How Narmada police curbed peaceful protests in 70 villages on issues of right to life, river, land and forest on October 30-31, 2013

Police picket on October 30-31, 2013 outside Rajpipla Social Service Society  campus to prevent activists to stage protest
Police picket on October 30-31, 2013 outside Rajpipla Social Service Society campus to prevent activists to stage protest

In his submission to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi, senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati* has strongly rebutted the report sent by the Superintendent of Police (SP), district Narmada, Gujarat, to the NHRC in response to Prajapati’s complaint of October 31, 2013 regarding curb on freedom of expression and peaceful dissent on October 30-31, 2013, when the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi performed his stone-laying foundation for the Statue of Unity in Narmada river. Excerpts from the submission:

Our complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is not that “we were prevented from reaching the site inauguration of Statue of Unity by the Gujarat Chief Minister.” In fact none of us wanted to go to the site of inauguration function. Our complaint, as mentioned in the last line of para 3 of our complaint dated October 31, 2013 is: “…villagers were detained illegally to create atmosphere of terror among villages to prevent planned well-announced peaceful hunger strike in villages.” The same is reiterated in the last para of our complaint in line 7 and 8: “…We had been denied the fundamental right to express our rights even in our own home.”

Contrary to the report of the SP, our peaceful protest programme was well announced in advance that the activists and villagers will observe hunger strike in their own home in their own villages which were far away from the site of inauguration. The villages are located several kilometres away and on the opposite side of the river Narmada, where the inauguration function was organised. Protesting people had made it very clear that they will not have even a public protest on a common place but will only observe hunger fast in their own homes and put up a flag of protest on their own home in their private places and women will sing bhajans in their falia or village temple.

The people of 70 villages were protesting peacefully in the areas and in the court of law on various issues related to their right to life, river, land, forest in this tribal area against the illegal attempts to take away their rights in the name of several projects including Kevadia Area Development Authority, Garudeshwar Weir-Dam and the Statue of Unity without the due process of law by the government of Gujarat.

The SP’s report says, “… Looking the nature of threat to VIPs extensive vehicle checking, patrolling, nakabadhi and area sterilisation was organized by the Narmada district police. This exercise was started from 27/10/2013 which continued till 31/10/2013…”

We have no complaint against Narmada police performing their above mentioned duty, but the SP’s report further says in the same paragraph that “… during this process, police did not follow any particular vehicle or put any guard on any particular house in Rajpipala. The allegation made by the complainant is totally baseless.” This statement by the SP is far from truth.

1. Four activists, Rohit Prajapati, Trupti Shah, Amrish Brahmbhatt, Sudhir Biniwale, were followed by police vehicles right form Devalia Chokdi when they were travailing from Vadodara to Rajpipala. When they reached the place in Rajpipala, to the campus of the Rajpipala Social Service Society, two police vehicles with police remained as standing guards outside the place as if they are criminals. No police officer informed us why they are doing so, what are the charges against us, but they checked each and every vehicle going out from the campus to check that Rohit Prajapati, Trupti Shah, Amrish Brahmbhatt, Sudhir Biniwale were not living the campus. They remained there throughout the night of October 30, 2013 and up to 2.00 pm on October 31, 2013, checking all the movements from outside. Women police were also placed at night to handle the woman activist. The police informally conveyed the message that they will not allow us to go out, and in case we attempt to do so we will be arrested, but refused to give any formal order.

The photographs taken by our non-professional camera from inside the campus gate/fence show all this. One vehicle was stationed opposite to main gate and other was just next to the fencing of the campus to prevent us from going out of the gate of the campus of the Rajpipala Social Service Society.

2. The SP claims, “There were inputs from the State Intelligence Bureau as well as from the local intelligence branch, and also from the district administration that there are certain persons who are instigating villagers against the proposed project of Statue of Unity and telling them to disturbed the programme by doing something surprise in the route of VIPs as well as in the meeting place. There were clear-cut inputs that there are chances of clash between these persons and the public who are coming to attend the meeting which may lead to Law & Order situation in the district.”

The report also claims that “the following persons were detained under Bombay Police Act u/s 68 (preventive detention) — Lakhan Musafir, Dhirendra Soneji, Dipen Desai, Rameshbhai Tadvi, Shaileshbhai Tadvi, and Vikrambhai Tadvi. These persons were actively campaigning in various villages to create disturbances and chaos at the venue of the main function…”

This statement by the SP is far from truth. These persons were part of the struggle for people’s right to life and liberty and were campaigning in the 70 villages, likely to be affected by several proposed projects in this tribal area covered under 5th schedule, where the government of Gujarat had initiated several work without the due process of law, and without consulting tribals in the transparent way.

Lakhan Musafir and Dhirendrabhai Soneji are well known Gandhian activists working and living in this area for experimenting and propagating organic farming, solar energy, alternative education for children and various other constructive work for more than 28 years and have no history of any clash with government or anybody in past. Dipen Desai is a master of social work and supporting them in their constructive work. The other three people are local tribal activists likely to be affected by the proposed project. They all are part of the people’s movement in the work area and have never instigated anyone to “create disturbances or chaos at the venue of main function.”

Just 15 days earlier, on October 15, 2013 the Government of Gujarat invited representatives from 70 villages to have a meeting Nitinbhai Patel (then finance minister), Anandiben Patel (then urban development minister), Ganpatbhai Vasava (forest, environment and tribal welfare minister), and Shabdasharan Tadvi (MLA of the area) at the Forest Research and Training Institute, Gandhinagar. The government then trusted the peaceful method of this leadership. It arranged about five buses to bring the 3-4 representatives from each village from 70 villages from Garudeshwar to Gandhinagar.

The SP has not revealed the fact that, apart from the above mentioned six persons, some other people were also detained. As we had no information about them at the time of sending this complain in the early morning of October 31, 2013, we have not mentioned their names while making the complaint. Some of the names are Viraji Viradia (a progressive Gandhian farmer undertaking organic farming in a village likely to be affected), arendra Tadvi, Dinesh Tadvi and Naresh Tadvi, (all tribals from various villages).

prajapati2
Photograph taken during house arrest from within the Rajpipla Social Service Society campus

All the above mentioned persons were part of this meeting held on October 15, 2013 with the Government of Gujarat and, as the process of negotiation was going on but not completed it was decided that people will held hunger strike and peaceful protest in their homes and villages but not go the site of inauguration. This was well announced in the press also. Thus the claim that “these persons were actively campaigning in various villages to create disturbances and chaos at the venue of the main function…” is not true.

On the contrary, preceding two days of the event, Lakhanbhai Musafir personally informed the district collector that they will not do anything to disturbed the chief minister’s programme except the well-announced hunger strike, putting up flag of protest on their homes, and sing bhajans in their homes and villages as symbol of peaceful protest.

3. The SP’s report further states that “from the beginning it was clear that these persons are not criminals, so we made a separate arrangement in a hall at Police Head Quarters, Narmada.” This is contradictory to the earlier paragraph in which the police have claimed that “these persons were actively campaigning in various villages to create disturbances and chaos at the venue of the main function…”

If the police was clear and did not want to treat these persons as criminal, the question is why did they pick them up between late night of October 30, 2013 to very early morning of October 31, 2013 from their houses or farms? They were not allowed to tell their family members about their detention or where they were kept and not allowed to call to their families. There is no need for us to argue before the NHRC that these are legal rights of the arrested people. Every one’s (except Mr. Dipen Desai’s) cell phones were taken by the police as soon as they were detained, which were returned only after they were released.

4. The report further states, “Facilities like food, water, snacks, tea-coffee and other refreshments were provided to them… Even press reporters across the nation were allowed to report and video graph them inside the police headquarters hall. Some of these leaders have given interviews to these media representatives also. Dipen Desai has posted their photographs on the social media from Police HQ during his detention.”

The fact is that only Dipen Desai’s phone was ‘by mistake’ not taken away by police and remained with him. He informed us about the where about of all the persons. He was one of those who was detained in the morning of October 31, 2013. Till 6.00 am of October 31, 2013 in the morning we had only information about several people taken away by police from their home and not about the reason or their where about. The moment police realized that Dipen Desai was contacting others from the police headquarters and sending photographs from his cell phone, his phone was also taken away.

As we came to know about the where about of these people from Dipen Desai, we sent information to media and the pressure was mounted on the police. Media also informed police about the complaint sent to the NHRC by us. Due to this high profile event the entire media from all over nation was there and they started asking questions to police about illegal house arrest and detention. The behaviour of police slightly changed after that, and they provided snacks, tea etc. to the detained persons after 8.00 a.m. in the morning. The interview in the media took place at the police headquarters but not during detention. It happened only after the inauguration function by the then chief minister was over and people were actually released from detention.

5. Not only the people who were detained but the entire village population in several villages were terrorized and were threatened with heavy police presence on October 31, 2013 early morning till the function was over. For example in Indravana village, which is far away from the site of the inauguration, police did not allow people to come out of their houses. Thus, practically hundreds of villagers were house arrested by the police. The village temple in which women were planning to sing bhajans was cordoned by police and for several hours women were not allowed to go to the temple.

All this amounts to violation of the fundamental and constitutional rights of people to express our protest against the high handedness and illegal work undertaken by the Government of Gujarat in and around 70 villages of tribal district of Narmada. The protest that was organised in the homes, in private places for which no police permission is needed cannot be stopped by police.

The real intention was to terrorize the people and by doing this act they succeeded in their motive to silence the legal and peaceful protest, and up to certain extent they were successful in that. This is the new method to terrorize people adopted by the state. Strong action should be taken against all the government officials involved in these illegal and unconstitutional activities to terrorize activists and tribal people.

We are ready to depose before the NHRC with details and documents in person. The NHRC should call the concerned officer on this issue to depose before it. This will facilitate the process of finding the real truth and the real issue by the NHRC.

*Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara

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