Letter by prominent activists attached with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) seeking intervention of Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh and Governor Balram Das Tandon for cancelling suspension of police officer Varsha Dongre:
We the undersigned, representing a large number of people’s movements and organizations, across India, as the National Alliance People’s Movements (NAPM), are writing to you with a deep sense of anguish regarding the arbitrary suspension of a young and dynamic dalit woman officer of your state, since she publicly expressed concerns over the serious human rights abuses of young adivasis girls in the jails of Chhattisgarh.
You are already, we believe, aware of the facts of the matter, which are in public domain. The officer in question, Ms. Varsha Dongre, Assistant Superintendent of Raipur Central Jail, published a post on her personal Facebook account last week (which she later deleted), wherein she expressed pain over the avoidable loss of lives (jawans, adivasis and Maoists) and stated that after all it is Indian citizens who are being killed in this mayhem. She wrote about the general displacement in the V Schedule adivasis areas and alienation of adivasis from land, forests and rivers, in violation of constitutional safeguards, for corporate interests. She also shared her horrifying first-hand experience of witnessing the stripping, electric shock, sexual and other forms of torture of minor adivasis girls in the police stations and jails, including how the breasts of some of them were squeezed to check if they are lactating (and, therefore, not Maoists!).
While we do re-iterate our condemnation of the recent killings of 25 CRPF Jawans by the Maoists and express our heart-felt sympathies for the families of the deceased, we would also like to state that the military counter-offensive to an essentially political problem is only jeopardizing the possibilities of peace in the region, for the ordinary adivasis. The state government cannot ignore or be a party to the gross violations of people’s rights in the name of ‘combing operations’ and combating Naxalism. Varsha’s post reinforces the worst face of this combat i.e. inhuman torture of young adivasis girls, which by no stretch of argument can be justified.
We are of the considered opinion that akin to any other equal citizen of India, Varsha is entitled to her views, as long as they are within the framework of the Constitution of India. Having seen her posts, we are convinced that not only the views she put forth, but the manner in which she conveyed them were also well-within the constitutional limits. Varsha has also raised very pertinent questions about the ‘developmental approach’ of the State which would never lead to resolution of the conflict, as long as the adivasis are not respected as the primary stake holders and decision-makers in their ‘development’. Your good selves are well-aware that the Hon’ble Supreme Court, CBI, NHRC, National ST Commission have in the past expressed serious concerns about the human rights violations in the Bastar region. Infact the NHRC recently confirmed many of the grave allegations against the police and para-military in the state, including the rape of 16 adivasi women and also directed payment of interim compensation, pending further penal action.
We are pains to understand as to how Varsha’s post, which infact speaks of safeguarding the Constitution in the interests of the adivasis, has violated the service and disciplinary rules. Her post does not in any way reveal any departmental secrets or confidential state information. All that she has stated is information available in public domain and also in reports of various authorities. Instead of going into a defensive mode and suspending an upright officer who speaks from experience and concern for the law of the land, we think it would be appropriate and necessary for the state government to initiate necessary course-correction and to begin with, undertake a rapid inquiry into the serious allegations of torture of adivasis girls and ensure that such instances are not repeated whether in jails or police stations and wherever such instances have taken place, stringent action, as per law is guaranteed.
It has come to our notice that the preliminary investigative officer Mr K.K. Rai who was required to probe the matter in seven days, gave Varsha only 2 days to file a reply, which she did, in the form of a detailed 376-page counter, annexing directions of the Supreme Court, CBI, NHRC, Planning Commission’s Expert Group etc. We find it intriguing as to how the senior jail authorities issued a suspension order, holding her face book post irresponsible, wrong, misleading and in violation of the service rules and posted her at the Ambikapur Central Jail, before assessing her reply and giving her a full hearing. Clearly, basic principles of natural justice seem to have been taken lightly by the state government here.
We would in fact like to know from you as to why senior officers like Mr. SRP Kalluri had a free hand in using social media posts to vilify adivasis, human rights and peace activists and lawyers working in the area and as to why till date the state government has not considered any effective disciplinary action including suspension or charge-sheeting him (except transfer, that too after NHRC’s multiple interventions) ? Why no action on Mr. Indira Kalyan Elesela, SP of Sukma who stated, in the presence of Mr. Kalluri that human rights activists should be “crushed on the highway using advanced motor vehicles”. These differential approaches in dealing with officers give an impression that the state government is primarily motivated by the questionable political policies and not by any service rules or violations, thereof.
As an officer from a marginalized (SC) community, who has a proven record of high integrity, starting with her very entry into the State service when she approached the Bilaspur High Court against irregularities in the Chhattisgarh Public Service Commission examination and selection process, Ms. Varsha has demonstrated her concern for upholding the law. We find it necessary to quote the relevant observations and directions by Hon’ble Chief Justice Mr. Deepak Gupta of the Chhattisgarh High Court while delivering an 88-page judgement on 26th Aug, 2016 in Writ Petition No. 4028/2006, filed by Ms. Varsha on the CPSC irregularities:
“The Petitioners have fought a long drawn out battle. It is only because of the persistence and tenacity of the Petitioners, especially Ku. Varsha Dongre that these irregularities, acts of corruption, nepotism, favouritism etc. have been brought out. Therefore, Chhattisgarh Public Service Commission is burdened with costs of Rs.5,00,000/- in the writ petition of Petitioner Ku. Varsha Dongre, which shall be paid to her and Rs. 2,00,000/- in the other writ petition where both the Writ Petitioners will get Rs.1,00,000/- each. Exemplary costs have been awarded because of the totally false stand taken by the Chhattisgarh Public Service Commission earlier and its obstinacy in not correcting the mistakes for which permission was granted to it on its own application by this Court vide order dated 26.10.2007.”
Notably, even in her latest face book post, Varsha has only repeated her request to the state government to ensure implementation of constitutional safeguards in the V Schedule adivasis areas. Such officers, we earnestly feel, must be valued and their concerns, which are in the interest of the people and rule of law must be addressed; rather than being harassed in this manner. In the light of the above, we urge you to consider this matter in utmost seriousness and immediately ensure:
- Revocation of the suspension orders of Ms. Varsha Dongre and her re-instation at the Raipur Central Jail.
- An independent inquiry by a Retired High Court Judge into the allegations levelled by Ms. Varsha, especially torture of adivasis girls at the police stations and in jails.
- Peace and good government in the adivasi areas of Bastar, as mandated by the Constitution of India and scaling down of military offensive with a parallel initiative to build peace in the region with the involvement of local adivasis, human rights and social organizations.
We look forward to a response to this letter and immediate action as requested.
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information and NAPM
Prafulla Samantara, – Lok Shakti Abhiyan & NAPM, Odisha
Lingraj Azad – Samajwadi Jan Parishad – Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, NAPM, Odisha
Binayak Sen and Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party and NAPM, Uttar Pradesh
Sudhir Vombatkere, Senior Activist, NAPM, Karnataka
Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai and NAPM, TN
Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, NAPM, TN
Arul Doss, NAPM Tamil Nadu
Arundhati Dhuru, Nandlal Master, Manesh Gupta – NAPM, UP
Richa Singh, Sangatin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, NAPM-UP
Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan and Prof. Kusumam, NAPM, Kerala
Vimal Bhai – Matu Jan Sangathan, NAPM-Uttarakhand & Jabar Singh, NAPM, Uttarakhand
Sister Celia – Domestic Workers Union & NAPM, Karnataka
Rukmini V P, Garment Labour Union, NAPM, Karnataka
Anand Mazgaonkar, Krishnakant – Paryavaran Suraksh Samiti, NAPM Gujarat
Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan – Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan & NAPM Bihar
Mahendra Yadav – Kosi Navnirman Manch, NAPM Bihar
Sister Dorothy, NAPM Bihar
Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astivtva Raksha Samiti, NAPM Jharkhand
Dr. Sunilam and Adv. Aradhna Bhargava – Kisan Sangharsh Samiti NAPM Madhya Pradesh
Bhupender Singh Rawat – Jan Sangharsh Vahini, NAPM, Delhi
Rajendra Ravi, Nanu Prasad, Madhuresh Kumar, Amit Kumar, Himshi Singh, Uma Kapari, Zaved Mazumder, NAPM, Delhi
Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar, NAPM Haryana
J S Walia, NAPM Haryana
Kailash Meena, NAPM Rajasthan
Amitava Mitra & Avik Saha, NAPM West Bengal
Chennaiah, Andhra Prdaesh Vyavasaya Vruttidarulua Union (APVVU) and NAPM-AP
Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI and NAPM, AP
Suniti SR, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe – NAPM, Maharashtra
Gautam Bandopadhyay, NAPM, Chhattisgarh
Anjali Bharadwaj, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information and NAPM
Kaladas Dahariya, RELAA, NAPM, Chhattisgarh
Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai
Meera Sanghamitra, NAPM Telangana-AP