#India – For the love of justice #Chhattisgarh #Salwajudum


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Nandini Sundar   July 04, 2013

On July 5 2011, a Bench of Justice B Sudershan Reddy and Justice SS Nijjar of the Supreme Court delivered what is widely regarded as a landmark judgement, banning Salwa Judum by any name, and disbanding and disarming special police officers (SPOs) who had been responsible, along with security forces, for many human rights violations. 

The only activity that the erstwhile SPOs would be permitted was traffic and disaster management, and that too, only if they were innocent of any crimes.

The court ordered that criminal investigations and prosecutions be initiated in Chhattisgarh. Earlier that year, they had also directed that the security forces vacate all schools and ashrams, with the aim of restarting schools in the villages.

 

 

The Bench asked the CBI to investigate the March 2011 rapes, murder and arson in Tadmetla and neighbouring villages and subsequent events in which Swami Agnivesh was attacked while trying to deliver relief.

As Justice Reddy (now retired) said in a recent interview, had the Supreme Court’s orders been implemented, perhaps the May 25 attack could have been avoided. However, far from obeying the court, the governments in Chhattisgarh and the Centre have done everything possible to flout the order.

The Union of India attempted to have the order overturned through a review petition, but succeeded only in having it limited to Chhattisgarh. The government of Chhattisgarh responded by renaming all the SPOs, ‘armed auxiliary forces’ with effect from the date of the judgement, and giving them automatic weapons and higher salaries.

Schools are still occupied, no prosecutions have taken place, no victims of the violence perpetrated by Salwa Judum have received any compensation, and the CBI enquiry is still incomplete.

The CBI first visited Tadmetla in January 2012. In February, the Maoists killed one of the former SPOs, Kartam Surya, who had been accused of rape, and whom the state had been staunchly defending inside and outside court.

The SPOs then physically attacked the CBI team. They have now decided to conduct their enquiry out of Jagdalpur. In May this year, the villagers travelled 400 km to depose, including old men and breastfeeding mothers, leaving aside their annual tendu patta earnings.

The state government continues to stall all mention of a joint monitoring committee led by eminent independent persons, which alone can ensure that FIRs are registered, compensation given and some degree of normalcy restored.

In March 2012, the petitioners filed a contempt petition. There have been 13 listings since, but not one hearing. On six occasions, we sat in court but the matter was not heard because other cases before it took up all the time.

The matter was adjourned four times because despite asking and being given a ‘non-miscellaneous day’ by the court, the listing branch of the Supreme Court assigned it to a miscellaneous day. (Tuesdays to Thursdays are non-miscellaneous days, where matters can be heard properly while Mondays and Fridays are frenzied because a large number of fresh matters are considered for admission).

On three occasions, when everything was right — it was a non-miscellaneous day and our turn had come — Chhattisgarh’s counsel bought time on technicalities.

The only people to have benefitted from the Supreme Court litigation so far are the SPOs and the lawyers for the Chhattisgarh government, who have made lakhs in fees for delaying justice to starving adivasis.

Chhattisgarh’s litigation strategy is also to keep filing affidavits with the same data, but under different annexure numbers, in order to mislead the court. On the other hand, the lawyers for the petitioners, Ashok Desai and Nitya Ramakrishnan and their juniors, have put in years of pro-bono work (seven years already and still counting), at considerable personal cost.

Sumita Hazarika as the advocate on record (AOR) has gracefully filed endless affidavits. Our co-petitioner Kartam Joga suffered two-and-a-half years in jail on false charges, before being acquitted earlier this year.

My years of court observation have instilled an enormous respect for the judges whose daily workload involves reading voluminous briefs and listening to a series of complicated matters.

There has to be a system which is less cruel to them, as well as to PIL lawyers and ordinary litigants, such as more reliance on written documents and limited time for arguments, as is the case in other countries.

No litigant from outside Delhi can afford to keep coming for hearings. And no adivasis on their own could afford to fight such battles in the Supreme Court.

The security forces killed 25 innocent villagers, including several children, in two separate attacks — Sarkeguda in June 2012 and Edesmetta in May. The Maoists kidnapped Alex Menon, the district collector of Sukma, in March 2012, and killed 27 Congress leaders and workers in May.

Unless there is a breakthrough of some kind, there is no prospect of peace. Implementing court orders will not resolve everything but justice goes much further than anything else.

What is surprising is not that adivasis support the Maoists against the police. What is inspiring is how adivasis continue to believe in justice, to send letters to the court, to attend CBI hearings.

Hope is the hardest thing to extinguish in the human heart, and justice is the gossamer thread that binds people to the State.

Nandini Sundar is a litigant in the Salwa Judum case

The views expressed by the author are personal

Salwa Judum rape accused acquitted as victims turn hostile #Vaw


RAIPUR, June 15, 2013

Suvojit Bagchi

Six tribal girls filed rape charges against nine SPOs and three Salwa Judum leaders in 2009

Six of the fifteen men — including former Special Police Officers Kicche Nanda and Kawasi Mangalram — accused of raping six tribal women during the controversial Salwa Judum campaign in south Chhattisgarh have been acquitted by a sessions court in Dantewada after the women turned hostile and refused to recognise their alleged rapists.

As the Dantewada Judge, A.K. Beck, recorded, the complainants, all women from Samsetti, told the court that they “…do not know the accused Kicche Nanda or Kawasi Mangalram. The witness clearly stated that no incident (of rape) took place with them. They have not filed any complaints in the police station” or “in the court of Konta.”

In June 2009, exactly four years ago, six girls from Samsetti and other villages had filed rape charges against nine special police officers and 3 Salwa Judum leaders. The SP Dantewada refused to register a case; in an affidavit to the Supreme Court later, the Chhattisgarh government would say this was because the police had enquired with the accused, Salwa Judum leaders Boddu Raja, Soyam Mooka, and Dinesh, who denied any such charges. Since the word of the accused was what counted with the police, the girls were forced to file their complaints directly with the trial court.

Untraceable

On December 10, 2009, the trial court issued arrest warrants in all the cases, but noted that according to the police, the accused were all untraceable. For example, “In this case, accused Kartam Surya, Kovasi Mangal Ram, Kichche Nanda are absconding. There is no chance of finding them in near future. So, accused Kartam Surya, Kovasi Mangal Ram, Kichche Nanda are declared absconding. There is a permanent arrest warrant committal against them by the court.’

However, Judum leaders Soyam Mooka, Kartam Surya and the others who were allegedly “absconding” continued to be active as SPOs and members of the district force. Kartam Surya was later also accused of being involved in the burning of Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timapuram in 2011, on which the Supreme Court ordered the CBI to investigate.

The police refusal to arrest the Samsetti rape accused was repeatedly brought up before the Supreme Court, and on 25th April 2011, Harish Salve appearing for Chhattisgarh promised to have this looked into. No action was taken.

Kartam Surya, who was killed by the Maoists in February 2012, was given a guard of honour by the police.

This correspondent was in court when Era (name changed), the primary witness, retracted her statement. The adivasi woman, who could not speak or understand Hindi, was clearly confused and perhaps scared as the accused were sitting outside the court room.

One of the women who brought the allegations against the SPOs, Mira (name changed) said that she is “sick of outsiders.” “You do not come when we are in trouble, go away now,” she told this correspondent a few days after retracting the charges in the court. She even denied her existence. “I am not Mira,” she said.

With the men acquitted, the complainants and the accused will now return to the same villages or panchayats where they will live with each other as neighbours. The women of Samsetti, on their way to the market, will meet the men, who “did not rape” them. May be the men will get transferred after a point but the women will still have to meet one of the accused – Kartam Surya, the most feared policeman of Sukma.

Mr. Surya was killed last year but his statue adorns the village market in Sukma. A hundred kilometres north, in Dantewada, a court reader still shouts,‘Kartam Surya hazir ho?’ (Kartam Surya, present yourself), before every Samsetti hearing. In the judgment, however, he is described as “absconding”. The call for Kartam Surya will be heard for a few more months till the case concludes, a court clerk said, as he handed over the order sheets.

 

Two views of the crowd in Chhattisgarh’s jails


Ashutosh Bhardwaj : Jagdalpur, Mon Apr 08 2013, Tehelka
FPTribals of a Bastar village in a rally for prisoners’ rights.

Chhattisgarh‘s jails remain among the country’s most crowded, a finding that comes amid allegations from Maoists and activists that the government is unnecessarily keeping Bastar tribals prisoner after having promised to release them. The government, for its part, has denied it ever made such a promise, and stressed any decision on release is the prerogative of courts.For every 100 prisoners it has the capacity to accommodate, Chhattisgarh actually has 256, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau figures (till 2011). This is called occupancy rate. Chhattisgarh’s rate has gone up from 237 in 2010, then the highest for the country. Its 256 for 2011 puts it behind only Andaman & Nicobar Islands (500) and Lakshadweep (362), both of which have few prisons.

Maoists last week organised a “prisoners’ rights week” by tribals in interior villages of Bastar, accusing the government of going back on an agreement to expedite the release of their comrades and innocent villagers in exchange for Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon’s freedom nearly a year ago.

The government set up a “high-powered committee to review all cases” in which investigation and prosecution was pending. In the year since, the only release has been of Raipur-based Raja Dhruva, 22, on May 9, 2012. He was accused of violating the Excise Act.

“We never promised to release anyone. The agreement was to review pending cases,” says government spokesperson N Baijendra Kumar. “The committee has met many times, made many recommendations. These are in courts; they have to decide.”

DGP Ramniwas dismissed the Maoist allegations as propaganda and said the committee has recommended the release of over 60 undertrials and “it is for the courts to decide”. The government did refrain from opposing the bail of some top Maoist leaders whose release had been demanded. The bail pleas were, however, rejected in court.

In a state that topped Maoist-related violence in the last decade, and one with a large tribal population, most inmates lodged in Bastar jails under Maoist cases are indeed tribals.

In Jagdalpur Central Jail, of 546 prisoners accused of being Maoists or Maoist supporters, 512 are tribals, 53 of them women. This is according to the response to an RTI application by activist Swami Agnivesh. In Dantewada jail, the response said, 372 tribals are among 377 prisoners being held under such cases. In Kanker jail, tribals account for 134 out of 144.

Many such cases end in acquittal for lack of evidence. All 10 tribals accused in the Tadmetla incident, in which 76 cops had been killed in 2010, were acquitted recently. Soni Sori, accused of being a Maoist supporter, was acquitted in four of seven cases.

Activist Himanshu Kumar alleges “a systematic elimination of tribals” by booking them under false charges. Prison officials say the high tribal count is natural. “Maoists recruit their lower level members, Dalam and Sangham, from locals, mostly tribals. It’s the top Maoist leaders who are exploiting innocent tribals,” DG (Jail) Giridhari Nayak says.

The highest number of undertrials booked on Maoist-related charges are in Jagdalpur jail. How its 581 convicts (total inmates 1,638; capacity 629) are treated is the subject of another debate. The department terms it the “industrial jail” for the goods it produces; Maoists claim tribal convicts are forced to “work like cattle”.

The jail promotes weaving, carpentry, and metal and woodwork, the daily wages being Rs 15 for skilled labour and Rs 12 for unskilled. In 2011, its products were worth Rs 87 lakh. “Tihar jail with 5,000 convicts registered production of Rs 4 crore. If you consider production per convict, my jail will rank among the best in the country,” says superintendent Rajendra Gaikwad.

“It has become a sort of industrial jail. They can be absorbed in the society after their release,” says DG Nayak.

In a March 23 statement, Maoist leader Ganesh Uike said, “Jail officers make prisoners work as bonded labourers… several do not work, but their accounts get credited and the money goes to officers.” The department says Rs 75 lakh was given in 2011, half of which went to the families of their victims.

Arun Sarkar, 44, convicted of murdering his wife, is the jail accountant. “I learnt typing and computers here,” he says. Lingaram Kodapi, an accused in Essar-Maoist payoff case, too is lodged here. In letters he has written from jail, and which have surfaced, he has alleged torture by jail officials.

 

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