Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is outraged and concerned at the rising incidents of intimidation, assault and aggression against women journalists and activists by self-styled vigilante groups, even as the State, by acts of omission or commission, seems to be complicit in such incidents. In places such as Bastar, the State has most brazenly come out in the open with officials making public statements against Supreme Court petitioners, and security forces organising public events to burn the effigies of academic, researchers, activists, journalists.
The activists and human rights defenders targeted for this condemnable act of effigy-burning by men in uniform – Manish Kunjam, Nandini Sundar, Himanshu Kumar, Soni Sori, Bela Bhatia and Subramaniam ‐have all been relentless in exposing the reality of anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh. They have spoken out fearlessly on the terror unleashed on Adivasis through arrests, false cases, assaults, fake encounters, rapes, arbitrary detentions and incarceration.
The State is aiming at a war without witnesses – anyone who dares speaks up for truth and justice is hounded and silenced. Mr. Kalluri, IG, Bastar has clearly lost face in the light of the Apex Court monitored CBI findings which have indicted police-supported SPOs and Salwa Judum for their complicity in the infamous Tadmelta massacre. The effigy-burning is yet another act of the guilty police to deflect attention from the CBI findings, by faking the binary of “We the Patriotic Police” versus “They the Anti-National citizens and activists”.
The snatching of Bela Bhatia’s phone in Bastar, when she was shooting the public Lalkar rally on 17th September in Jagdalpur by Babu Borai, a man accused of demolishing a church (and later seen posing proudly in a photograph with IGP Kalluri) reeks of this attitude. Likewise the hounding of journalist Malini Subramaniam, for reporting objectively on the excesses of the police and private vigilante groups in Chattisgarh. So is the treatment meted out to lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal, who took up matters pro bono for non-literate and impoverished adivasis.
WSS also condemns the reprehensible physical and verbal assault on journalists present at the Nastik Sammelan (Atheists Conference) in Vrindavan and the sheer inability of the district administration and the police to ensure a smooth functioning of a peaceful conference. Despite the perpetrators having been identified, the unwillingness of the administration to register even an FIR speaks volumes of the indifference and is evidence of State complicity in breach of rule of law and violence on women.
While shooting for this event and thus also covering the protests that happened around it, senior photo-journalist journalist, Sarvesh, a WSS Member, was manhandled by the local religious saints including Acharya Mridul Kant Shastri. She was physically violated, her clothing torn, repeatedly slapped and verbally abused.
The Vrindavan Conference was proposed on a private property of Swami Balendu along with requisite permission. However, after participants had arrived, the organizers were unilaterally and arbitrarily compelled by the police to call off the Conference, at the behest of certain local religious groups, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and some clerics from the Jama Masjid.
Members from VHP and Bajrang Dal even threatened the administration of drastic consequences if the meet was permitted, beat up some participants and journalists and stopped others to reach the venue. Posters stating that “such a sammelan should not be held in holy Vrindavan” and “those playing with religion should be arrested” are an intrusion on the fundamental right of non-believers to peaceful association and freedom of expression, sans violence or any threat thereof.
The unholy nexus between the state and the police on the one hand and the corporate and fundamentalist forces on the other is now playing up across the country and is often whipped up as nationalistic, patriotic, moralistic or ‘Dharmic’. By allowing this, the state is clearly responsible for violation of citizens’ constitutional rights of freedom of religion and thereby the fundamental and inalienable right to choose to be non-religious and preach this as a stream of thought, in each part of the country.
Malini, Soni, Bela, Sarvesh are all WSS members and respected public-spirited persons in their own right. The state orchestrated campaign to attack and malign them is an attempt to stop their open questioning of the atrocities of the Police-Corporate-Hindu State. WSS believes that no one would succumb to these machinations and the truth shall be established again and again, come what may.
WSS condemns these attacks which are nothing short of insults to the Indian Constitution and calls for strong actionagainst those who are perpetrating this violence in their attempts to suppress a vibrant democracy.
IMMEDIATE REMOVAL of Mr. Kullari, IG, Bastar Division, Chhattisgarh and action against all those who participated in the officially publicized and sponsored effigy-burning of activists and journalists.
EXPEDITIOUS CONCLUSION of the pending inquiry into rapes and murders at Tadmetla
UNCONDITIONAL APOLOGIES from the Chief Ministers of Chattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh for the above incidents and assurance of swift action and protection.
IMMEDIATE FIR against the offenders in the Vrindavan attacks as per the directions of the Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari vs. State of UP, since this hooliganism is clearly a cognizable offence.
SUO MOTO COGNIZANCE by the NCW and Press Council of India of the Vrindavan attack incident and a report from the Chief Secretary of UP within two weeks.