PUDR protests the illegal arrest of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti member Lingaraj Azad, who has been at the forefront of the peoples struggle against bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, and the continuing repression against the people through routine detention of NSS leaders, security camps, patrolling and raids on villages.
Lingaraj Azad was detained and arrested on 6 March in Lanjigarh when two FIRs against him, one of April 2017 and another of February 2019, were resuscitated, in continuation of the trend under the current regime where retributive FIRs are used as ticking time bombs against activists and dissenters. The FIR of April 2017 accuses him of unlawful assembly, rioting with weapons, wrongful restraint, criminal conspiracy, among others under the IPC, for his participation in a protest outside Vedanta’s Alumina Plant. The FIR of February 2019 contains accusations of unlawful assembly, rioting, singing obscene songs and criminal intimidation under IPC, and the Arms Act for use of weapons, for his participation in a protest in Tirlochanpur against the setting up of CRPF camps.
One needs to look no further than the Odisha government’s own press release to reveal the reasons behind his arrest, which labels him a ‘Maoist sympathizer’, and a ‘nuisance’-maker who organizes meetings against bauxite mining and rallies against setting up of CRPF camps. NSS in particular has been subject to this intensified repression since 2016-17, when the Home Ministry declared it a ‘Maoist outfit’ and was met with strong protests. Lada Sikaka, another member of NSS, was illegally detained and assaulted in custody by the Raigarh police on 23 October 2018 for organizing a rally against the setting up of CRPF camps, surveillance and combing operations. Separately, British, a member of the Bhumi Adhikar Suraksha Samiti and CPI(M) had also been illegally detained and assaulted in Kalahandi.
The brazen abuse of state power, illegalities and violation of fundamental rights are made possible by the overarching climate of intense state repression against rights activists, dissenters and peoples movements, where illegal arrests, detentions, fabricated cases, encounters, militarization, sedition and UAPA have become part of the regular vocabulary of the fascist Hindutva-vadi regime.
It must be remembered that in 2013, 12 gram Sabhas unanimously and unequivocally rejected bauxite mining by Orissa Mining Corporation Limited in the Niyamgiri forests, under protection of a Supreme Court judgment, yet the greed of Vedanta and OMCL remains unvanquished. While attempting to have the Gram Sabha decision reconsidered in the Supreme Court, they are complicit with the state government in ensuring that the people of Niyamgiri are terrorised into handing over their jal, jangal, zameen.
- immediate and unconditional release of Lingaraj Azad and the quashing of all FIRs against him,
- accountability for the illegal arrests and detentions, and custodial violence against Lada Sikaka, British and other people of Niyamgiri,
- stop the targeted persecution of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti and the people of Niyamgiri
- withdrawal of security camps and patrolling,
- withdrawal of all proposed mining projects in the Niyamgiri hills.
Deepika Tandon and Shahana Bhattacharya