Targeting Academics

[Following is a slightly shortened version of a statement issued by AIFRTE on November 13, 2016]

All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE)is out raged by the FIR charging Professors Nandini Sundar (Delhi University) and Archana Prasad (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Vineet Tiwari of the Joshi-Adhikari Institute and Chhattisgarh state secretary of the CPI(M) Sanjay Parate among others with instigating the murder of an adivasi, Shamnath Baghel, in the Sukma district of Chhattisgarh. AIFRTE strongly condemns this targeting of two senior academicians and social activists who have a long and open academic and humanitarian involvement with the difficulties suffered by tribal communities caught between the on-going political battle between the State and the Naxalites. They are innocent of any wrong-doing or criminal act and yet they are now being harassed by a vindictive government and state machinery.

The Bastar area of Chhatiisgarh has been converted into a conflict zone because of the long pending conflict between the State and the 'Maoists'. This conflict reached its peak with the institutionalization of the Salwa Judum in 2005. The Special Police Officers (SPOs), a 'civilian' local counter insurgency force raised by security agencies in Bastar, became the first line of defense against the Maoists resulting in the creation of an antagonistic civil war type of situation. The claim that the 'Maoist problem' is largely a 'law and order' and 'internal security' problem had been countered by a committee of the Planning Commission as early as 2008 as it sketched the details of the material and political conditions which have led to the growing influence of Naxalism in the region. It identified the developmental challenges and warned against a purely militaristic approach towards Naxalism. It emphasized that if adivasi rights were not recognized and respected then the alienation between them and the rest of society was bound to grow. Subsequently, the Salwa Judum was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court which ordered that SPOs of any kind should not be used to combat insurgency. The Chhattisgarh government was forced to call off Salwa Judum, but its military offensive has intensified with Police, BSF and CRPF camps opened up in the most interior parts of Bastar Division. The escalation of the conflict has placed the villagers in a precarious position where they come under attack from both sides. It was in this situation that the delegation comprising of the above mentioned professors and socio-political activists visited Bastar Division from 12 to 16 May 2016. Their tour took them to the Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar and Kanker districts. The focus of the visit was to document the impact on ordinary villagers of the conflict between the state and Maoists. Though state repression, including fake encounters and arrests, and Maoist reprisals were found to vary somewhat across districts, the worst affected appeared to be Sukma district and the Darbha/Tongpal block of the Bastar district.

The findings of the study team led to a letter being submitted to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh with the following set of recommendations to the state government and its security forces:
1.    An immediate stop be put to the campaign of forced 'surrenders' and indiscriminate arrests. Those responsible for them should be punished.
2.   An immediate independent enquiry be initiated into arrests, surrender and atrocities alleged by the villagers including representatives of political parties and common citizens.
3.   Registration of complaints and FIRs against security personnel who have been accused of torture and rapes.
4.   A white paper be prepared and made public so that public scrutiny and transparency within operations is maintained.

Instead of taking these recommendations in the proper spirit as motivated by the desire to end the intimidation of innocent tribals, it is obvious that the recommendations submitted months ago were regarded with a vindictiveness that is unfortunately becoming a reprehensible feature of the central and slate governments run by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The particular targeting of academics, students and activists, and the unleashing of a shameful repression on all dissenting voices and the penchant to dub them all as 'anti-nationals', 'extremists', even 'terrorists' has become a scandal across universities and other institutions of higher learning. Students are being charged with sedition, subjected to murderous beatings by thugs and even kidnappings and now, after the reprehensible incarceration of the severely disabled Prof Saibaba, senior professors of the two most prestigious universities in the country and socio-political activists are being charged with murder.

It is important to note that it was on Prof Sundar's petition that the Supreme Court in 2011 had instructed the disbanding of the notorious Salwa Judum militia that mirrored complete lawlessness of local police. More recently, her intervention, with some others, in the Supreme Court, led to the CBI's having to investigate the role of several Special Police Officers (SPOs) in terrorizing hapless tribals and burning down houses in three villages in Bastar. Undoubtedly this is very much a reason for the serious charges levied against them in an FIR registered after an ill-fated killing that occurred six months after they had left the state after their essentially academic fact-finding visit. It also seems to be the basis for the intemperate media statements of Chhattisgarh's IG Police SRP Kalluri. The Bastar police, in a shockingly undemocratic and unprecedented move, has written to the vice-chancellors of Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University that an enquiry on such grievous charges is being conducted against them. It is obvious that the IG Police has the support and prompting of the State government.

Vol. 49, No.28, Jan 15 - 21, 2017