Archive for December 11th, 2009

Press Release : Assault on All India Women Fact Finding at Narayanaptna.

11 December 2009
Here is an account of what exactly happened at Narayanapatna, District Koraput, Orissa on 9 December 2009 as seen from the eyes of nine women belonging to different cities of India. Sheer terror of what these brave women faced is chilling. It is quite clear that it was a premeditated, deliberate act of State Terror by Biju Patnaik’s government to prevent any human rights groups from coming to tribal areas to ferret out ugly & brutal goings on aimed at vacating tribal lands for turning them over to corporates. The team included a 75 year old woman, Kusum Karnik of Adivasi Ekjuta Sangathana, of Pune.
It doesn’t matter if it is Dantewada or Narayanapatna, BJP ruling in Chhattisgarh or BJD in Orissa, or if the central government is ruled by Congress; the message is clear : “Move over tribals, the time of Democracy for you & those who help you peacefully is over”. 

Press release
10 December 2009, Bhubaneswar
At 8.30 a.m. on 9 December 2009, eleven of us (nine women and two men including the driver) left Parvatipuram (in Andhra Pradesh) for Narayanpatna (in Koraout district of Orissa) to investigate the incident of police firing on 20 November 2009 and the atrocities on adivasi women in the villages as reported of Bhaliaput, Bikrampur, Basanput and Palaput. The collector of Koraput was informed on 7 December 2009 about the visit by an all-women fact finding team to the area. As we were on our way, we were stopped by police in front of Narayanpatna Police Station. At the police station, we gave a list of names of members in the team with our addresses and mobile-phone numbers; the driver showed his license and car registration and insurance papers. Inside the compound of the thana, there were a large number of persons in civilian clothes; upon asking we were informed that these were special police forces. None of the people in uniform (we assume they were policemen) had any name tags. We asked one policeman how many police were there in this area, and he said more than 2000 police.
We also noticed that around 50 villagers (adivasis) were squatting inside the compound; again upon asking we were told by the policemen that they were members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh and have “surrendered” to the police.
We wanted to meet the Officer-in-Charge of the thana and although he was sitting in the office we were told that he was busy, and he would only meet us in the evening.
By this time, the crowd of the so-called plain-clothed police was getting restless. We heard people commenting saying: “Ek firing kya ho raha, ab aa rahen hain. Jab hamarey gaon jal rahe the, to kahaan the?” (When our villages were being burnt, where were they? Now they show up after the firing!). Several policemen were also making very hostile remarks.
Meanwhile, a mob of more than 200 persons, who were visibly not tribals or ordinary villagers, had already gathered outside the thana gates and several policersons kept on telling us that people here might do anything to our vehicle and to us and they would not be responsible. In this situation, we told them that we would return. But, as we tried to step out of the thana, the mob surrounded us, prevented the vehicle from leaving, smashed the back window. Our driver was cordoned off and was being questioned in a very hostile manner and being threatened. The mob continued to abuse the women team members in extremely foul language and derogatory manner. At this point, one policeman in plain clothes who was taking pictures of our team members on his mobile phone said to the mob, ‘Maro inko!’ (Beat them up!). That is when the 200-plus mob surged ahead. The driver was being slapped repeatedly. Madhumita and 75-year old Kusum Karnik tried to intervene and that is when one man went for Madhumita’s throat.  When she moved to save herself, her jaw was injured. Kusum was hurt too.
Rumita Kundu was verbally abused inside the police station. One man crudely said that all these women had come to sleep with the men there. Mamata Dash was hit on her back, and abused. All this happened right outside the police station premises and in the presence of a large police force! In fact, one of the police man shouted, “all the policemen come inside the police station, let the people do whatever they want to do with them.”
The driver was the one who was assaulted the most; and we did all we could to extricate him and board our vehicle. By this time, the vehicle was broken; the rear windscreen was smashed. With great difficulty, we left the area driving towards Bandhugaon. We were followed by young men on bikes. Somewhere between Bandhugaon Police Station and the village itself, we were stopped by two police men in plainclothes and they took away the driver’s license and papers. As he was enquiring, about 20 people gathered there. We somehow were able to get the driver’s papers back and proceed, some young men on motorcycle followed us and hit the driver from the window. We were completely shaken and traumatized by then.
From there, we proceeded to Kattulpetta. Even before we got to this village, news seemed to have reached them about our visit. A road blockade had already been organized, with a bullock cart blocking the road. The people there, again all non-tribals, pulled out the driver and started assaulting him. They tried to pull down another male colleague of ours, Mr Purnachandra Sahu and tried to beat him up. We intervened, and that’s when Kusum Karnik, the 75-year old activist, was hit on her head, which has left a lump there. We were there for more than 15 minutes. More violence. More damage to the vehicle. More slaps for the driver. They were threatening to burn our vehicle.
By this time, the two plainclothed “policemen” who had taken our names in Bandhugaon reached there and ordered the youth to disperse. We have later come to know that in all these villages, young men have been appointed as special police officers (SPO).
All along our way back right up to the Andhra Pradesh border it seemed evident that the police was in communication with these young men who stopped and man-handled us at all these three points.
We reached Bondapalli, the border village within Andhra Pradesh. Almost in no time, a jeep load of Andhra Pradesh police along with another jeep of heavily armed special force in civilian clothes arrived on the scene. They demanded to know who we were. We were treated more like criminals than victims, and our vehicle was searched. For the third time we gave all our names and other details to the police. Only after Madhumita spoke to the SP of Vijayanagaram district, we were allowed to go. The police version is that they were acting on confidential information from Orissa police that anti-social elements had entered Andhra. 
Our experience with armed youth and police has left us clearly terrified, and has left us with many questions as to how Indian democracy is functioning. We are deeply concerned that if an All India Fact-Finding Team of Women can be treated with such intimidation, violence, and indignity in the very presence of police force, what would be the kind of atrocities committed on tribal people in Narayanpatna who have been completely cordoned off by the police. The whole area seems to be under siege. This particular incident really highlights that the State does not want an independent enquiry into the incident that occurred on 20 November 2009 and the long-standing grievances of the tribals in the area.
Our concerns
  1. The scenario of terror that we witnessed, and were subject to shows the kind of tense situation prevailing in the Narayanpatna area post 20 November 2009 police firings in Narayanpatna.
  2. There is no access for people to get in and out of the villages in Narayanpatna, with all routes blocked by police and goon to whom the police do not even try to control.
  3. There is no way to get information about what is happening inside, and no means of verifying the very disturbing accounts we are getting about abuses, molestations and violence against adivasi people.
  4. The number of plainclothesmen who claimed they were police, and the comfort with which people outside the Narayanpatna police station were interacting with the police, and reacting to one policeman’s instruction to beat us up, suggests that there may be some truth to reports that there is a Salwa Judum style Shanthi Samiti in this area as well. This may either be sponsored or working in close complicity with the police and state.
  5. If the fact-finding team of prominent women has been treated with such violence, it is clear that there is absolutely no room for dissent inside the villages.
  6. All the people who attacked us were non-tribals.
Our demands
  1. The police officer in-charge of the Narayanpatna Police Station be immediately suspended
  2. The connection between the mob attack at various points and the police be investigated
  3. The SP Koraput should immediately be suspended who seem to be supervising the terror being unleashed on the adivasis and independent teams coming to the area
  4. Independent fact-finding teams should be allowed inside the region to investigate the situation prevailing there
  5. As a first step towards normalizing the situation, the cordoning off of the area should immediately ceased
  6. The Government should constitute a high-level independent enquiry into the police-firing incident at Narayanpatna and the long standing grievances of the tribals in the region
Sudha Bhardwaj, Advocate, PUCL – Chhattisgarh
Madhumita Dutta, The Other Media, Chennai
Shweta Narayan, The Other Media Chennai
Mamata Dash, National Forum for Forest People and Forest Workers, Delhi
Durga, Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, Chhattisgarh
Pramila, Muktigami Mahila Sangathan, Bhubaneshwar
Kusum Karnik, Adivasi Ekjuta Sangathana, Pune
Rumita Kundu, Campaign Against Violence on Women, Orissa
Ramani, Progressive Organisation of Women, Paravatipuram
Puranchand Sahu, All India Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, Pravatipuram