody here says you are a terrorist. Are you?” Presently out on bail, she has to show up at the Bangalore High Court every month. For how long she might have to do that she doesn’t know, as the chargesheet has not yet been filed.

The others deposing at the hearing on day one were Shauzab Kazmi, son of Urdu journalist Syed Ahmed Kazmi who has been arrested allegedly in the Israeli embassy car blast case, and activists from Koodankulam and Jaitapur.

“Chaman Mein Har Taraf Bikhri Hui Hai Dastan Meri, Khamoshi Guftugu Hai, Be-Zubani Hai Zuban Meri”. Anjum Zamrud Habib from Kashmir described the situation in the valley by borrowing these words from Iqbal. A member of Muslim Women’s Organisation, she shared her experience of having to spend five years in Tihar Jail on being falsely implicated under POTA, and used the platform to talk about the clampdown of the State on anyone daring to stand for their rights in Kashmir. Babloo Loitongbam spoke on the extra-judicial killing of 1,500 people in Manipur; Omar Mukhtar and former MP Sabastian Paul spoke on behalf of Maulana Abdul Maudany.

Emphasising the need for documentation of such cases, Sajeed K, one of the organisers, said, “Until 2008, there did not exist any discourse on how the police was systemically targeting Muslims. It was then that we published a series on fabricated cases in TEHELKA, with relation to SIMI. Of course, the fabrication of the cases is not just against Muslims. Over the years, we have seen how the Indian police has systemically implicated human rights activists and community leaders who are leading campaigns against state terrorism. We need to keep up the pressure.”

The jury, consisting of Justice Rajinder Sachar, Saba Naqvi, Binayak Sen, Ajit Sahi and Ram Puniyani pronounced its verdict in favour of the people questioning the systemic and deliberate attempt to shrink democratic space for any dissent. It stated, “The role of the Indian state in fabricating cases of sedition and terrorism to implicate tens of thousands of innocent citizens across India has been thoroughly exposed in testimony after testimony presented at the People’s Hearing on Fabricated Cases.”

letters@tehelka.com

Jury Recommendations: PEOPLE’S HEARING ON FABRICATED CASES #mustread


 

PEOPLE’S HEARING ON FABRICATED CASES
September 28-29, Constitution Club of India, New Delhi

JURY RECOMMENDATIONS

DSC04362 300x168 Jury Recommendations: PEOPLES HEARING ON FABRICATED CASES

The role of the Indian state in fabricating cases of sedition and terrorism to implicate tens of thousands of innocent citizens across India has been thoroughly exposed in testimony after testimony presented at the People’s Hearing on Fabricated Cases.

It has been established beyond doubt that the Indian police and investigative agencies have for years run a systematic campaign to brutalize citizens by way of punishing them for defending their homeland, farms and communities, or for simply belonging to a certain community that is labeled as a whole as being involved in terrorism.

That the Indian judiciary has for the large part been complicit in giving the police a free pass in this evil endeavor has only extended the ambit of misery that has incarcerated innocents for years, devastating lives and families.

It is clear that the nefarious activities of the police and the state in general need to be checked and held accountable for their illegal fabrication of cases.

It is now recommended by the jury of the People’s Hearing that the civil society groups, activists, and solidarity groups that work with the victims of fabricated cases and their families begin documenting in detail each such case around the country so that a single resource base is created to aid concerted action as well as to spread awareness.

It is recommended that the various civil action groups that are engaged in the human rights campaigns take a lead in preparing such exhaustive documentation.

jury 1 300x225 Jury Recommendations: PEOPLES HEARING ON FABRICATED CASESIt is recommended that the campaigns explore the establishment of a legal support mechanism for the victims of fabricated cases so that they are supported throughout the life of their cases in pursuing a legal defense. Also, the campaigns need to explore the possibility of bringing class actions suits and criminal law suits before the higher courts to plug the loopholes in the criminal jurisprudence system that lead to the fabrications.

It is requested that the National Human Rights Commission and the state human rights commissions be pressured to create special cells devoted exclusively to dealing with fabricated cases on sedition and terrorism.

It is recommended that the government be pressured to bring action against police officers who are established to have forged evidences and fabricated such cases of terrorism and sedition against innocent citizens.

It is also recommended that the campaigns work towards taking the issue of fabricated cases of sedition and terrorism to international civil rights forums, and evaluate the application of the various international protocols that relate to the practice of war.

It is recommended that campaigns be launched to seek the repeal of the dubious seditious and terror laws that are grossly misused and abused by security agencies to implicate innocent people in fabricated cases.

It is recommended that the civil action groups for human rights establish a framework for healthcare related protocols that allow for a role of the ICRC and the Indian Red Cross as well as evolve a code of medical neutrality in armed conflict.

It is recommended that a campaign be launched into holding the state to account for the disappearances of individuals as well as the extrajudicial killings in fake encounters. Campaigns also need to build a strong action against custodial deaths.

Justice Rajinder Sachar
Saba Naqui
Dr. Ram Puniyani
Dr. Binayak Sen
Ajit Shahi

 

The jails are full of Soni Soris


 

Divya Trivedi, Hindu

Women prisoners reveal the shocking conditions of their confinement –custodial violence, which has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system

Following a minor altercation with the warden in Ward No. 8 of Tihar Jail, Zohara Baratali received severe blows on her lower abdomen that made her bleed for a full month before she succumbed to her injuries. That was a decade ago.

Last year, unable to bear the trauma of being stripped, beaten and sexually assaulted by three policemen inside Pratap Nagar Police Station in Jaipur, Seema Singh tried to end her life by jumping in front of a train. She did not die, but became a paraplegic for life. That did not deter the authorities from arresting her. Last week, the hearing for her bail application was adjourned, yet again.

The All India Meet on Women Prisoners & Custodial Violence held in Delhi on the weekend threw light on the plight of women prisoners in the country. Custodial violence, which is illegal and has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system, with Soni Sori’s case having brought it into the forefront. The speakers shared their concern over the use of women’s sexuality to torture and criminalize them, with police reports usually mentioning these women as those with ‘low’ character. According to them around 99.9 per cent of women prisoners in the country belong to the backward Dalit, Adivasi and minority communities.

Trade Union activist Anu said, “The class divide runs deep in jails. If you are dressed well and look affluent, you won’t be asked to do a lot of the work. But others have to be on their feet all the time, even an 80 year old woman is not spared.” Speaking of her days in Tihar Jail, Anu said that the moment one enters the jail, even as an under trial, the perception is that the person is a criminal and an atmosphere of fear is created. Violence and abuses are a part of that fear psychosis.

Rampant corruption goes hand-in-hand behind the bars, says Anu. The solar heating system that was installed with much fanfare at Tihar is non-operational till date. Instead, Rs 10 per bucket is charged for hot water from the langar. Inside the jail, a mobile phone costs Rs 15000, a charger Rs 2000, a sim card Rs 1500 and a missed call Rs 50. Well off or gunda-like criminals can afford these and also good food from the canteen.

There is space for 250 persons, but 500 occupy it. Fights for space are regular and ugly. “If a woman is charged with a crime, her mother in law is picked up from a remote corner of the country and locked up too. Entire families are languishing in jails. Many of them do not know even after five-six years in jail, why they were picked up in the first place,” said Anu.

Tihar is not the only overcrowded jail in the country. In Central India there are approximately 2,500 female under trials in jail, of which 2,000 are from Operation Green Hunt areas, said Sudha Bharadwaj from PUCL Chhattisgarh and an advocate. “Around 132 women are in the Jagdalpur jail, most of who were picked up in Naxalite cases.  The jails are badly overcrowded, and more than 20-30 are at times squeezed in rooms which have a capacity of 6,” she said. The jails sometimes have only one latrine for women, and that too with no door and in full view of male guards, she added.

In Naxalite areas, the military keeps tribal girls within their camps in the name of custodial protection. Why is there no paperwork in such cases, asks activist Indira. In conflict areas including Kashmir, women are in a particularly vulnerable position with heavy military presence and the recourse to justice non-existent. Anjum Zamarud Habib from Kashmir spoke about how basic rights get suspended the moment the police picks up someone. “Slaps, abuses, snatching at clothes. I fail to understand how one woman can do this with another woman?” she said.

A scientist by profession, Nisha who is also a rights activist experienced the worst humiliation of her life when she set her foot inside the jail, even though she escaped some of the bad treatment due to her city bred appearance. Shamim spoke of how female prisoners were not given sanitary napkins and had to use moth eaten blankets as pads. She spoke against the forceful and unnecessary pregnancy tests, where men are also present and the person conducting the test does not even change the gloves.

Though there is a law in place that women cannot be arrested by the police after sun down and before sun set, under AFSPA it has been happening in Kashmir. In even places like Bhopal women rag pickers belonging to the Pardhi community are randomly picked up. Pardhis are considered a criminal tribe even today and the perception is so strong that the Pardhi women and men are jailed for any ‘crime’ occurring in the neighbouring areas, Prema from Bhopal said.

“It is heartening that our judgments read out in Supreme Court say a lot of good things in English about dignity and rights. But the reality of local thanas is far removed from it all,” said Vrinda Grover, advocate and human rights activist.

Amongst strategies to fight custodial torture and sexual violence, the need for strong legal aids was stressed. Prison manuals clearly chalk out prison visitation rules but they are hardly adhered to. They must be made functional, felt the participants. The entrance and exit of police stations should have closed circuit television systems to keep track of who is coming and going, said Sudha Ramalingam, PUCL Tamil Nadu.

“What we have heard today is unacceptable in any civilised society and exposes our society’s double standards. Women should become rebellious, only then will real progress happen in India,” said Justice (Rtd) Rajinder Sachar

 

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