No Celebration Goes Unpunished

By Nityanand Jayaraman

A few days ago, India celebrated its 60th year of parliamentary democracy. Meanwhile, in many corners of the country, democracy was being celebrated through the fundamental acts of standing up and speaking out. In Jagatsinhpur, Orissa, a community had closed itself within the village of Dhinkia refusing to yield to police pressure, enticements and threats, and refusing to allow the Korean steel major POSCO to take over their fertile lands to set up a steel plant. A courageous tribal teacher – Soni Sori – is being treated in a hospital in Delhi. She celebrated democracy by speaking out against maoists and the armed police in Chattisgarh. For this, the police shoved stones down her vagina, after our judiciary in Delhi handed her over to police custody despite her fears that she’d be tortured in custody. The survivors in Bhopal — who have seen nearly a dozen prime ministers and their false promises, more than a 1000 demonstrations, several dozen hunger strikes, more than 2000 kms in padayatras — staged a rail blockade last December, a few days before the 26th anniversary of the disaster. They wished to pressure the State Government and the Indian Government to present true figures of the numbers of people injured or killed. The state response was brutal: lathi charge, tear gas lobbed. Cases of attempt to murder and wielding deadly weapons were lodged against more than 2000 people, including 80-year old women barely capable of wielding their walking sticks.

In Koodankulam, Tamilnadu, fisherfolk, farmers and traders who are voicing their concerns over the risks posed by a nuclear power plant in their neighbourhood are being hounded by the State. A total of 287 FIRs have been filed in just one police station – Koodankulam P.S. – between September 2011 and April 2012 implicating more than 55000 people. The criminal charges foisted on them range from unlawful assembly to sedition and waging war against the state. At least 3500 people are known to have been charged with sedition and waging war against the state. Details of 178 FIRs are not yet available. FIRs are not being disclosed. One has to go to court to get a copy of the FIRs. Holding demonstrations, conducting hall meetings, printing posters, distributing handbills and voicing opinions critical of nuclear energy [are all] banned in the district of Tirunelveli. The restrictions are relaxed as you move away from the epicentre. But they can still be felt even in Chennai where the police denies permission for protests against nuclear energy.

Such a crackdown on free speech needs to be condemned by all who set store by democratic values. But we live in curious times. Even the media condones this intrusion into the most fundamental of constitutional rights. The media rightly resisted the dangerous proposals by the Supreme Court or the Press Council chairman to regulate and control media freedom in this country.  Yet the same media condones and even participates in the denial of [the rights of] Idinthakarai residents to speak out against a project that they feel will change their lives forever, for the worse. Regardless of one’s point of view on nuclear energy, the assault on free speech requires greater scrutiny and critique.

On 14 May, 2012, Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle organised a public hearing. Justice (Retd) A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of Madras and Delhi High Courts, presided over the hearings. Advocate Geeta Ramaseshan and Prof. Prabha Kalvimani assisted him. In the course of the hearings, members of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy deposed live from Idinthakarai over skype. Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan deposed live from Delhi over skype. Twelve people from villages around Idinthakarai spoke about how their lives have been made living hell by the police and intelligence officers. Lawyers assisting and observing the abuse of the Indian Penal Code submitted analyses of the cases against the protestors. Human Rights Protection Committee, the organisation that is assisting the protestors with their bail applications, presented an analyses and their experiences, while People’s Union of Civil Liberties made a submission on the absurdity of the cases filed. Meera Udayakumar, wife of PMANE convenor S.P. Udayakumar, and Porkodi, wife of Muhilan, an activist that has been in jail and denied bail since 19 March, spoke about the harassments and psychological trauma they have faced in the last few months. Revathi, a friend of Satish Kumar – the other young activist jailed for having the gumption to speak out – spoke about how Satish was blindfolded and beaten, hand-cuffed and led to court as if he was a terrorist. All this, for the crime of speaking out.

The public hearing was livestreamed, and a recorded version of the proceedings can be viewed at livestream.com.

Below is the transcript of the interim statement given by Justice (Retd) AP Shah to the media at a press briefing after the public hearing. The final report is to be released within a week.

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STATEMENT OF JUSTICE AJIT PRAKASH SHAH

It is very easy for all of us – I stay in Delhi; I need a/c; I need electricity as do all of you from Madras. We are away from Koodankulam. Those 70,000 farmers and those fishermen; who cares for them? Life is very cheap in our country. So we think in our terms. “Oh, there is electricity shortage. What should we do?” We don’t even think about it. It is only 2.36 percent that comes from nuclear energy. There are ways and means [of generating electricity from other sources], but I’ll not go into that. Lastly, about the risk factor. Japan, just imagine, it is one of the most advanced countries, and till the accident happened, they claimed that their nuclear reactors are absolutely safe. And then, the Japanese Government has decided to abandon nuclear energy altogether. And there are four other countries which have put a moratorium on nuclear energy – Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Three countries. They have declared that they will not be using nuclear energy from now on. I don’t want to enter into any kind of argument with [our scientists]. I have great respect for them. They say there is zero percent chance of any mishap. That is too tall a claim. When they say that there is zero percent chance, they also say that “we’ll have a review of all the projects, all the nuclear power plants.” So naturally, there is a fear. Now, on this fact alone, there is a worldwide concern over nuclear energy. You want to contain these 70,000 people, because they protest against nuclear energy? And what is it that they want to say? See their demands. Very reasonable. Every project, even a project involving 50 crore rupees on public land is required to conduct a public hearing and a EIA — environmental impact assessment. You won’t believe this, but EIA for Koodankulam project was conducted in 1988 – 22 years back, when there were no rules. And the EIA was required only for the allocation of money from the Planning Commission. There was no people’s hearing. There was nothing. So, even that EIA was not released to the people. They should conduct a fresh EIA. That is their demand.

The second demand is – they have conducted a safety analysis. So why not release it to them? Let the people understand that they have conducted the analysis, and that these are the issues. Please talk to them, and satisfy them that it is not. . .that it is risk-free or relatively risk-free. The next is site evaluation. There has been concern on this, because this comes in a seismic area. That is the claim. That report is also not available to people. I want to tell you that Areva’s CEO came to India. Areva is the company which is setting up plants in Jaitapur. According to him, whenever you put up a power plant, you should do it in consultation with people, because people should be completely convinced that there is no risk to their lives. Now, you don’t even supply to them the basic documents. Secondly, what about the risks? Suppose that something happens. What is the great hurry in rushing with the project?

In a democratic country, we have the right of a peaceful protest; right to assemble is a fundamental right; right to gather in a public place and protest is a fundamental right if it is not disturbing the public tranquility. The right to free speech and expression is the most fundamental right of all. Supreme Court says that – there is no hierarchy of rights but it is the arc of all fundamental rights. It is definitely the most fundamental of rights. I have certain views. People may say that nuclear energy is good for the country, and some people may say that it is bad for the country. When I say that I have serious doubts about nuclear energy, will you brand me as anti-patriotic, as anti-national, as a person who should be charged with sedition or waging war against the state? What have these people done? They have protested against this particular plant. And there is not a single incident of violence. And what have the state authorities done? There are analyses produced before us of the cases instituted against them. Can any one of you explain to me how a peaceful protest against a nuclear plant, where people say that “we do not want a nuclear plant in our place,” amounts to sedition? Which ingredient of sedition is established here? Then you also invoke the provision related to waging war against the country. Where is the question of waging war against the country? They are residing there. They are concerned. In Chernobyl, the entire area – Chernobyl happened in 1986. Today, the entire area in 30 km radius is not permissible for human habitation. The reason is that the radiation effects are lingering. People are afraid. They are asking questions to you. And then, apart from anything else, you go on filing cases against them, not only cases are filed, but the other thing is cases against whom? There are thousands of people. Every possible provision in IPC is invoked. And then, you don’t investigate the cases. Those that are [not clear] you ensure that they don’t get bail. You are slapping new charges against them. Not only that. Bus service is curtailed. Other facilities are denied. Most shockingly, a professor came here, an associate professor of [Manonmaniam] Sundaranar University. He said they wanted to organise a debate on nuclear energy. So the IB chief warned them “what business? You should not hold this debate.” So you cannot have a discussion on this? Are we living in a democratic country or not?

We celebrated with great flourish the 60th year of parliamentary democracy. Is it parliamentary democracy that when a person is peacefully protesting, you file FIRs against him under most sections under IPC? It is not fair. It is not the way state authorities should deal with citizens. These citizens have some serious concerns. Here, they say Christian community. In Jaitapur, there are no christian communities. In Jaitapur, what I heard is something extraordinary. They say that people from outside Jaitapur are coming there. This is one country. So why cannot we go?

According to me, if you want the proof that democracy is alive in this country, I would say that this 70,000 people’s protest or their protest is an indication that there is a democracy in this country. We can debate and protest. They can continue with their protest for ten years. You must talk to them. I’m saying. . .my suggestion, my appeal to the state authorities, and my appeal also to those who are sitting on fast, is please withdraw these. Let them withdraw their agitation. Let the documents, whatever is possible – I’m not saying the Information Commission has said all these documents have to be given, that is ultimately for the courts to decide – but where there is no national security, no issues, information should be given to people. Please talk to them. Please understand their grievances. Perhaps, they will accept. They will be convinced. When you say that democracy is by the people, for the people, of the people, you cannot ignore people’s protest in this fashion. We, living in cities, we have no right to condemn this agitation because our interest is in a different sense — that electricity supply will be augmented etc.

I feel that it is high time that both the state authorities and the agitators should change their positions and have a dialogue. It doesn’t augur well for the country where a section, a sizable section of people are persecuted because they are opposed to a certain project.

How to Kill a Tribal in a Free State

A few days ago, on the run, Soni Sori appeared in the TEHELKA office, desperate but resolute. “You have to help me tell the truth to the world,” she said. “My well-wishers in Delhi are advising me to give myself up to the police and fight this in court but I’m innocent so why should I agree to be arrested? I’m educated and I know my rights. If I have done anything wrong I’m happy to go to jail, but before they accuse me, shouldn’t the police show some evidence against me?”

Shoma Chaudhary writes in TEHELKA the story of Soni Sori and her nephew, Lingaram Kodopi.

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Where Individuality Means Waging War Against The State

by Javed Iqbal

The Curious Case Of Lingaram Kodopi

Testimonies from the burnings of the villages of Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram were also collected by Lingaram and can be found on youtube here.

I got a call around midnight in the Delhi summer. It was Lingaram, the young Muria adivasi from Sameli village in Dantewada, then studying in Noida’s International Media Institute of India. Linga’s misfortunes never seem to end: first he was accused of helping the Maoists, then tortured in the police station toilet, forced to be a Special Police Officer, then released with the help of a habeas corpus petition. In a few months, he would be dealing with encounter killings in his village that left three dead, to only add to the targetting of his family members by the Chhattisgarh police, and then to be accused in a press conference by Senior Superintendent of Police Kalluri of being a mastermind of an attack on a Congress leader and the sucessor to Maoist leader Azad.

‘Javed bhai,’ He asked me that night in Delhi, ‘do you know where I can get a Che Guevara t-shirt?’

Silence.

‘Linga, you wear that T-shirt in Dantewada, you’d be the first man in jail.’

Lingaram chuckled uncontrollably.

Prankster.

A young man who is repeatedly targetted by the state of Chhattisgarh wants to wear a t-shirt with a face of a revolutionary while he traipses around the forests as a newly-trained video journalist, with the clearest of intentions of trying to help his people.

That alone, is his first crime against the state. Lingaram wants to help the adivasis, his own people, which means, to ensure them a fair stake in their forests, their lands, and their rights, which is completely against the policies of the state of Chhattisgarh. That alone, is a crime. That alone, makes him a Maoist sympathizer.

A simple idea, enshrined in the idea of the dignity of the human being: that he should not be shot, that she should not be raped, that they should not lose their children to war, that they should not lose their forests and their way of life to the profit margins of companies, and the idea of economic growth.

Lingaram was arrested again on the 9th of September, 2011 from his village of Sameli in Dantewada, for allegedly facilitating Essar Steel’s payment of protection money to the Maoists.

He was arrested along with B.K Lala, a contractor.

That Essar Steel pays the Maoists is a fact that was well-known in Dantewada. In 2009, when the Maoists blasted the 267km pipeline that carried iron ore slurry to Vishakapatnam, one local journalist was quick to quip: ‘It’s collection time!’

Essar Steel pays local journalists too to keep their mouths shut. That also everyone knew. Local journalists need to collect their own advertising revenue and they get that from companies.

As for Essar Steel paying the Maoists, this is no new phenomena. Contractors and companies have paid the Maoists in almost all the districts where they have a ‘liberated zone’. You don’t cut a single beedi leaf or mine a single rock of ore without paying the Maoists.

Lingaram, would’ve been one of the rarest breeds of journalists in a district of Muria and Koya adivasis: he would be one who knew Gondi, who spoke the language of the people in the furthest hills, with the quietest whispers.

His story on the Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram burnings is available on youtube, and his story quotes adivasis who want justice, who want ‘karvai’, nor ‘kranti’, they want investigations, not anything else. It is there for everyone to see, called ‘Dantewada burning 1.mov

Linga knew his district too and what his people would tell you. He would tell you that the development by the Essars and Tatas is not development for his people. He would tell you how even though the National Mineral Development Corporation and the Bailadila mines have been around since the 1960s, it has not brought any upliftment to the hundreds of adivasi villages around it.

But why is he really in jail?

The state of Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi is meant to behave. You don’t organize, you don’t agitate, you don’t protest human rights violations, you don’t protest against the state, and you certiainly don’t protest against industrial development, which the drafters of the new Land Acquisition bill will tell you in the introduction to the bill, that ‘urbanization is inevitable’….. and these adivasis better understand that.

Lingaram joins all the other adivasis who stood up for their rights and started to ask questions about the kind of development that was thrown onto them without a choice: Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA was given death threats and has been living on borrowed time, Kartam Joga, Supreme Court petitioner against the Salwa Judum who is in jail on absurd charges, Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist who refused to be bought by the state.

They’re all guilty of trying to help their people.

The Maoists too, claim to help the Adivasis. And while some people would like to ensure that those two things, ‘the Maoists’ and the ‘adivasis’ are the same thing, there’s also another adivasi voice dissenting amidst the dissenters that says, ‘but they kill our own people.’ Lingaram, the so-called Maoist sympathizer, would last call me when he needed help to ensure his uncle could get treatment after the Maoists shot him in his leg.

Linga also had that voice, the voice to profess his complete independence: free of being called something. I still remember the one thing he said with most emphasis, the first time I met him: ‘I just want to be my own person.’

Individuality, according to the state of Chhattisgarh, is also called Waging War Against the State now. Individuality would mean, that a young boy who is being forced by two warring parties to come to their side, doesn’t need to choose his allegiances but can be his own person.

**

A Brief Note on Kuakonda Block: Lingaram’s Testimony

One day in Kuakonda block: a mother and her child look on as security forces who commandeered their vehicle return to base camp, about thirty minutes after an IED blast that injured three security personnel and led to the arbitrary detention of four adivasis, including a young boy. The incident took place on the 2nd of May, 2009.

Lingaram had given a testimony in the Independent People’s Tribunal in Delhi on the 9th of April, 2010, three days after the Tadmetla killings that left 76 security personnel dead. The entire testimony is here:

“My name is Lingaram, from Sameli, Dantewada. I am a driver and my family has a car, in which I can ferry people. We have some land on which we farm. I am not very literate.

I was watching TV at home, around September last year. Five motorcycles came, with 10 people, who were holding AK 47s. They took me to Koukonda. They asked me questions such as “where did you get the bike from? How do you go about in style?” My family is fairly comfortably off, but they accused me of being a Naxalite. They tortured me and wanted me to become an SPO.

In the meanwile, my family members filed a writ of habeus corpus. I should have been released. But they kept threatening me that I would either be killed by them—in a fake encournter, or by the Naxalites. Finally, I agreed to be an Special Police Officer. They took me for the Court hearing and kept me in a fancy hotel—but before the judge, I said that although I have come here of my own will, I now wish to return to my family and village. So the police had to let me go.

But on the way back, while I was being accompanied by my family and villagers in cars, the security forces stopped us again, and arrested me again and were trying to force me to go back to the police station. However, I managed to flee, but my brother was taken by them instead. A few days later, they again came for me. And have been threatening my father also.

I have been living in hiding since. The police are still looking for me.

Who is not grieved by the killings of 76 people? But I feel that even though the stated target of the police is the naxalites, the real target is somewhere else? Why are we (adivasis) being harassed by the police because of what the Naxalites do? Why can’t we adivasis wear a good watch, drive a car without being picked up by the police?

Our village has 1800 people, the block has 30,000 people.

I fear that because of what has happened recently (the killing of 76 security forces), the entire town of Chintalnar will be razed. Just because of coming here to testify, God knows what will happen to me. But I have to die in any case, how long can I live in hiding?

There is news that some mineral has been discovered in the hills close to our village. And I think that is the real reason that the police is there, not because of the Naxalites.

We have a Gram Panchayat but it has no meaning. It is full of Marwaris and non-tribals. If we write and send them something, they bury it and make sure that it doesn’t reach any of the authorities. We have no education, no health, nothing. Calling us Naxalites is simply an excuse to terrorize us.

We have a school in our village upto the 5th class. The teachers come for only one day in a month, and collect a full month’s pay. We want real education.

The only time the politicians come is during the elections. No one comes to our areas except the police force. We complained about the teachers—but to no avail. We are told that till Maoists are there, we can’t get any relief. When we tell the Maoists we want education, they tell us that they aren’t here for us, adivasis, but for a ‘class war’.

There is no NREGA in our region. We were organized under an organization to collect forest produce, but were told that we are Naxalites. How is it that the Marwaris can come and steal our forest produce and make high profits, but when we, adivasis try to collect it, we are called Naxalites?

We get enough from our land to feed us. What is development? NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but has only caused destruction. Naxalites don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either. If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 km from us and has been there before the Naxalites, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years! When our Adivasis go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.”

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The author is a 27 year old freelance journalist, who has worked as an investigative reporter for The New Indian Express from November 2009 to April 2011. This article has been reprinted from his blog ‘moon chasing‘. Anabridged version of this article was printed in DNA on 26 September 2011.

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