Today is International Human Rights Day.
It was on this day in 1948 that the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On the eve of Human Rights Day, an all-woman fact-finding team comprising nine activists, including Madhumitta Dutta and Shweta Narayan (from the Collective in Besant Nagar, Chennai) were attacked on their way to Narayanpatna, Orissa, where a democratic tribal movement led by the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh is being brutally suppressed by the police at the behest of the local liquor mafia, landlords and mining companies, according to a message circulated by the human rights movement group (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This team had gone to Narayanpatna to bring out the real state of affairs, particularly regarding the spate of rapes and molestations of women by the Orissa Police, CRPF and the dreaded Cobra battalions. The local media has actively tried to hide the truth, branding the peaceful Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh as a Maoist outfit.
Members of the team narrated their experience at a press conference at Parvathipuram in Vijayanagaram district of Andhra Pradesh.
The following account was given by Shweta Narayan and Madhumita Dutta to Nityanand Jayaraman over the telephone:
At 10 a.m., the All India Women's Fact Finding Team consisting of nine women reached Narayanpatna Police Station and requested to meet the Station In-charge.
We were told that the policeman was busy, and were asked to come in the evening. The person questioning us asked us for names and mobile phone numbers and names of our organizations. We gave all of that. We noticed quite a number of uniformed policemen, and many people in plainclothes. None of the people in uniform (we assume they were policemen) had any name tags. We asked one of them who the people in plainclothes were, and were told that they were all policemen. We asked the man how many police were there in this area, and he said more than 2,000 police. One striking thing is that none of the many people gathered there were Adivasi.
About 20 Adivasi men were huddled, squatting inside the police station premises. We asked the policeman near us who they were, and were told that the Adivasis were former activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, who had come to surrender. This has been happening for a few days now, and many newspapers are reporting this.
By this time, the crowd of so-called plainclothes police were getting restless. We heard people commenting saying: "Ab aa rahen hain. Jab hamarey gaon jal rahe the, tho kahaan the?" (When our farms were being burnt, where were you? Now they show up.)
Madhumita felt the situation was looking troublesome, and suggested we leave. As we were stepping out of the police station, our driver was cordoned off and was being questioned in a very hostile manner and being threatened. We heard someone saying that he is a regular to these parts, and they enquired as to his antecedents.
We somehow managed to extricate the driver. One of the policemen in plainclothes, whom we saw inside the police station premises, was taking photographs, and he said "Maaro Inko." (Beat these people up). That is when more than 200 people surged ahead. The driver was being slapped repeatedly. Madhu and 75-year old Kusum Karnik tried to
intervene and that is when one man went for Madhu's throat. Kusum was hurt too.
Rumita Kundu was verbally abused inside the police station. One man crudely said that all these women had come to sleep with the men there. Mamta Dash was hit on her back, and abused. One man attempted to strangle Madhu. When she moved to save herself, her jaw was injured. All this happened inside the police station premises.
The driver was the one that was being assaulted most, and we did all we could to extricate him and board our vehicle. By this time, the vehicle was being broken. The rear windscreen was broken. With great difficulty, we fled the area driving towards Bandhugaon. We were followed by the plainclothesmen who claimed to be police on bikes. Somewhere between Bandhugaon Police Station and the village itself, we were stopped by two men in plainclothes. They said they were police, and they demanded to see the driver's licence. As he was enquiring, about 20 people gathered there. But nothing untoward happened here. We were scared nevertheless.
From there, we proceeded to Kottulpetta. Even before we got to this village, news seemed to have reached them about our visit. A road blockade had been organized, with a bullock cart blocking the road. There were no oxen. The people there, again all non-tribals, pulled out the driver and started assaulting him. They tried to pull down another male colleague of ours, Mr. Poru Chandra Sahu and tried to beat them up. We intervened, and that's when Kusum didi, the 75-year old activist, was hurt on her head. We were there for more than 15 minutes. More violence. More damage to the vehicle. More slaps for the driver. Our friends outside had been notified almost as soon as problems began, and phone calls must have been pouring into the Collector’s and SP's offices.
By this time, two bikes carrying one of the plainclothes "policemen" who had taken our names in Narayanpatna, and another plainclothes guy who was tall and burly, reached there and asked the youth to disperse.
We reached Bondapalli, the border village within Andhra Pradesh. Almost in no time, a jeep load of Andhra Pradesh police along with plainclothes youth (young boys) armed with rifles and bullets arrived on the scene. They demanded to know who we were. We were treated more like criminals than victims, and our vehicle was searched. Only after
Madhu spoke to the SP of Vijayanagaram, and the DGP were we allowed to go. The police who stopped us immediately changed the tune, and offered to help us with medical assistance etc.
Our experience with armed youth and police has left us clearly terrified, and convinced that the situation created by the police in Narayanpatna and this part of Orissa is extremely vitiated. We have the following concerns and demands which we conveyed to the media at the press conference in Parvathipuram.
1. The scenario of terror that we witnessed, and were subject to shows the kind of tense situation prevailing in the Narayanpatna area post November 20, 2009's police firings in Narayanpatna.
2. There is no access for people to get in and out of the villages in Narayanpatna, with all routes blocked by armed goons.
3. There is no way to get information about what is happening inside, and no means of verifying the very disturbing accounts we are getting about abuses, molestations and violence against adivasi people.
4. The number of plainclothesmen who claimed they were police, and the comfort with which people outside the Narayanpatna police station were interacting with the police, and reacting to one policeman's instruction to beat us up, suggests that there may be some truth to reports that there is a Salwa Judum style Shanthi Samiti in this area as well. This may either be sponsored or working in close complicity with the police and state.
5. If the Fact Finding team of prominent women has been treated with such violence, it is clear that there is absolutely no room for dissent inside the villages.
6. All the people who attacked us were non-tribals.
1. The officers at the Police Station should be suspended to create an impartial situation and enable the carrying out of investigations into the firing of 20 November, 2009, and the subsequent reports of atrocities against tribal people.
2. The SP Koraput should be suspended.
3. The Government should constitute a high-level independent investigation team and not depend on the police, who are clearly biased, and are using the language of terror and violence to suppress dissent.
The Women’s Fact-Finding Team consisted of
1. Sudha Bhardwaj, Advocate, Chhattisgarh
2. Mamata Dash, Delhi
3. Madhumita Dutta, Chennai
4. Shweta Narayan, Chennai
5. Rumita Kundu, Bhubaneswar
6. Pramila, Bhubaneswar
7. Kusum Karnik, Bhubaneswar
8. Ramani, New Democracy, Orissa
9. Durga, Chhattisgarh