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28 January, 2013

Witch-hunt of human rights defender who has been exposing corruption

The following is a document circulated by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Troubled with the tireless struggle of Ms Madhuri Krishnaswami and her Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangthan against corruption and exploitation of the marginalized sections in the area, the district administration has launched another attack on her.

In a later written to the Divisional Commissioner that found its way to the Chief Secretary of the state, the District Magistrate has accused Madhuri and the organization of having links with Maoists and of inciting the local people against the state. Ironically, the absurdity of the charges is exposed by the sheer fact that the police refuses to buy any such allegations and, in fact, the Inspector General of Police, Indore range, has categorically denied the presence of any Naxal activities in the area. Clearly, the District Magistrate has levelled these charges with some ulterior motives.

This is not the first time that Madhuri and the organization have been targeted by the administration. They have been facing a relentless witch-hunt ever since they took up the task of exposing massive corruption in the area run by the nexus of locally entrenched politicians with the administration.  The organization's continuous struggles against massive corruption in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drawn the wrath of such interests in particular as the organization has managed to not only expose massive corruption amounting to more than Rs 150 crores but has also got the Central government to intervene in the issue, thereby upsetting the powers that be.

The organization had also relentlessly fought against the delays in the payment of MNREGA wages and has affected the supply of poor, desperate labour to the locally powerful people. But perhaps more than all this, what troubles the administration and the vested interests the most is the sense of entitlement and right the organization has been successfully instilling in the minds of Adivasis and thus destabilizing their complete control over their lives and labour. The Adivasis in the area, unlike on the past, now make their own decisions and have the courage to refuse to get exploited.

It was in this context that the district administration served an externment notice on her in May 2012 only to hastily retreat. It, however, kept conniving to silence her voice. The organization, however, kept fighting and exposed how the Management Information System (MIS), the most important tool to ensure transparency in the implementation of the scheme, was not being updated on the website as is mandatory and this was the reason behind the Ministry of Rural Developments' decision to stop funds till at least 60 percent of the MIS is updated. The ministry had ordered a probe sending its own team and this has irked the administration and the local interests even more.

The JADS had also exposed how the administration and local interests were siphoning off funds from the MNREGA by doctoring muster rolls. They found even the dead listed, and paid, in the muster rolls. Instead of taking action on such concrete evidence put forward by the organization, the state tried to derail the struggles by holding back the expenditure accounts of previous installments and telling the activists that the work-wise expenditure accounts are not maintained by the administration and that these will have to be collected from the panchayats and other agencies.

The administration's anger against the organization resulted in open assaults on Madhuri and others. One of the most recent incidents took place in October 2012, when JADS' peaceful rally of Adivasi women was violently attacked by goons led by the local Bhartiya Janta Party MLA, followed by illegal detention of the women, and not the perpetrators, by the police. The State Human Rights Commission had taken suo moto notice of the detention.

In this context the recent attack assumes immense significance. It is not merely an attack on an individual or an organization but an example of the current regime of persecuting even democratic dissenters with fabricated charges and scuffling all voices of resistance. Unfortunately, such persecution of Human Rights Defenders, as we have seen in the case of Dr. Binayak Sen, is becoming a norm than the exception and should be culled immediately if India wants to call itself a democracy.

This case assumes further significance for the fact that the District Magistrate is acting in his official capacity of being a public servant and is trying to "frame an incorrect document with an intent to cause injury" to the Human Rights Defender in question. Section 167 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 qualifies such actions as "whoever being a public servant, and being, as such public servant, charged with the preparation or translation of any document frames or translates that document in a manner which he knows or believes to be incorrect intenting thereby to cause or knowing it to be likely that he may thereby cause injury to any person." Such an offence calls for an imprisonment, if punished for 3 years or with fine or with both.

Further, Section 193 of the Penal Code prescribes punishment of 7 years imprisonment and fine for a government servant who intentionally gives false evidence or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding. It has to be assumed that the letter allegedly written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary is with an intention to charge the Human Right Defender in question on fabricated charges of anti-state activities. Section 211 mandates that whoever with the intent to cause injury to any person institutes or causes to be instituted any criminal proceeding against that person or falsely charges any person with having committed an offence, knowing that there is no just or lawful ground for such proceedings or charge against such person to be punishment that may extend to 2 years or with fine or with both.

The letter written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary could be used for the initiation of a criminal case against the Human Rights Defender in question. In such a case the District Magistrate's action of writing an official letter to the Chief Secretary accusing the Human Rights Defender in question of being engaged in anti-state activities without even offering an opportunity to the accused to defend her case amounts to intentional misuse of public authority.

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