CDRO expresses deep concern about the intensifying repression on the Dongria Kondhos of Niyamgiri mountains whose sustained resistance against bauxite mining is a fight for their survival and livelihood. CDRO condemns the midnight raid of the CRPF on the night of May 1, 2017 and the illegal and arbitrary manner in which 20-year old Kuni Sikaka was forcibly taken to the police station in the absence of women police personnel, leave alone any warrant. The next 36 hours were the most torturous for her and activists of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti(NSS),who followed her to the police station.
The sustained resistance movement of the Dongria Kondhos for the protection of the Niyamgiri mountains had compelled the apex court in 2013 to hold referendum in 12 gram sabhas. It was a major victory for the people, when all 12 gram sabhas resolved unanimously against bauxite mining. After losing the battle to handover Niyamgiri to Vedanta, the government and the corporate behemoth are doing everything possible to wrest Niyamgiri from the people and hand it over again toVedanta. As we all know, not even a year has passed since the Supreme Court rejected the Odisha Mining Corporation’s plea to review the 2013 Gram Sabha resolution, yet, the recent Annual Report of the Home Ministry has made an unsubstantiated claim alleging both Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti and Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan as Maoist party front organizations that must be crushed. The incident of May 1 comes in the wake of this allegation against Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti. This is a blatant attempt to criminalize the people’s movement against bauxite mining.
The assault on people’s movements against corporate land grab implies the daily torture and trauma of people in these villages as in the case of the picking up of Kuni Sikaka from Gorota village in Munikhol panchayat of Raygada district. After 36 hours of illegal detention, on May 3, the Rayagada police held a press conference in the Office of the Superintendent of Police. Kuni Sikaka, her father- in-law, Dodi Pusika, who is a senior leader of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, her husband Jajili Pusika, Laxman Pusika and two others were posed as a surrender case to the entire media.
In a statement made on May 5, at the office of the Revenue Divisional Commissioner, Laxman Pusika narrated how the Raygada SP said that they would free Kuni Sikaka, as well as Dasuru Kadraka and Saibo, who are also under detention since last year, if they were willing to surrender as Maoist militia. In response, they told the police that they were neither Maoists nor against the government or the administration. All that they wanted was to protect the Niyamgiri mountains.
Then, in a high drama, orchestrated by the district police, it was made to seem a surrender case. The group of six were made to wait until the DIG was called and so also the entire press. Their photographs were clicked and the SP announced to members of the press that they were surrendering. The drama became clear to all as the SP allowed them to leave after a few hours under the condition that they did not indulge in Maoist activities belying his own claim to the press that they were wanted Maoists and that Kuni Sikaka had a prize of Rs one lakh on her.
CDRO asserts that it is a blatant violation of the law for the police to pick up any woman for interrogation or questioning during night hours. Section 46 (4) of the CrPC states that no woman can be arrested after sunset or before sunrise. The absence of any women police personnel further compounds the violation of a woman’s right to safety and dignity.
As importantly, by announcing the presence of the group of six Dongria Kondhos as a surrender event, in the presence of the DIG and the entire press, the Odisha police has violated Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Such coercive tactics used by the highest office of the district is blatant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the Right to Life and Right to Liberty. Article 21 clearly states that no person shall be deprived of his life or liberty except according to a procedure established by law. Creating terror through false threats and intimidation and holding up people inside police stations without any arrest charges or warrants to extract confessions has become the modus operandi of the police.
This pressure tactic by abducting a young woman to portray the surrender of a senior NSS leader is the desperate bid by the government and administration to let Vedanta extract bauxite. Dodi Pusika and his family and community are part of a long protracted struggle led by the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti that will continue to resist bauxite mining as the Niyamgiri mountain is the source of their identity, livelihood and much more. CDRO expresses solidarity with the struggling people of Niyamgiri whose struggle in the face of deepening capital advancement and a militarized state is both exemplary and inspiring.
C. Chandrasekhar (CLC, Andhra Pradesh), Asish Gupta (PUDR, Delhi), Pritpal Singh (AFDR, Punjab), Phulendro Konsam (COHR, Manipur) and Tapas Chakraborty (APDR, West Bengal) (Coordinators of CDRO).