The Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA) has prepared a memorandum to urgently appeal to Justice (retired) HL Dattu, chairperson, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to ensure human rights organisation MASUM to undertake legitimate peaceful work. It is currently seeking signatures in endorsement. Text of the memorandum:
We express our deep concern over the violent repression unleashed by the state government of West Bengal on Banglar Manabadhikar Surakksha Mancha (MASUM), a well-known, non-foreign funded reputed human rights organisation working for the protection of human rights in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.
MASUM is a platform of human rights defenders (HRDs), engaging on the issues of torture and extra-judicial killing, through its district human right monitors in different districts in West Bengal particularly in Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri districts. MASUM is involved in systematically documenting data and information related to torture and extra-judicial killing based on observation, questionnaires, and interviews with victim family, eyewitnesses, and relevant officials.
Since inception MASUM has been actively engaged in reporting and intervening in human rights cases, particularly concerning the violence committed by the law enforcement agencies in West Bengal. Most of these cases exposed atrocities committed by the West Bengal state police and the Border Security Force (BSF) deployed along the Indo-Bangladesh border. MASUM is also working with enclave dwellers and filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court of India bringing in to focus deplorable situation of the enclave dwellers. MASUM so far has conducted more than 3000 fact findings, lodged 3200 complaints before the HRIs, government offices, UN bodies; provided medical and psychological supports to 8500 victims of torture, their families. Each case reported by MASUM has been well documented and exposed blatant breach of law by the law enforcement agencies in West Bengal. As a result of its work, MASUM has come under systematic state attack.
Human rights activists associated with MASUM have been facing continuous and systematic harassment, physical intimidation, illegal arrest, detention and persecution due to their human rights work. Such acts by the state police alleged to be motivated by the state administration sends strong warning messages to other human rights organisations in the country. Masum is also closely associated with reputed national, regional and international organizations and platforms since its inception – such as the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, Redress, World Organization Against Torture [ OMCT], Forum Asia, Asian Human Rights Commission, Frontline Defenders, etc.
Mr. Kirity Roy, present Secretary of MASUM, was arrested by the Anti-Terrorist Cell of Kolkata Police on April 7, 2010 for coordinating a People’s Tribunal on Torture on June 9-10, 2008 as part of the EIDHR supported National Project on Preventing Torture in India. The police started a case against MASUM claiming the tribunal to be illegal. A police case was registered at the instance of the Detective Department of Police at Taltolla Police Station under sections 170 (Personating a public officer)/179 (refusing to answer public servant authorized to question)/ 229 (Personation of a juror or assessor)/120B (Criminal Conspiracy) of Indian Penal code against Mr. Kirity Roy and others. The case is pending in Supreme Court of India, after the Calcutta High Court rejected to quash the case. The NHRC also had let down MASUM when it approached them with a complaint in this case. The Government of India has also refused to grant Foreign Contribution and Regulation Certification/ License to MASUM which has been challenged and the case is before High Court of Delhi.
- Mr Ajimuddin Sarkar, District Human Rights Monitor has been implicated in several false and concocted criminal charges by Murshidabad district police. He was behind bars for 70 days. In the month of September 2015, Mr. Ajimuddin Sarkar was implicated in two criminal cases by Islampur Police Station.
- Kirity Roy is co-accused in two criminal cases initiated by the police in Murshidabad district.
- Mohor Mondal, District Human Rights Monitor of 24 Parganas (North) was detained at Swarupnagar police station under 24 Parganas (North) district on July 27, 2014. He faced verbal abuses and heckled at the police station by the officer in charge and on duty police personnel. Mr. Mondal was threatened and warned to withdraw himself from the human rights activism.
- Durbadal Majumdar, District Human Rights Monitor for Jalpaiguri district was illegally detained at police custody of New Jalpaiguri police out post in August 2015. He was implicated in a false case for helping a woman.
- Ajijul Haque, District Human Rights Monitor of MASUM for Coochbehar district and other enclave dwellers were brutally beaten by the hooligans in police presence at New Coochbehar station in February 2015.
- Tilak Barman, District Human Rights Monitor of District Coochbehar was illegally detained and mentally harassed by police personnel of Mekhliganj Police Station in May 2016. She is working for the deprived erstwhile enclave dwellers of Coochbehar district and three rehabilitation camps.
MASUM works closely with border enclave dwellers and filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India on the irregularities in the enumeration of enclave dwellers and their situation related to citizenship and their basic rights and amenities in settlement camps. Recently in July 2016, police force from Dinhata police station illegally arrested Mr. Kachua Barman, a resident of ‘Dinhata Krishi Farm Temporary Settlement Camp’ on false charges. The residents of three settlement camps earmarked for erstwhile Indian enclaves have been protesting by putting posters at their camps, depicting their woes and pathos and demanding early solution of their plights.
MASUM is facing severe threats from the state security agencies. The state is using all repressing measures including intimidation, illegal arrest, detention, fabricated cases and torture to criminalise legitimate work of MASUM. MASUM and HRDA have undertaken several complaints to the NHRC all these past years right from 2008 onwards till date but not even in one of these cases has the NHRC been able to bring the affected W/HRD justice. Taking into consideration the above mentioned facts and circumstances, the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) should
- take urgent and special notice of MASUM’s series of cases and send a special high level team of NHRC’s Special Rapporteurs along with selected members of the NHRC’s National Core Group on NGOs to West Bengal to meet all the affected women and men HR associated with MASUM and look into all their cases of harassment, ill-treatment, intimidation, illegal detention, police accesses and torture of the HRDs associated with MASUM and present a detailed report to the NHRC ;
- hold the perpetrators of the recorded violations against the W/HRDs accountable;
- immediately appoint through the West Bengal State Legal Service Authority a few competent senior lawyers practicing on the criminal side in the state and relevant districts to defend the W/HRDs in all the criminal cases registered against them at state cost, provide effective remedies to MASUM and its W/HRD ;
- direct that the State of West Bengal and the BSF is made to provide remedies to MASUM and its W/HRDs such as apology, re assurance of non-repetition and sufficient compensation to make up for all the loss of reputation and other loses suffered over all these past years;
- in view of the consistent work that MASUM has been engaged in all these years, direct the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India to reconsider the refusal of the FCRA registration to MASUM.
— Henri Tiphagne, National Working Secretary, HRDA – India. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org