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05 June, 2008

Murder of activist Lalit Mehta in Jharkhand: demand for CBI probe

The following is a message received from the Rights Support Centre (

Dear Friends,

This has reference to Lalit Mehta's murder at Palamau in Jharkhand. Lalit was a full-time activist of the Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand, and Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, Jharkhand and secretary of Vikas Sahayog Kendra, a local organization operating in the Palamau, Garhwa and Latehar districts.

Lalit’s life was snuffed out on 14 May, 2008. He was barely 36. Lalit leaves behind his wife Ashrita, who is an activist and teacher, and two sons aged four and two.

Lalit was a committed activist, who fought relentlessly for implementation of government programmes, especially those related to food, employment and child rights. He along with local people has been demanding the implementation of the Public Distribution System and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) entitlements.

Lalit was killed for raising his voice against corruption in the implementation of the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Palamau. He was helping a team of volunteers led by noted economist and Right to food activist Prof. Jean Dreze to conduct a social audit of NREGA works in Chainpur and Chatarpur blocks of Palamau district.

It is indeed ironical that Rights -- which are guaranteed by the Constitution and by various statutes, programmes and budgetary allocations and reinforced by the Supreme Court of India as legal entitlements -- do not get implemented by the authorities responsible for it. In this situation, the task of implementation often falls on the shoulders of people, of right holders and of civil society organizations. And when such democratic forces seek the implementation of these Rights under the Rule of Law framework, vested interests gang up with the bureaucracy and commit such brutal murders and get away.

Lalit's murder is not the first such instance. Many activists have lost their lives for raising their voices against corruption and standing by poor people. The list is long – Satyendra Dubey, Sarita and Mahesh, S. Manjunath, Mahendra Singh, Chandra Shekhar. Lalit's death is another link to that chain.

There is an environment of fear and tension constantly created by the nexus of local contractors, middlemen, bureaucrats and politicians. Activists voicing against human rights violation and against displacement and fighting for the right to food and livelihood are being threatened and harassed.

Friends, if this murder was an act of intimidation, it did not succeed. Friends and supporters from all over Jharkhand and other places came together and have formed a state-level platform named Daman Evam Bhrashtachar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti (Anti repression and corruption struggle committee). A number of organizations and individuals have condemned Lalit's murder and demanded a CBI enquiry. Letters have been written to the Chief Minister of Jharkhand.

The Samiti launched its campaign against Lalit Mehta's murder with a dharna (sit-in protest) in Ranchi, the State capital on Sunday, May 25. On May 26 a massive public hearing was organized in Chatarpur, which was attended by NREGA Council members Anne Raja and Jean Dreze.

The Samiti supports the demand for a CBI enquiry into the murder. It has planned a State-level rally and public meeting in Ranchi on June 10 to mount pressure on the State government for the purpose. We appeal all social activists, human rights activists and masses to join the rally to demand a CBI enquiry into Lalit's murder and come together in solidarity in the struggle for Justice.

On June 11, the Samiti will hold a seminar on "Social Activism vis-a-vis Backlashes and Threats" in Ranchi.

In Solidarity,

Balram, Gopinath Ghosh, Gurjeet, Byomkesh
on behalf of Daman Evam Bhrashtachar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, Jharkhand

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