Independent People's Tribunal on Operation Greenhunt - Kavita Srivastava
Cinematographer: Faiza Ahmad Khan
Duration: 00:16:47; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 133.235; Saturation: 0.027; Lightness: 0.453; Volume: 0.318; Cuts per Minute: 15.486; Words per Minute: 136.517
The Independent People’s Tribunal took place from 9th – 11th April, 2010, at the Constitution Club, New Delhi. This was organized by a collective of civil society groups, social movements, activists, academics and concerned citizens in the country. The people’s jury, comprising of Hon’ble Justice P. B. Sawant, Justice H. Suresh, Professor Yash Pal, Dr. V. Mohini Giri, Dr. P. M. Bhargava, and Dr. K.S. Subramanian heard testimonies from the affected people, social activists and experts from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal.
Central India is home to the Adivasis and Dalits, India’s first people. It is also home to the richest concentration of natural resources in the country. Today, as powerful Indian and global corporations race each other to gain control of the land, water, forest and mineral wealth of the region, this natural wealth has become a curse to these indigenous but marginalised communities. What comes between corporate greed and natural resources are the tribals asserting their customary rights, right to life and livelihood, as well as their constitutional rights over the same natural resources. Corrupt corporations, joining hands with corrupt states, are helping destroy India’s vibrant natural heritage and mineral wealth. Human rights abuses by police, paramilitary forces and state-sponsored militia are spreading in the name of Operation Green Hunt, which seems to make it a war against the very citizens it promises to protect. A virtual information blockade prevents information from coming out of states like Chhattisgarh which are bearing the brunt of Operation Green Hunt. Our country needs to know the truth about such a massive war against our own people. That is why an Independent People’s Tribunal, consisting of eminent jury members, has been called to hear testimonies from affected people, deliberate and submit a report on the matter to the public.
Kavita Srivastava's Presentation - 'Persecution of Civil society groups and Human rights activists'
KS: This pursuit of actually getting together a list of who is in jail with what charges, and all those - human rights activists who've been arrested and are out on bail - what is the status of the case? And let me tell you that...
KS: ...rather late in the day we were trying to put together things for this tribunal, so I sent out a mail to almost every important human rights activist of various movements and in various states where more arrests have happened, and almost everybody wrote back saying 'we don't have this, we don't have (?)...'
KS: So I really want to begin on this note that we really, as a group which is trying to build a counter public opinion, we need to work hard. We've also filed an RTI in the National Human Rights Commission, because we've been trying to work on the cases of Human Rights defenders - though we happen to be the core group. PUC is the core group of the NHRC - some core group of NGOs which really doesn't mean anything.
KS: But we still have to apply under RTI to know how many activists and other people have gone in with applications, and to know what they've done to those applications.
KS: So I want to begin by something you've read in the papers today, all of us know that democratic spaces are shrinking so much; dissent is just not being allowed. And we know what happened yesterday in JNU, what we all read - that a meeting against Operation Greenhunt was described by the media, the police and activists of various (?) as a celebration of the killing of - killing by the naxalites(?) of the CRPF.
KS: And something to that effect, as the Vice Chancellor was quoted in the Time of India, was very similar to this voice. Now all of us know that we have a right - JNU had the right to organise that event, to review, to reflect what's happening. After all, if the government of India is not willing to reflect after 76 CRPF para-military people were killed, if the government of India is not willing to reflect, and it is only helping it to plan and take a decision on air strikes - atleast we people need to reflect and tell, that something like war needs to stop.
KS: Now, that gets described as a celebration of the killing of (?). What has happened to all the students who were declared as those who never took permission. So now you have to even seek permission to do reflective exercises within campuses, which are places where atleast you don't need to take permission to reflect and review.
KS: All of us know that very recently Sunil from Delhi University, a faculty member was taken for rigorous interrogation by the police on Kobad Ghandy. We know that Kobad Ghandy's chargesheet indited several organisations, but called the PUCL, the PUDR, the committee for the release of political prisoners, as fronts of the Maoists.
KS: And by name Gautam Naulakha, Saibaba and Rona Wilson by name, and of course the rest of us - PUCL, PUDR - they are only fronts. And for a very long time, human rights organisations other than PUCL or PUDR, all the others - CPDR, APDR, and all the others - because after all there's a very close relationship between the criminal justice system and human rights. Where is it that the human rights work is going to enter?
KS: She is going to enter at the point of investigation, at the point of - where the person is taken into custody, at the point of the person being jailed - obviously we're going to enter at that point and question for whatever is going wrong, and then it is absolutely translated as you are one of them, and the next charge is guilt by association.
KS: So it's very easy to see if you look at some of the short case studies that I'll just read out. All those who got in, it's on these charges of having most human rights activists were actually trying to understand what was happening, trying to understand when people were protesting, and all of us know it, that when they were to invesitgate or to understand what was happening; and ofcourse a, good human rights activist, like a good media person, must talk to all sides. And when you go and talk or meet to build an opinion to get facts very clearly - then very soon you are put away.
KS: But actually, all of us know that - since the government... the militarised strategy actually is - the state of Chhatisgarh began in 2005, but after that all other states have adopted it. And with pride today, Mr. Vishwaranjan in his interview in all the papers said that operation Greenhunt was my - 'I conceived it', 'My baby'. With great pride he said it.
KS: All of us know that the level of militarisation at this point of time in these regions to... again, all of us know it is nothing to do with development of the people, it is nothing to do with Maoists, it is to capture the principle of (?) domain of those areas as our friend very clearly put it. It has nothing to do with Maoists or tribals. They use the term 'Maoists' so that they can convince the middle class. But ultimately the response will have to be grabbed(?) and that's it. So in that process, no dissenting voice will be around.
KS: So just quickly I'm going to come back to the NHRC because after all it is one agency which till now should've evolved the jurisprudence for the human rights defenders, and should've risen up on this occassion. Because in its old reflections when we were ... in 1997, 50 years after our independance, in its own reflection, in its own reports, it has talked of how the human rights defenders, specially after the 1998 press conference of the UN where India is very much a part of it - that's a covenant on protecting human rights defenders which is like a customary law, though it has not been placed in parliament, but various annual reports before 2000 do reflect on this question - that we must evolve jurisprudence. But its a complete non-issue for the present NHRC.
KS: I think all the people who've been arrested in the last few years, the Maoist tag has been attached to them. And the worst part - one pattern which is very clear is that most people are picked up in one place, but shown at another place. Picked up one date, shown on another date. This is a regular pattern. I think you remove some of the very high profile movement people, or human rights activists - if you remove Binayak Sen from the scene, Abhay Sahu from the scene, Ganpatra from the scene, most of the other most recent arrests of Seema Azad of the PUCL - she was picked up last month on 6th, but they've shown her arrest later. We know the whole procoess began at Kanpur itself, but she's shown at another place. They've been shown out of Allahabad also - arrests shown out of Allahabad.
KS: So this is a regular practice that we see. These are the simple things that we've gone to the NHRC and told them, that for instance with Binayak Sen, Piyush Guha was arrested and we let them know that Piyush Guha was kept for six days under illegal custody. He was beaten up, he was taken into - blindfolded and taken into forest areas.
KS: Ofcourse the NHRC refused to look at those six days. Except for the fact that he managed to tell the court who only made a note of half his statement, there is no other evidence. Atleast Piyush Guha managed to record of the court, otherwise most people who get arrested can never share this simple thing about the torture, the date and the place.
KS: Secondly... let's just quickly see patterns in Chhattisgarh in (?) - I'm sorry, I'm not going to be (?). Okay.
KS: I just want to share a few things. I think all of us here, and especially we have... very high profile justices from Supreme Court, from Bombay High Court... We have journalists, our panelists, know very well that the Indian IPC and CRPC is enough to deal with any kind of crime. We don't need a single special law. But we need more than 50 such draconian laws. We've done a listing - maybe its... some of you must add because there are lots of State laws that we don't know.
KS: Now, all of us know that one of the most draconian laws is the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act of 2005, where even the intent is criminalised - where your intent has been criminalised. Now, since PUCL did a petition - that's the only information that we really have because we filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging this law. So we applied an RTI. All of us know that over 230 people - again, I'm being... I don't know about the latest information; this is to the last hearing that happened about 4 months ago - over 220 people (But it must have increased much more in the Operation Green Hunt period.) Over 220 people had been booked under CSPSA, of which very clearly, if you look at the reply that they gave us. Its unbelievable, but against 40 they don't have names, but they are booked under Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.
KS: Always know that the first peron to be booked under this law was a 17 year old girl who was booked for having synpathised with Maoists, and sheltered her boyfriend - that was the charge - kept him home. So she was the first person to go to jail, who remained in jail for over a year. And then she got bail.
KS: But under Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act you have traders, tailors, you have lots and lots of tribals. And of course all of us know Binayak Sen went in under this along with UAPA, which I don't know why we are not challenging it. It's so draconian. But Ajay T.G. who went in, incidentally Binayak's trial is going full throttle and all the illegal documents and evidence also had been taken on board. There were only 10 documents in a packet. But the 11th one was quietly slipped in and it was shown that this was never there, it was never in any record. But that had also been taken on board. So hopefully we'll get a chance to argue it at some point.
KS: So Binayak's trial is of course, 3 chargesheets - each chargesheet like 400 pages. But Ajay T.G., this film-maker who got arrested, his case still remains as it is. There was nothing against him. The police itself has realised that there's nothing against him. But the case was - I mean, he got statutory bail in 2008 August... that's more than a year and a half, and still the case has not been closed. Similarly, journalist Sahil. I can just go on and on about Chattisgarh.
KS: Can I get 2 minutes in about Jharkhand?
- 1 minute -
KS: Ya. So all of us know that in Jharkhand, there were very small movements against displacement, like Ulgulan Manch and several activits - ofcourse 6 people lost their lives - but several activists went in and again all of them have been booked under the UAPA and the Arms Act.
KS: And in that whole region for instance, in West Bengal, in Orissa - I think in one session people must have told us how Abhay Sahoo himself who went into jail and had 25 different kinds of cases against him - of which atleast about 10 had UAPA, when he has nothing to do with any of those bad - any linkage with a bad organisation. He was simply leading an anti-displacement movement.
KS: Lenin Kumar, another journalist who went in was charged of having Maoist links and simply because one of the issues in 2008 of his magazine 'Nishan' published (?) violence. He went in. He's out on bail. But many others in Orissa are still in jail.
KS: I think the full presentation can be read by our friends who would like to see it. But I'd simply like to state here that - where does... there seems to be no space for the human rights worker, and where do... if our activities are going to be looked upon as criminal activities, then what is going to happen about the enforcement of huma rights? Who is going to do it? Because the government ofcourse is not going to do it, then who is going to do it?
KS: So, can this house actually - I mean of course NHRC has ceased to do anything - but can this house really put some sort of pressure on the NHRC to evolve some kind of jurisprudence for the human rights defenders? And - I think the list of people - remember we have, which I'm carrying with me. I mean atleast we can ask for the restoration of civil liberties of all these people who are killed. The list I can give the jury or whatever, I have a complete list. And hopefully the tribunal would have - I don't know whether we can stop operation Green Hunt, whether we can prevent the para-military from moving in, but if we're able to restore the rights of every one person who is inside the civil liberty, we'd have achieved alot. Thank you.