Several senior human rights and environmental activists, protesting against the Gujarat government decision to order externment of Lakhan Musafir from five South Gujarat districts, have said the charges against a grassroots activist fighting for tribal and forest rights in the area around the Sardar Sarovar dam are “ridiculously false.”
Under the order, Musafir is not allowed to enter Narmada, Bharuch, Tapi, Chhota Udepur and Baroda districts. The signatories of the statement are Jyotibhai Desai, Daniel Mazgaonkar, Rajni Dave, Swati Desai, Anand Mazgaonkar, Mahesh Pandya, Dev Desai, Parth Trivedi, Rohit Prajapati, and Krishnakant Chauhan.
The statement said, there is “no evidence, no witnesses, no arguments, no cross-examination, no proper hearing and yet the Narmada district sub-divisional magistrate thought it fit to pronounce his order wholly swallowing the lies presented by the police in their complaint.”
Accusing the magistrate of “turning due process of law on its head”, the order quotes him as stating that Musafir should not be considered innocent because he has not proved himself innocent in other pending cases”, adding, “Orders such as this one make the government and legal procedure a laughing stock.”
Calling the charges against Musafir – inciting people, engaging in “violent” activities, carrying arms, trading in liquor – “absurd”, the statement says, the administration appears to be hell bent on passing this order because courts all over India are “dealing with only urgent matters, holding virtual hearings.”
An activist of 40 years’ standing, Musafir quit his home and studies to first go to Vinoba Bhave’s Paunar Ashram in 1982 and then participated in the satyagraha against cow-slaughter. Realising the importance of cow and its progeny in agriculture, he decided to immerse himself in organic farming, manual labour-for-a-living, sustainable lifestyle, constructing biogas plants, etc.
The statement said, Musafir “would only consume what he could earn from a day’s manual labour”, underlining, it was he who made “chemical-free jaggery popular in Gujarat starting the late 1990s” and “encouraged farmers to process their own produce for better remuneration, grow and process their own turmeric and countless other products.”
Over the last 10 years Musafir has been working with the adivasis in Kevadia area of Narmada district, siding with the people of the six villages of Kevadia, Kothi, Navagam, Vagadia, Limdi, and Gora who lost their lands because of the Sardar Sarovar dam.
“This externment order is not only meant to scare and harass Lakhan Musafir, it is an attempt to silence the Adivasis of Narmada district. It is an assault on the freedom of expression, people’s democratic rights. It will neither scare Lakhan nor the people he works with and represents. The struggle against injustice shall carry on”, the statement said