Caught in Cross Fire
The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) strongly condemns the shocking action of the Chhattisgarh state police and district administration threatening criminal prosecution against a team of academics and members of the CPI and CPI(M) parties who had visited Kanker, Bastar, Dantewada and Sukma districts of Southern Chhatrisgarh between 12th to 15th May, 2016 to enquire into the conditions of life of ordinary adivasis caught in the conflict between the State and the Maoists. This is apart from the vicious witch hunt launched by the district police against all local tribals who accompanied and assisted the team during the Fact Finding visit.

The fact finding team consisted of Prof Nandini Sundar of Delhi University, Prof Archana Prasad of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Shri Vineet Tiwari of Joshi-Adhikari Institute, Shri Sanjay Parate, State Secretary, CPI(M) also accompanied the team. The team visited many village between 12 and 15 May 2016 and released to the press its preliminary findings of the very serious humanitarian crisis prevailing in this area. The team pointed out the human rights violations suffered by the ordinary adivasis at the hands of both parties to the conflict—fake encounters and fake surrenders and arrests by the State as well as arbitrary beatings and killings by the Maoists. The FFT also pointed out the extreme distress experienced by villagers caught in the cross fire in a situation reminiscent of the "Salwa Judum" which had caused widespread displacement, divisions in the Adivasi society and destruction of their lives and livelihoods. The Fact Finding Team has appealed to all political parties, the Central and State Governments, as well as to the Maoists to urgently address this situation.

What is shocking and deplorable is that the State police, instead of providing their response to the findings of the FFT, has chosen to sponsor a ridiculous and politically motivated allegation against the team that "they are JNU professors who threatened the villagers to side with Maoists". In an unprecedented move the District Collector, Mr Amit Kataria, has irresponsibly propagated the allegations by posting in his Facebook page, a so-called complaint in the name of local villagers demanding a FIR against the FFT. This has been done even before any investigation has even started.

This raises the crucial issue of the ethical and legal propriety of the District Collector posting in a public fora like social media, such a complaint even before it is verified. It is unfortunate that the high office of the District Collector, who is expected to behave in a restrained, independent and balanced manner, has degenerated to indulging in political propaganda to whip up hate campaign filled with hostility, hysteria and hype against anyone exposing the role of the police and state administration in creating the war like situation that has enveloped the life of adivasis in the Bastar area.

Even a cursory reading of the so-called complaint of the villagers does not inspire confidence about its authenticity and indicates that it is a fabricated complaint. In a move symptomatic of the antagonistic manner in which the state government, district police and administration responds to any critical assessment of its role in creating a situation surcharged with fear, intimidation and terror for ordinary villagers, the Home Minister and Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh have supported these baseless allegations and said that they would be "thoroughly investigated".

Over the past few months the Chhattisgarh government has been continuously hounding journalists, lawyers and social activists who are raising serious issues of human rights violations and has been criticised for wanting "a war without witnesses". Such motivated and hostile actions of the State Government are clearly abuse of the process of law, illegal, unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Dr V Suresh,
National General Secretary, PUCL
Prof Prabhakar Sinha,
National President, PUCL

Vol. 48, No. 51, Jun 26 - Jul 2, 2016