August 19, 2015

We condemn in the strongest terms the foisting of a false case by the Malkangiri police on human rights defender Deba Ranjan. We believe that the case booked against him under Section 354 (B) of IPC (relating to molestation of a woman) and other charges to be a completely fabricated one. Its sole purpose is to try and demoralise and malign Deba Ranjan and to stop him and the organisation he works with, the Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan (GASS) from pursuing their human rights work. We demand that the Odisha government immediately direct the police to withdraw the false cases registered against Deba Ranjan.

Over the past two decades Deba Ranjan has been a consistent and passionate voice against injustice both within and outside Odisha. As a writer, film maker and human rights activist he has highlighted and critiqued policies of destructive development, unbridled mining practices, displacement, police impunity, atrocities on dalits, women and adivasis, the inhuman and ugly politics of hindutva and more recently issues of farmers’ suicides in a context of acute agrarian distress. It is this activism that the police seek to throttle by the filing of this false case. They have stooped to the level of misusing law pertaining to sexual violence on women in their attempt to browbeat Deba Ranjan.

Deba Ranjan is a long associate of not only the Human Rights Forum (HRF) and several rights organisations, he is a friend of many ongoing movements across the nation. He was part of a joint fact-finding exercise along with the well-known human rights activist and HRF founder-member (late) K Balagopal in the summer of 2009 that looked into police violence on adivasis in the name of curbing the Maoist movement in the districts of South Odissa. He has been part of extended fact-findings that investigated attacks on Christians in Khandhamal and Karnataka and on massacres of civilians by the paramilitary in South Chattisgarh. His documentary films depicting these and other issues with immense sensitivity have been screened in various States as well as in international fora.

Deba Ranjan and GASS are among the few voices in Odisha that are speaking out against governmental lies and distortions and are striving to draw out the truth. More recently, they have played a seminal role in bringing to light the extra-judicial killing by BSF personnel of an adivasi farmer Ganga Kirsani of Litiput village, Koraput district. This is one of those rare instances when it was even established officially that it was a killing by unilateral firing of the BSF.

We deplore this attempt by the State to scuttle voices of dissent. We call upon the Odisha government to sincerely address issues raised by human rights defenders in a democratic manner and to desist from such disgraceful attempts at framing dissenters.

VS Krishna (HRF general secretary)
Bela Bhatia (Independent researcher and human rights worker)

We, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the foisting of a false case on Debaranjan, member of the Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan (GASS) in Orissa.

Debaranjan has for several years now been deeply involved with people’s struggles in Orissa, first as a full-time activist in Kashipur, Rayagada district, then as film-maker, and most recently also as a member of the democratic rights group GASS. His has been among the consistent voices in Orissa for over twenty years against state repression on people’s struggles, atrocities faced by adivasis, dalits and other underprivileged communities, and against communalization of the polity and in society. This is the political context in which he is being targeted.

Last week, Debaranjan was sought to be interrogated by the Special Branch of the Intelligence Department while he was engaged in work on a documentary film in Malkangari district. Subsequently, a number of false charges were filed against him, including one pertaining to molestation under Section 354 (b) of the IPC. We believe these charges to be patently false and absurd, and constitute nothing other than harassment and part of the continued persecution of democratic voices in this country.

Debaranjan has been part of investigations by democratic rights organizations into police violence and extra-judicial killings by the state seeking to target Left movements in Orissa. He was part of other investigations into communal violence in southern Karnataka and in Kandhamal district in Orissa. He has been part of struggles against and critiqued rampant development, mining in adivasi areas, the forced displacement and police repression that inevitably comes in the wake of such development projects. Whatever one may think of such development, we believe that those critical of it have a right to have their voices heard, to highlight and be critical of state atrocities, and to express dissent. By foisting false charges on Debaranjan, the state seeks to fetter democratic voices in Orissa, and implicitly threaten democratic voices everywhere in this country. We condemn such harassment, the shrinking of the democratic space, and demand that the false charges on Debaranjan be withdrawn immediately and unconditionally.

1. Arundhati Roy
2. Rahul Roy
3. Surya Shankar, film-maker, Orissa
4. Kasturi, People’s Film Collective and Cinema of Resistance, Kolkata
5. Sanjay Kak, film-maker

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