Many eminent lawyers, scholars, writers, artists, editors, journalists and other concerned citizens sign appeal to restore the rule of law in Bastar
Human-rights defenders, lawyers and academicians trying to bring justice to the victims of violence in Chhattisgarh – a state hit by insurgency and counter-insurgency – are facing intimidation and harassment. They are the targets of the anti-Maoists vigilante groups, allegedly sponsored by the state government.
In the last few months, activists have become a target in the region for voicing their dissenting views. Besides, the police and security forces, private vigilantes have also participated in recent acts of harassment. Initially, it was Salwa Judum (now banned by the supreme court), then the Samajik Ekta Manch, and more recently the so-called Action Group for National Integration (AGNI).
Video footage of the recent attack on Bela Bhatia was circulated by one AGNI member on social media. Bela Bhatia, a scholar and an activist is a recent victim of the intimidation. On January 23, 30 men from a vigilante group barged into her house in Parpa village (outside Jagdalpur), threatened to burn it, and told her to leave within 24 hours or face the consequences.
To oppose this poor functioning of state machinery, as many 125 people from different walks of life like economists, historians, journalists, senior lawyers and actors like Sharmila Tagore, Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi have appealed for restoration of law and order in Bastar.
They have asked for unrestricted access to the area, without interference, to all activists and others concerned with human rights violations. An appeal has been made asking security forces and other state institutions to act within the law and constitution without supporting any vigilante groups and take action against those violating human rights.
The human rights situation in Bastar has come under persistent criticism from the national human rights commission (NHRC), the National Commission for Women (NCW), the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, the supreme court, and other respected institutions created for overseeing the protection of human rights and civil liberties.
In the last few months, several cases of human rights violation have been reported. The Jagdalpur Legal Aid (JAGLAG) group had to leave the area after their landlord came under pressure from the police. Journalists Malini Subramaniam from Scroll and Alok Putul from the BBC were also forced to leave, and many local journalists (Lingaram Kodopi, Santosh Yadav, Samaru Nag, among others) have been harassed in one way or the another. Soni Sori, Manish Kunjam and other outspoken leaders of parties such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Communist Party of India (CPI) have been routinely threatened or attacked.
Members from a team of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists who recently visited Bastar from Andhra Pradesh and Telengana were promptly booked under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.
Also, an FIR has been lodged by the police against sociologist Nandini Sundar and her colleagues, accusing them of murder. Last October, uniformed personnel of the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force burnt the effigies of six human rights activists in public, calling them “anti-national” – no action has been taken against them.