The following is a statement issued by several organizations and individuals on the arbitrary arrest of Dr. Nisha Biswas and other civil rights activists in Lalgarh
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are shocked by the arrest on 14th June of Dr Nisha Biswas, Scientist - Central Glass & Ceramic Research Institute Kolkata, Manik Mandal, writer, Kanishka Choudhary, school teacher, and ten other persons by the W Bengal police from Lalgarh area, where they had gone at the request of the local people to investigate human rights violations by police and paramilitary. At the time of their arrest they were charged with violation of Sec 144 (anticipated major public nuisance or damage to public tranquility), a bailable offence. However, when produced in court on 16th June they were charged with several false cases, such as waging war against the state, criminal conspiracy, and unlawful assembly, and remanded to 14 days jail custody. On 25th June, a bail hearing requesting her transfer to police custody- on the spurious evidence of an alleged photograph in her camera- was rejected by the court and her bail hearing is due on 6th July.
We believe that this is not an isolated incident, but part of the repression and reign of terror let loose by the central and state governments over the past few years in the tribal parts of central India to crush dissent, and the accompanying attempts to delegitimize and criminalize all dissent and opposition to its policies.
On one hand, the state has launched an armed offensive in the forested tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal, in the name of countering the `Maoist menace’, to actually destroy the numerous resistance movements against forced acquisition of their land for mining and big industry, against displacement from their land and homes and loss of their livelihoods. This has been accompanied by the increasing use of extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests of villagers and leaders, and extra-legal measures that curb ordinary freedom of expression. Lalgarh area of W Bengal has been a site of intense police repression for more than a year now and under Section 144 for as much period. Civil society persons have not been allowed to visit the area and attempts to do so have been met with detentions and arrest. In Chhattisgarh there has been use of the draconian CSPSA to stifle opposition and of non-state actors like Salwa Judum that terrorises and kills villagers, destroys their homes, perpetrates sexual violence against women, and forces them into camps, or to desert their home and hearths and flee to neighbouring states.
On the other, the state has been suppressing in several ways efforts of civil liberties/democratic rights activists to expose the lawlessness and brutalities being committed in these areas by the security forces and to inquire into issues of violation of people’s rights in the process of `development’ of these areas. These tribal areas have been rendered out of bounds for people from outside the area, in violation of all Constitutional provisions regarding freedom of movement and of expression. Any person or group of persons visiting these areas, or talking about or writing about the situation there, or raising questions about the deployment of paramilitary forces in such large numbers is harassed, intimidated, or arrested and labeled as `Maoists’ or `Maoist sympathizers’, thus criminalizing all such democratic rights activities. Starting with Dr. Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh, a large number of civil liberties activists across the country have been illegally arrested and implicated under false charges of `waging war against the state’ and accused as `Maoists’. Just over the past three months 14 people - trade unionists, forest rights activists and ordinary people - from Gujarat have been arrested under an omnibus FIR.
The recent arrest of Nisha Biswas and others, and the shrill tirade against writer Arundhati Roy, are part of this trend of targeting civil and political rights activists and urban intellectuals, and discrediting them for raising questions, for sincerely carrying out their democratic responsibility of drawing attention to violation of Constitutional and legal safeguards.
We are also deeply concerned by the extreme intolerance being displayed by the state and sections of urban society towards Arundhati Roy for her views on development, displacement, on the situation of the tribals, the violation of their Constitutional rights, and the military offensive of the state. Freedom of expression and vigorous discussion and debate are indispensable for a true democracy. Instead of carrying forward an informed debate on the issues raised by her, attempts are being made to stifle her voice by vicious abuse, public threats of arrest and much more. It is very disturbing that sections of the media too have been (ir)responsible and complicit in this matter, by false reporting of Ms Roy’s statements to suit their requirements. We also take this opportunity to condemn the statement reportedly made by a BJP leader of Chhattisgarh that Ms Roy 'should be publicly shot down'. That such public incitements to kill a person are ignored by the state machinery exposes the extent of double standards and hypocrisy that characterize our political institutions and leaders. Such intolerance to Ms Roy’s writings and speeches not only makes a mockery of the claims of this country to being a `great democracy’ that grants immense freedom of expression to its citizens, it also poses a grave threat to the spirit of critical public discussion and debate warranted on crucial issues such as development and marginalization.
We are also extremely disturbed and anguished by the reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence by the security forces and Salwa Judum against innocent village women in Chhattisgarh as `punishment’ for alleged support to `maoists’. We ask of the political leadership - in this `war against the Maoists’, for that matter in any place whether it be in Kashmir or the north-east, why are women systematically targetted for sexual violence by the security forces? As already stated above, any attempts to bring this to light and extend assistance are also prevented by intimidation of the affected women. By not taking any action ever against the perpetrators the entire state machinery is accessory to these gruesome acts.
In this situation, we demand:
1. The immediate release of Dr. Nisha Biswas and others arrested along with her.
2. The witch-hunt against Ms Roy be ended.
3. Strict measures be taken against the security forces to put an end to the sexual violence being perpetrated by them against women.
4. We once again demand immediate withdrawal of the armed offensive against the tribal population. Instead, as expected of a democratic government, the government should move towards addressing politically the long-standing grievances of the tribal population, which have been explicitly pointed out and discussed by the government’s own report.
We strongly urge all other democratic minded women’s groups and organizations to join us in this urgent appeal to the Indian government and the respective state governments.
The following organizations and individualks have signed/endorsed the statement:
Women Against Rape and Repression (WARR)
Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch,
Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (Madhya Pradesh),
Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch,
Vidyarthi Yuvjan Sabha
Dr. Uma Chakravarthi
Uma V. Chandru
Dr. Leena Ganesh
Women Against Rape and Repression (WARR) is a network of individuals and women’s and human rights organizations from across India. It is a non-funded effort initiated by women, and is concerned with atrocities and repression against women by state and non-state actors, especially in conflict zones.