Nandini Sundar, Archana Prasad case: Stop witch hunt, Drop false implication
The People’s Union of Civil Liberties strongly condemns the action of the Chhattisgarh police in registering an FIR (Cr. No. 27/2016 PS Tongpal dated 5.11.2016) against DU Professor Nandini Sundar, JNU Professor Archana Prasad (also of AIDWA), Vineet Tiwari of the Joshi-Adhikar Institute and of the CPI, and Sanjay Parate of the CPI(M), villagers Mangla of Soutenar Namapara and Manju Kawasi of Gadiras in the case of the murder of a villager Samnath Baghel, from Soutenar Namapara village in Sukma on 4th November, 2016. While the death of this villager is deeply regretted and deserves to be diligently investigated, the FIR itself indicates that there is absolutely no connection between his murder and these human rights defenders. PUCL strongly denounces the Chhattisgarh police for concocting a frivolous and malafide FIR, and demands that charges against them be dropped immediately.
PUCL especially denounces the reported threats issued by the IG of Bastar Range, Mr. SRP Kalluri to send special teams to Delhi arrest these academics. Apart from being a sheer abuse of the law laid down by the SC in `Joginder Kumar vs. State of UP’ case (1994) and `Lalitha Kumari’ case (2014) in which the SC has said arrest is not required in all cases and summons is sufficient requirement of law to ensure investigation, such brazen threats and intimidation are meant to silence others from daring to challenge police lawlessness.
The PUCL notes that in the above FIR, the wife of the deceased has claimed that her husband was killed by Maoists, who said that he was being punished for not following the directives of a fact-finding team lead by Dr. Sundar which had visited the village in May 2016. Even if we are to believe that an unlettered village woman can clearly remember and repeat the six unfamiliar names above, which she heard during this incident under very dire circumstances, and even accepting this unlikely story in its entirety, it is evident that no crime can be made out in the FIR against the members of the fact finding team and they certainly cannot be held accountable and implicated for murder on the basis of this statement. However, in a move characteristic of the malicious and vindictive nature of the Chhattisgarh police, all six members of the fact-finding team have been booked under serious charges including IPC sections 302 (punishment for murder), 450 (house trespass), 147, 148, 149 (rioting and participation in unlawful assembly), 120(B) criminal conspiracy, sections 25, 27 of Arms Act, and now also, sections 23, 38(2) and 39(2) of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The allegation about the involvement of Prof. Nandini Sundar and other academics, on the face of it, appears artificial, contrived and fanciful and manufactured to somehow rope in the academics and rights defenders from outside the area using the charge of conspiracy.
The hostile actions of the Chhattisgarh police against these academics and activists especially pushed forward by Mr. SR Kalluri, IG of Bastar, have to be seen against a long history of persecution of anyone who attempts to highlight the state of police lawlessness that prevails in the Adivasi region. Some of the events involving these academics and activists are described below:
- In May 2016, the FF team of the above-named academics and rights defenders had gone to village Soutenar and Kummakoleng where they documented how some villagers were being forced into police and CRPF camps on the pretext of “surrenders”, while others were fleeing the villages for the fear of backlash from Maoists.
- Instead of responding to the suggestions of the team for a political dialogue between all stakeholders, including the government and the Maoists, the Bastar police and the Chhattisgarh political establishment launched a vicious campaign against the members accusing them of instigating villagers against the government and calling them “anti-nationals”. At that time, the police also got a few villagers to write a complaint against the visiting fact-finding team, which the District Collector promptly displayed on his personal facebook page – a clear breach of criminal law and legal propriety. The move also indicated the hostility of the District Administration, police and Chhattisgarh government to any expose of the police and government’s role in creating lawlessness and breakdown of the criminal justice system in the Adivasi dominated Bastar region.
- Prof. Nandini Sundar was one of the petitioners in the notable `Salwa Judum’ case (WPC 250 of 2007, pending before the Supreme Court), in which the apex court had held government policies of arming vigilante groups to be unconstitutional. The government’s role in arming vigilante groups came in for adverse comment and was also deprecated by the apex court.
- In one of the interim orders of the Salwa Judum case, the apex court ordered the CBI to investigate the incidents in Morpalli, Tadmetla and Timapuram villages of Chhattisgarh resulting in the killing of 3 men, rape of 3 women and burning down of over 250 houses between 11th to 16th March, 2011; and also the attack on Swami Agnivesh when he went to deliver relief supplies on 26th March 2011.
Confirming the state complicity in lawlessness of security forces and the false staging of encounters and actual commission of violence against uninvolved villagers, in October, 2016 the CBI filed a chargesheet, in this case, implicating 323 Special Police Officers (SPOs) / policemen as well as 114 personnel of COBRA and 30 personnel of CRPF as having participated in these operations of arson, killings and rape. The police and Chhattisgarh government had in 2011 strongly refuted involvement of security forces in violence on villagers and instead continuously alleged that it was the Maoists and villagers themselves who had burnt down the houses.
- The contempt for rule of law and their disdain for the Supreme Court’s orders was exhibited by the state police in their response to the SC’s October, 2016 order. The Chhattisgarh police publicly burnt effigies of Nandini Sundar and other human rights activists who have been questioning police tactics – including Manish Kunjam, Soni Sori, Himanshu Kumar, Bela Bhatia and journalist Malini Subramaniam – and chanting slogans “Goli maron salon ko” (“shoot them with bullets”). That this public burning of effigies took place in a coordinated manner at the same time on the same day, in front of the district police offices of all seven districts of Bastar under the command of IG Mr. SRP Kalluri clearly indicates that this illegal action had obtained sanctions from the highest levels. It will be useful to note that the CBI investigating team itself met serious threats and intimidation from the state police while completing investigations.
PUCL strongly condemns the Bastar police and Bastar IG Mr. SRP Kalluri for subverting law and vitiating the environment with terror and hostility to such an extent that it has now become impossible for anyone – journalists, academics, lawyers, Adivasi rights leaders or human rights workers – to carry on with their work.
It should be noted that 5-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in `Lalita Kumari v the State of UP’, (2014) has held that “the police can foreclose a FIR before investigation when it is evident that there is no ground to investigate the same,” which is certainly the case in the current FIR.
Keeping in mind the vindictive nature of Chhattisgarh police and their long history of repeatedly persecuting Prof Sundar and human rights workers over fictitious matters, PUCL demands:
- The Chhattisgarh Police should immediately stop any coercive action and desist from arresting Prof. Nandini Sundar, Professor Archana Prasad, Vineet Tiwari, Sanjay Parate, and other persons who were part of the Fact Finding Team in May, 2016 based on the trumped up FIR, (Cr. No. 27/2016 PS Tongpal dated 5.11.2016).
- Investigation of the murder case in (Cr. No. 27/2016 PS Tongpal dated 5.11.2016) be immediately handed over to a central, independent investigating agency, such as the CBI.
- In view of the seriousness of the issue and the possibility of arrest of the academicians, the NHRC should immediately intervene and direct the police to follow the law and not arrest the academics and activists.
- The NHRC should also take note of the repeated subversions of the criminal justice system by the Chhattisgarh Police, to implicate innocent persons for political ends and their continued violation of fundamental rights and human rights of tribals and others in Bastar area in particular and order a Full-fledged Enquiry.
- Finally, the PUCL demands that disciplinary and criminal action should be initiated against all police officials, from the SHO to the senior-most IG, who have been involved in contriving this FIR and malevolently subverting the law of the land in order to incriminate Prof Sundar and other members of her team.