WSS applauds the “NHRC Effect”
Government of Chattisgarh takes action to restore rule of law in Bastar
IG Kalluri asked to proceed on long leave
WSS welcomes the actions taken by the Government of Chhattisgarh to restore its credibility and regain the confidence of the citizens of Bastar. In a series of decisive administrative actions yesterday, the state government announced the appointment of Sri P Sundararaj, IPS as DIG of the newly-created Dantewada Range. Bastar IG Sri SRP Kalluri has been asked to proceed on long leave.
These actions follow on the heels of the appearance of senior state government officials before the National Human Rights Commission on 30 January 2017. The NHRC had summoned these officials to answer for the apathy of the state government in responding to the egregious violations of human rights and vendetta against human rights defenders perpetrated by the police and police-sponsored vigilante groups encouraged and supported by the police under Sri Kalluri.
Taking cognisance of media reports and multiple complaints and submissions from WSS and other human rights groups, the NHRC conducted its own investigation in March 2016 into complaints of mass rapes and sexual violence against Adivasi women by police forces during search and combing operations in the remote villages of Peddagellur, Bellam Nendra and Kunna. The NHRC investigation team met and recorded the statements of 16 women who had filed FIRs of rape, sexual assault and physical violence. The team also looked into the systematic hounding and intimidation of activists, lawyers and media professionals who were bringing these incidents to light, by the police and vigilante groups under the direct patronage of IG Sri Kalluri. A follow-up investigation in January 2017 recorded the statements of 20 more women also filed FIRs of sexual violence ranging from mass rapes to sexual assault of minor girls and pregnant women.
In its landmark order of 7 January 2017, the NHRC held the state government vicariously reponsible for the egregious violations of human rights in Bastar. The strongly-worded order validated our contention that sexual violence was being used as a weapon in the state’s “war against Maoists” in Bastar. The NHRC order also pulled up the state government for its failure to provide the mandatory compensation to the complainants and for not registering cases under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
In the months since our initial complaint and the NHRC investigation, more than a dozen complaints and submissions were placed before the NHRC by WSS, Human Rights Defenders Alert and other human rights groups, highlighting the deteriorating situation of human rights and the increasing vulnerability of human rights defenders in Bastar. Defying strictures by the Supreme Court and the NHRC, Sri Kalluri publicly announced the launch of “Mission 2017”, an all-out vendetta against all those who were calling the state to account. Adivasi leaders, human rights activists, lawyers, academics, fact-finding teams and journalists were targeted, hounded and threatened by the police and police-sponsored vigilante groups. The intention was clearly to ensure that there are no witnesses to the gross violations of the human rights of Adivasi citizens in the war against Maoists in Bastar.
Senior officials of the state government finally appeared before the NHRC on 30 January 2017 to answer for their failure to ensure the rule of law in Bastar, even as human rights activists and citizens across the country rallied in support of researcher Bela Bhatia after she was attacked by goons from AGNI, a vigilante group promoted by the police. The closed-door meeting continued for several hours as complainants waited anxiously outside.
The actions announced by the state government today are a testimony to the NHRCs commitment to the principles of human rights that it is charged with protecting and upholding. WSS thanks and applauds the NHRC for its stewardship of these principles, and for renewing our faith in the strength and power of our democratic institutions.
While celebrating these developments, we are sharply aware that this is only the first step in the long road to restoring peace, justice and the rule of law in Bastar. WSS will continue to mobilise public attention while pursuing our complaints and submissions in cases currently before the NHRC.
We urge the NHRC to
- Allow human rights defenders who have been attacked, vilified, threatened and falsely implicated in criminal cases by Bastar police, and on whose behalf complaints have been brought before you by WSS and HRDA, to be legally represented and to appear before the Honourable Commission in person to make their submissions and record their testimonies.
- Recommend immediate suspension pending an independent enquiry into the actions of Mr. SRP Kalluri (IGP Bastar Range), Mr. RN Dash (SP Bastar) and Mr. IK Elesela (SP Sukma, formerly ASP Bijapur who headed operations in Bijapur district in 2015-2016 during which Adivasi women were subjected to sexual and physical violence by police personnel).
- Recommend that a status report be filed by the state of Chhattisgarh on action taken by the police on FIRs that have been lodged in connection with vigilante attacks on Ms. Malini Subramaniam, Ms Soni Sori and Ms Bela Bhatia.
- Recommend registration of cases under Section 166-A of the Indian Penal Code against police personnel who refused to record FIRs of sexual violence on complaints of Adivasi women in Chhattisgarh.
- Recommend that police officers being investigated for rape, extrajudicial killings or any other human rights violation not be given awards or promotions while investigations are ongoing. It may be noted that Mr. IK Elesela was promoted from the ASP Bijapur to SP Sukma District even though multiple complaints of mass sexual violence during the operations he led as ASP were under investigation.
- Appoint an NHRC Focal Point to act as the interlocutor for all complaints from Chhattisgarh. The person selected should be a member of the National Core Group of NGOs of the NHRC who commands credibility and respect.
- NHRC to conduct an inquiry into the activities of vigilante groups such as AGNI, Samajik Ekta Manch and others, including their source of funding and their nexus with the police and the administration.
- NHRC investigation reports to be made available to human rights defenders and complainants.
- Issue comprehensive guidelines for search and cordon operations undertaken by police, the CRPF, District Reserve Guard and others in Chhattisgarh. The NRHC’s own investigations confirm that these operations can become occasions for rape, sexual assault, illegal detention, torture, harassment, looting and attacks on Human Rights Defenders.