Jaideep Deogharia, TNN | Apr 15, 2013,
“Despite options of free legal aid offered by the government and agencies like district legal services authority, tribals often don’t get these facilities because they are afraid to approach them. Also, they are not much aware of the law,” says Gopi Nath Ghosh, who is associated with the endeavour.
Human rights violation is a mounting problem in Jharkhand’s tribal areas which sees many innocent people being labelled as Maoists and subsequently prosecuted. NGOs working in the area say that the number of such cases increases whenever there is a security operation in the region.
For instance, 13 people were framed as Maoists in the 2001 Topchanchi massacre in which 13 Jharkhand armed police officers were killed. After they had spent many years in jail, they were finally acquitted by the Dhanbad district court in May last year.
Curiously, nobody is really sure about the exact number of such cases where tribals are unfairly branded as rebels. A Christian missionary, Father Stain Swami, who works for the rights of tribals, had filed an RTI application with the state government in 2011 to seek accurate figures. He says that the total number of such cases could be around 6000 or even more.
With most tribals not even fully literate — let alone being aware of complex legal formalities — help from the lawyers is being hailed as a welcome step for them. Although till now, the lawyers have identified only about a dozen cases, the momentum, says advocate Anup Agarwal, convener of JOHAR, would pick up once their survey is complete.
Incidentally, one of the cases in which the lawyer group has already started providing free assistance is the high-profile Jeetan Marandi case. Jeetan Marandi was accused of masterminding the Chilkhari massacre in 2007 in which former chief minister Babu Lal Marandi’s son Anup was killed. The subordinate court had pronounced capital punishment but the Jharkhand high court not only reversed the judgment but also acquitted him of the charges.
However, his wife Aparna Marandi is now in Dumka Jail on allegations of being a Maoist. No lawyer was ready to assist her until JOHAR lawyers Ahmed Raja and Anup Agarwal stepped in to take up her case.
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