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Open letter by Jean Dreze regarding attack on his partner Bela Bhatia


Jean Dreze writes letter about his partner Bela Bhatia 


I was surprised to hear yesterday that some people had come to my wife Bela’s house near Jagdalpur and instigated her neighbours against her. They took out a procession in the neighbourhood, shouting slogans like “Bela Bhatia murdabad” and “Bela Bhatia Bastar chodo”. They also distributed a leaflet accusing both of us of being Naxalites who are trying to “tear the country apart” – nothing less. Some of them advised Bela’s landlady to evict her. Fortunately, Bela’s landlady and neighbours are very fond of her and they did not lose their nerve.

Anyone who thinks that Bela and I are Naxalites is seriously out of touch with reality. Bela has already refuted these charges and clarified the nature of her work in Bastar in a statement published in the local media (and also in Catchnews). My own views and activities are an open book. Had the agitators bothered to find out about them, they would have thought twice about levelling these charges.

I am a development economist associated with Ranchi University and the Delhi School of Economics. I live in Ranchi, but I come to Bastar from time to time to spend time with Bela. Most of my work is concerned with hunger, poverty, education, health and other aspects of social policy. I am a close colleague of Amartya Sen, Angus Deaton, Nicholas Stern and other economists who should be sent to jail if I am a Naxalite, according to the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.

Anyone who has seen my writings would know that I do not support armed struggle, though I do support resistance to all injustice through democratic means. I have been a peace activist ever since I read about the horrors of war as a child. I do not support Naxalite violence any more than I support state violence. My own friend Niyamat Ansari, a courageous man who fought against corruption in Jharkhand, was brutally killed by a Maoist squad a few years ago.

According to the leaflet mentioned earlier, I am a “foreign agent” (videshi dalal). In fact, I am an Indian citizen and I have spent more time in India than many of those who were distributing this leaflet yesterday. I love this country, where I have friends from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. In thirty-seven years of living in India, I have not faced hostility even once – until yesterday.

The charges of Naxalism are just a pretext. The real reason for Bela’s harassment is that, a few weeks ago, she helped some tribal women in Bijapur District to lodge a complaint of rape and sexual violence against members of the security forces. Ever since, she has been hounded by police-sponsored groups such as Samajik Ekta Manch. The people of Bastar, for their part, have welcomed Bela everywhere she went and supported her good work.

Yesterday’s demonstration was an act of criminal intimidation. It is also highly unethical. Accusing someone of being a Naxalite, in a place like Bastar, amounts to putting her life in danger. Anyone who considers Naxalites as fair game could act on this and try to harm Bela. I trust that the good people of Bastar will help to protect her.

Jean Dreze

Jagdalpur, 27 March 2016

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Comments (2)

  1. Jothi SJ

    The Fascists think they have the ultimate power..the slogan shouting masses are ignorant, misused and indoctrinated janta but the real culprits are the corny capitalists. The Administration is spineless to this cowardice act shows they really fear that they are loosing the battle. We got to move ahead and be with the most vulnerable or else these leviathan would eat them up. As the Father of the Nation expressed, ‘First they Ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they Fight you and then you win” .. the victory is at hand, let us fight with dalits and Adivasis..!!!

  2. Rajesh

    Unfortunately, some individuals amongst the state apparatus, who can best be described as misplaced zealots, end up harming the very interest of the state that employs and pays them. I don’t think the Stae is by intentiin troubling Bela. But if it’s happening at the State’s behest, it’ll only have muck on its face. I’ve served in the area. The people may not be as naïve as they used to be. There are groups and individuals who are exploiting the situation. However, the people in general.and tribals in particular are amongst the best of human race that inhabit our country. It is so easy to fallll in love with them. People of the region follow the best economics practice for sustainable development. They will extract only that much from the environment which is essentially for their need and ensuring thereby that sufficient is left for future generations, while the rest of the world is going crazy about “creating demands” and harming the environment irrevocably. God Bless Bela and her husband Jean Drez in all their endeavors. Unfortunately, there’s a price that you have to pay at times even for being good. But it’s worth it. So Bela and Jean, bash on regardless.

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