Tag Archives: Adivasis

IADHRI Demands Liberty and Justice for All Indian Citizens

Republic Day of India, 2013
Contact: iadhri.org@gmail.com

Calls for investigation and punishment of police officials Garg and Kalluri and withdrawal of their presidential medals

On January 26th, 2013, India celebrates its 64th Republic Day. The anniversary of the Indian Constitution’s adoption is always a time for not just celebration, but for reflection; a time to take stock of how far the nation has come in securing, for all its citizens, justice, liberty and equality as enshrined in the Constitution.

Over the last month, the rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi – a particularly brutal incident, yet only one in an endless series of similar crimes that are reported, month after month, if they are reported at all – triggered international shock and outrage. The incident served as a stark reminder that, decades after the adoption of the Constitution, the liberty to live our lives without fear remains unsecured. For women in many communities across the country, especially those on the economic and social margins, such as dalits and adivasis, this insecurity permeates the fabric of day to day life – sexual assault, violence, imprisonment and threats thereof are commonplace. In any discussion of the questions that the gang-rape in Delhi raises, it is to these women and to these communities that we must look: the truest measure of a society lies in how it treats those who have the least power. None of us is safer or freer than the most vulnerable among us.

In the last few weeks, there has been much discussion on how to make sure that survivors of rape and violence receive justice consistently and rapidly. It is worth remembering, as these discussions take place, the spectacular failure of our judiciary and democratic processes in delivering justice to Soni Sori, the adivasi school teacher and mother of three from Chhattisgarh who has been incarcerated since October 2011 [1]. A year ago this January 26th, India awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry to an officer, SP Ankit Garg, despite compelling medical evidence that Sori was tortured and sexually assaulted while under his custody [2].

This is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern of such incidents. In a bizarre repetition of last year’s act of rewarding-the-perpetrator, the Government of India has decided to confer the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service this Republic Day, January 26th 2013, to Inspector General of Police S.R.P. Kalluri, who has well-documented rape accusations against him in Chhattisgarh [3, 4].

Sori’s petition in the Supreme Court as well as the cases in which Sori has been falsely charged have been subject to repeated delays. In the interim, neither the elected Government, nor independent bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for Women (NCW), have instituted serious investigations into the indications that Sori was tortured- her fingers seem to have been blackened from electric shocks and doctors recovered stones that had been thrust into her vagina and rectum. Indeed, the NCW revealed last October that it had closed its inquiry into the case, and has remained silent since, apart from making an anodyne recommendation of providing psychological counseling to Sori [5]. Although, on January 8th 2013, the Supreme Court granted Sori’s plea to be shifted to Jagdalpur jail, to be closer to her family [6], she remains in the custody of those who stand accused of torturing her.

Sori has spoken to a legal team of the humiliation and violence that she and other women prisoners are routinely subjected to. Besides this, jails in Chhattisgarh have an occupancy rate of around 256%, with 13,918 individuals incarcerated in space built to accommodate 5,430. The all-India rate is 110% [7]. Between 2001-2010, an average of four individuals died each day in police custody [8].

What makes these statistics all the more disturbing is that a majority of those imprisoned are under-trials such as Sori, who have not been convicted of any crime. The prolonged detention of these individuals – often for years altogether, as their cases move sluggishly through the judicial system amounts to an unconstitutional deprivation of the liberty of lawfully innocent citizens.

Indeed, the state increasingly uses the process of trial as a punishment in itself, as in the case of Kartam Joga, a man who, for years, tirelessly sought accountability for human rights violations by state forces in Chhattisgarh. On January 7th, 2013, a trial court acquitted Joga of all of a panoply of fabricated charges [9]; an innocent man thus spent the past two and a half years of his life in jail. Lingaram Kodopi (Sori’s nephew), a 25-year old journalist who worked to document abuses by security forces, remains imprisoned, awaiting trial, even as local police officers have been recorded admitting that the charges against him are fabricated [1]. Kodopi has also suffered custodial violence [10]. Numerous others have been thus imprisoned on the weakest of grounds seemingly as punishment for criticising the state’s actions or for otherwise challenging local authorities. Although we welcome the release of Kartam Joga and others who have been put through similar ordeals, the state must cease its intimidation and harassment of those who seek to hold it accountable to its own people.

In the 2G spectrum case, the Supreme Court recently commented that “this court has time and again stated that bail is the rule and committal to jail an exception… The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty” [11]. This is a sound and practical principle; we ask that it be invoked not only in the trials of the influential but also in the trials of the weak and marginalized.

If we are to continue to place our trust in the rights that the Constitution upholds and seeks to guarantee every citizen in India, if we are to address the deep-rooted issue of violence against women, then we must be able to ensure liberty and justice to those who are the most vulnerable in our societies. To that end, we demand:

  • Ensure a speedy, free and  fair trials for Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi.

  • Conduct an independent and impartial investigation of incidents of sexual violence against women, including Soni Sori, committed by the police and other security forces; prosecute the responsible officers and impose exemplary punishment on those found guilty. Withdraw the Presidential Gallantry Awards given to Police Superintendent Ankit Garg and Inspector General of Police S.R.P. Kalluri.

  • Grant unconditional bail to undertrials from socially and economically marginalised communites, languishing in jails in Chhattisgarh and across India.

  • Ensure that all cases, particularly those against individuals from marginalised communities, are disposed of in a timely manner so that the process of securing justice is not a punishment in itself.

  • Constitute a grievance redressal mechanism for individuals who have been wrongly detained or subject to custodial violence.

International Alliance for the Defence of Human Rights in India (IADHRI)

[1] Tehelka: ‘The Inconvenient Truth Of Soni Sori’
http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne151011coverstory.asp

[2] The Hindu: ‘Soni Sori case: HRW wants PM to order impartial probe on torture’
http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/soni-sori-case-hrw-wants-pm-to-order-impartial-probe-on-torture/article2971330.ece

[3] Statement of protest and demand for withdrawal of Meritorious Service award to S.R.P. Kalluri
https://iadhri.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/statement-of-protest-and-demand-for-withdrawal-of-meritorious-service-award-to-srp-kalluri/

[4] Ledha Bai’s Statement Against S.R.P. Kalluri
https://iadhri.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/ledha-bais-statement-against-srp-kalluri/

[5]Tehelka: ‘NCW first shuts, then reopens Soni Sori’s case’
http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main54.asp?filename=Ws101012Chhattisgarh.asp

[6] Press Trust of India: ‘SC allows Soni Sori to be shifted to Jagdalpur Central Jail’
http://www.business-standard.com/generalnews/news/sc-allows-soni-sori-to-be-shifted-to-jagdalpur-central-jail/106440/.

[7]National Crime Records Bureau: http://ncrb.nic.in/PSI-2011/TABLE-2.1.pdf

[8]Tehelka:  ‘Four custodial deaths daily over the last decade’
http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main51.asp?filename=Ws211111HUMAN_RIGHTS.asp

[9]Amnesty International: ‘India frees prisoner of conscience Kartam Joga’
https://www.amnesty.org/en/news/india-frees-prisoner-conscience-kartam-joga-2013-01-08

[10] Committee to Protect Journalists: ‘In India, imprisoned journalist’s plea for help’
http://cpj.org/blog/2012/06/in-india-imprisoned-journalists-plea-for-help.php

[11] The Hindu: ‘‘Respect principle that punishment begins after conviction’’
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2652745.ece

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Statement on Bijapur Killings

International Alliance for the Defense of Human Rights in India (IADHRI) strongly condemns the recent killing of 17 adviasis, including 7 minors, by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel on the 28th of June in villages Rajpenta, Kottaguda and Sarkeguda in Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh.

Contrary to the claims by CRPF and the Home Minister of India that the deaths were the result of an encounter with Maoists, credible reports from independent fact-finding teams and the media suggest that the CRPF killed, without observing basic precautions, villagers who had gathered to plan for an upcoming seed sowing festival. These reports have been reinforced by testimony from villagers and eyewitnesses from outside the village, including media persons, who saw the bodies, before they were cremated, as having been brutalised with deep hacking cuts on the chests and foreheads.

The CRPF, rather than being the disciplined force it seeks to be, has shown little hesitation in killing unarmed villagers, dismissing these killings as encounters and those dead as Maoists is unacceptable. The prevarication by the Home Minister and the DIG of the CRPF regarding the authenticity of the killings is not only morally reprehensible, but should be culpable under the laws of the country as a dereliction of duty. While security forces have been given a license to kill people with impunity, the Home Minister of the country seems to treat innocent villagers as expendable, acceptable ‘collateral damage’, and shows little indication that he considers the continued violence that adivasis face at the hands of security forces, as an issue that needs to be fixed. By perpetuating this lack of accountability, the Home Minister is doing nothing less than encouraging extra-judicial killings. This should be criminal in a society that values human life.

It has become modus operandi for the state to use the claim that it is fighting Maoists to justify indiscriminate killings, quell dissent, displace communities, and pave way for the grab of land and mineral resources by powerful vested interests. The Home Ministry of India has been colluding with the administration of Raman Singh on this loot of public wealth (be it land, minerals, rivers or other vital resources), in the name of maintaining law and order. On the contrary, the denial of justice in cases such as the Bijapur massacre, does profound damage to the constitutional rights of all citizens of India and to prospects for peace in Chhattisgarh.

IADHRI demands that the State and Central Governments put an immediate halt to the “combing operations” that offer a cover for killing innocent people and destroying their villages. We  demand that those responsible for such reckless and indiscriminate killings, as well as those responsible for granting a carte blanche to security forces, face trial and be held answerable for their crimes.

We ask that the Governments of India and Chhattisgarh resume peace talks to secure justice and the well-being of all their people.

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