Activists fighting for the rights of tribals in Bastar, caught in the crossfire of the dragging war between the state and the Maoists, say that the charges against professors Nandini Sundar of Delhi University and Archana Prasad of Jawaharlal Nehru University are “trumped-up” as they had the temerity to take on the controversial Bastar police chief who is widely accused of employing authoritarian tactics.
Soni Sori, a school teacher-turned-activist and herself a victim of Chhattisgarh Police’s high-handedness , described the FIR against Sundar, Prasad and others in an alleged murder case in Bastar as a fake.
“There’s nothing new about the ways of the police in Bastar,” Sori, who was arrested and allegedly tortured by police, said. She accused the police of persecution of the tribals in the name of wiping out Maoist extremists.
“What police has done is wrong. Police in Bastar have this method of putting people behind bars on trumped-up charges. The same is happening to Nandini Sundar now,” Sori told IANS on phone from Bastar.
“Any act of violence — be it a blast or arson — is enough for police to harass villagers and land them in jail. The real Maoists are hardly affected, only the poor tribals are,” she alleged.
An FIR was lodged at Tongpal police station in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh against Sundar for murdering a tribal, Shamnath Baghel, in insurgency-hit Sukma district on November 7. She was booked along with JNU professor Prasad and a few others.
Sundar is a sociology professor and an activist working for the welfare of tribals in Bastar who has also penned a recent book on their lives.
“The innocent tribals are forced to stay in prison for four years, five years, and then acquitted with full honour. The same happened to me. I was only a school teacher but was arrested for aiding Maoists, only to be set free years later. Sundar has done the right thing by approaching Supreme Court,” Sori said.
The Chhattisgarh government, after a hue and cry from intellectuals and activists, has assured the Supreme Court that it won’t arrest Sundar and any of the other activists without giving them a one-month notice. The case was filed against Sundar on the complaint of Baghel’s wife, who had reportedly told police that her husband was threatened by the professor and Maoists in May to give up his anti-Maoist activities.
Baghel was allegedly killed by armed Maoists on November 4 during which, his wife contended, the ultras referred to the warning given to him earlier.
Sori termed the action against Sundar as “nothing but an eyewash and just another attempt at weeding out any element which impedes police’s indiscriminate exploitation of the villagers”.
“It’s all a conspiracy. Police recently said that they will make Chhattisgarh Maoist-free by 2017, but in reality it’s only poor tribals who get killed,” she said.
She also mentioned Bastar Inspector General S.R.P. Kalluri, a controversial figure, who, according to her, is one of the reasons for the increasing body count in the region.
“It’s personal vendetta which has inspired this move against Sundar. She was responsible for bringing a CBI inquiry against Kalluri concerning the burning of villagers’ homes in 2011,” Himanshu Kumar, a human rights activist, told IANS, echoing the views of many others who did not like to speak for fear of police persecution.
The CBI report, which came on October 23 this year, found the Special Police Officers (SPOs) in-charge guilty of the operation against the Maoists. According to Kumar, originally the police had blamed the Maoists for setting on fire 160 houses in Tadmetla village of Bastar region of south Chhattisgarh.
“Kalluri is going to benefit from Sundar’s arrest the most, since it was she who came after him. It’s a conspiracy against her,” Kumar said, adding that he could not even go back to Bastar since he risks being arrested for campaigning against police atrocities.