Friday, October 14, 2011
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PUCL's general secretary speaks out at a conference on grievance redressal and whistleblowing after the police raid on her house in search of an alleged Maoist

I have come here amid you to feel empowered again because there has been an attempt to weaken me with a single blow. I am a simple human rights activist and 70-75 per cent of my work relates to protection of the rights of common people. Whether the violation is to do with police, administration or courts, I struggle for people’s rights in their daily lives and try to provide them security. I am also associated in some big campaigns to work for protection of rights' violation of a collective. Most of my time is spent in Rajasthan where I deal with everyday human rights violation as well as mass violation.

Recently, you all know that on October 3, more than 60-70 policemen surrounded my house as well as my nearby office. Not just simple police in khaki. There were gunmen in black outfits and riot control police in blue. They entered my house forcibly to conduct a search operation because they claimed I am shielding a “dangerous” Maoist in there. During the whole operation, no procedure was followed. Two independent persons are supposed to frisk the search team before they enter a place and also when they come out. This was not done. We also did not get a copy of the search memo though signatures of those present in the house were taken on it.

Recently, you all know that on October 3, more than 60-70 policemen surrounded my house as well as my nearby office. Not just simple police in khaki. There were gunmen in black outfits and riot control police in blue. They entered my house forcibly to conduct a search operation because they claimed I am shielding a “dangerous” Maoist in there.

I was not at home and tried to understand and question this arbitrary action over the phone. They said: “We have court orders”. I just want to say, whatever happened to me, I will handle since you all are with me. The main issue here is the context in which all this is happening. Today we have been talking about issue of corruption but we should understand that corruption is not limited to administration or welfare schemes. It’s not about police taking money to register an FIR. If that had been the case, the struggle would have been much easier. Here, the whole criminal justice system has been manipulated. It has become so easy to frame somebody in a false case or to get a legal order issued against him or her. This is such a dangerous situation.

Our struggle is for right against might. We are talking about this communal and corporate bias our State is following and using security forces to enforce it. Whether it’s about right to information, about Kavita Srivastava who is now facing a challenge or about control of education by religious groups, we have to understand in what context we are living! This helplessness we are facing is cruel.

Our struggle is for right against might. We are talking about this communal and corporate bias our State is following and using security forces to enforce it. Whether it’s about right to information, about Kavita Srivastava who is now facing a challenge or about control of education by religious groups, we have to understand the context

Where did the right to information originate from? Dissent. We told them our thinking is different than yours and we want right to information because in a democracy, we are entitled to factual information. Soni Sori, the woman in search of whom the police came looking to my house, who is she and what was she going to talk about? As we sit here, there is latest news on TV that Soni Sori has been beaten up in police custody and admitted to district hospital in Dantewada, Chattisgarh.

A distinct voice among tribals, Sori has been fighting both against the police as well as the Maoists in her area. This is the reason why she has been framed in false cases. This is what corruption is. Tomorrow I can also be framed. Any two-three people can give statements against me. And this situation is not restricted to the police. It runs up to our judiciary.

A distinct voice among tribals, Sori has been fighting both against the police as well as the Maoists in her area. This is the reason why she has been framed in false cases. This is what corruption is. Tomorrow I can also be framed. Any two-three people can give statements against me. 

Sori’s nephew Linga Kodopi was picked up on September 9 this year and labelled a Maoist. Linga was a young man, who came to Delhi and studied journalism for more than a year. He went back to Dantewada because he wanted to show to the world the complex truths of his area, his people. Sori came to Delhi because she wanted to complain against the false cases registered against her. She came to Delhi because she did not want to be a police informer.

Sori and her family members are people of communist legacy. They did not allow the Maoists to enter their area and also stood up against the pressures of police and army. At her school, where Sori teaches tribal children, Maoists threatened her not to unfurl the tricolour on August 15 and hoist their red flag instead. But she did not relent. She is one of the rare tribal girls who passed Class XII and started teaching others.

Both Sori and Linga are objective people. Linga was picked up by police because of corporate politics in Chattisgarh. Recently, it was revealed that Maoists used to take money from Essar Company to let its pipeline pass through deep jungles. The police wanted their own cut and both Linga and Sori became a victim in this whole tangle. On September 9, Linga was picked up. On September 11, Sori was fired at. She ran through the forest to reach Delhi.

Linga was picked up by police because of corporate politics in Chattisgarh. Recently, it was revealed that Maoists used to take money from Essar Company to let its pipeline pass through deep jungles. The police wanted their own cut and both Linga and Sori became a victim in this whole tangle.

She came to the national capital because that’s where one is supposed to get justice when you are not heard at the local level, at district level and at the state level. In Delhi, she was helped by friends who submitted her 150-page application in the Supreme Court. However, the court had closed down due to festivities.

Now, we all know that grievance redressal outside judicial system, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), is virtually defunct. Human rights activists like you and me, we are like doctors. We don’t ask your ideology when you come to us seeking help. You can be an RSS person or a Communist, it does not matter. Neutrality and objectivity is the first cardinal principle of any human rights activist. And we will follow this faith till the end.

Now, we all know that grievance redressal outside judicial system, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), is virtually defunct. Human rights activists like you and me, we are like doctors. We don’t ask your ideology when you come to us seeking help.

Those victimised by the State will come to us. They will also go to lawyers and journalists who will help raise their voice. I was targeted because I am a vocal activist. Nothing occupies my time and space other than working for protection of human rights. This is why a team of Rajasthan police, Chattisgarh police and central intelligence decided to swoop down on me. And it’s not only about me. Each and every RTI activist is being monitored by the intelligence agencies.

Recently, I and Dr Binayak Sen organised a meeting in Kolkata to work towards repealing of the sedition law. We later got to know that the intelligence report of that meeting calls us frontal Maoist organisation leaders. Today, when we talk here, this school where we are having this conference is under suspicion. You all are under suspicion because you are with us.

Recently, I and Dr Binayak Sen organised a meeting in Kolkata to work towards repealing of the sedition law. We later got to know that the intelligence report of that meeting calls us frontal Maoist organisation leaders. Today, when we talk here, this school where we are having this conference is under suspicion. 

Just imagine how the picture has been distorted by those in power. I am telling you this because you must understand that when we talk about grievance redressal and whistleblowing, it’s not just about corruption in administration. And this context is getting more complex. The situation is not similar to one we had during independence struggle. There are corporates and their interests, there is brutality of the system against its own people and the whole situation is being run through might of security forces.

This danger bell is ringing for all the activists whether they are working towards proper implementation of right to information, rural job scheme, ensuring right to food or women rights. And that when we are not even talking about atrocities being done on tribals. We are not even mentioning Kashmir. We are not even touching upon the crisis in Manipur. Please consider this context in which we are living when we talk about grievance redressal and whistleblowing. Whatever systems we have, they are not good. So should we keep establishing new systems? Even if you replace NHRC what good it will do? Today NHRC can’t help Soni Sori. Kavita Srivastava surely can’t help because her actions are already criminalised.

We are not even mentioning Kashmir. We are not even touching upon the crisis in Manipur. Please consider this context in which we are living when we talk about grievance redressal and whistleblowing. Whatever systems we have, they are not good.

These are excerpts of the speech Kavita Srivastava delivered at NCPRI's meeting in Delhi on October 10, 2011. To know more about the inside story of Soni Sori read Tehelka’s The Inconvenient Truth of Soni Sori

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