By branding adivasis and activists as Maoists, government has declared war on its own people

arundhatiText of a note by writer-activist, Arundhati Roy, which she read out during a press conference at the Press Club of India, Delhi, to express solidarity with Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi and the People of Bastar. Among those present were Advocate Prashant Bhushan, Advocate Vrinda Grover, Annie Raja and Himanshu Kumar

The Mining companies are getting restless. The memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that were signed handing over Adivasi land to them have not been actualized because of the resistance from local people. Operation Green Hunt continues as Operation No-Name. The Salwa Judum is being re-constituted.

Once again Special Police Officers (SPOs) are beginning to kill villagers and call them Naxalites. Anybody who criticizes or impedes the implementation of State policy is called a Maoist. Thousands of Dalits and Adivasis, thus labeled, are in jail absurdly charged with crimes like Sedition and Waging War against the State under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). While villagers languish for years in prison, with no legal help and no hope of justice, often not even sure what crime they have been accused of, the State has turned its attention to what it calls OGWs — Overground Workers.

The Ministry of Home Affairs spelled out its intentions clearly in its 2013 affidavit filed in the Supreme Court. It said: “The ideologues and supporters of the CPI(Maoist) in cities and towns have undertaken a concerted and systematic propaganda against the State to project it in a poor light… It is these ideologues who have kept the Maoist movement alive and are in many ways more dangerous than the cadres of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army.”

The harassment of Soni Sori, Linga who have already spent many years in jail, the arrest of Professor GN Saibaba, who was recently released on bail and is still in hospital, the harassment of Himanshu Kumar, who has been hounded out of Bastar, are all part of this Operation. I have just heard that the Odisha Police in Malkangiri District are hunting down a documentary filmmaker and human rights activist Deba Ranjan. I know Deba Ranjan very well. He has made excellent films on the communal violence I Kandhamal and the assault on adivasi homelands in Malkangiri. He has worked with K Balagopal on several fact-finding missions. He is in Malkangiri, in South Odisha, the district abutting Sukma in Bastar — so roughly the same area. The police have filed seven criminal cases against him. He is underground now, fearing for his life. Either way, whether they arrest him or they do not, they have stopped his work.

The last time Soni Sori and Linga came to Delhi, addressed tribunals and press conferences, we were unable to save them. Soni was arrested and despite pleading with the magistrate in a Delhi Court to not be sent back to Jagdalpur for fear of torture, she was sent back. And both she and Linga were brutally tortured. They have spent years in prison, both of them came close to death. The media did play a part in managing to get them released. And now they are here again. Hounded by the same terror that is backed by the same commercial interests.

Ankit Garg, the policeman who Soni Sori says supervised her torture — which included, among other things, pushing stones up her vagina — in police custody, was awarded a Police Gallantry Award by the President of India, on Republic Day in 2012. Many people were outraged and condemned this. Personally, given the state of affairs in this country, I thought it was an honest declaration of intent by the Indian State. I only wish the award citation had been honest too. In cases like this one, the citation could have said: “This Award is hereby conferred on Officer XYZ for bravely supervising the torture and sexual molestation of a dangerous Adivasi school teacher.”

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