A four member fact-finding team undertook a fact finding from October 23-26, 2008 and 6-7 November, 2008 to investigate state repression of individuals and crackdown on organisations in Uttarakhand, happening in the guise of suppressing the Maoist threat.
The team comprised Rajendra Dhasmana (President of Uttarakhand PUCL,) Anand Swaroop Verma, Pankaj Bisht, Gautam Navlakha and Anirban (from PUDR). In Uttarakhand the team was also joined by Hem Mishra and Khem Singh (of Dakhal.) In the course of the investigation we visited, in chronological order: Haldwani, Almora (from where we went to Someshvar and Dasau near Petsal,) Ramnagar, Dineshpur (via Kashipur and Gadarpur,) and Rudrapur. In the second phase we visited Dehradun and met with two accused in the Dehradun jail as well as some senior officials. After speaking to both officials and activists, it was clear to us that the Maoist threat is more conjured than real.
State repression is happening for chiefly three reasons: (1) insecurity resulting from emergence of CPN (Maoists) in Nepal as a major political force and the likelihood of its appeal spilling over into India; (2) availability of central government funds to states for combating Maoist; and (3) an attempt on the part of the regime to pre-emptively crack down on opposition against large scale alienation of land and privatization of river water. The Maoist bogey has come in handy for local power wielders too to use against their opponents such as peasant or social activists etc raising demands for land ceiling laws and distribution of land to landless peasants. Repression broadly functions in a couple of ways: either through arrests, brutal torture in police custody, being implicated falsely in cases, and/or through a sinister campaign of striking fear in the everyday lives of people, a microcosm of which we ourselves witnessed in Lakhipur village under Thana Dineshpur.
Fault-lines in the police case:
Gopal Bhatt’s family told us he had been picked up, along with his brother Keshav, on the 28th of December, 2007. They were detained for one night and one day. Their home was searched by the police on the 29th evening. One of the men present was heard saying to an officer on the phone that nothing had been found in the house and Gopal ought to be released. The same night Gopal returned home.
Exactly two months later, on the 29th of February, 2008, close to 3:30 a.m., 6-7 policemen came to their house in a jeep to take Gopal away in order to help ‘clear some confusion.’ His wife was taken with him and interrogated. She was set free soon thereafter. Gopal however, was not released. He was sent to Khatima on 5 days remand. On the 5th day of remand Gopal was brought home ostensibly to meet his ailing father (who was bedridden at the time and continues to be very unwell.) The police forced their way into one of the rooms in the house, began writing things. When Gopal’s mother asked them what they were doing they shoved her away and she fell unconscious. After the ‘search’ the police claimed to have ‘recovered’ “banned literature and arms” from Gopal’s house. There were no independent witnesses and nor were the persons frisked before the search was conducted. The family never saw the alleged recoveries made from their house.
The next morning papers announced that Gopal had “voluntarily” shown the police literature and arms, which they ‘recovered’ from a wooden almirah in the house. Gopal told his family members later that he had no choice but to sign whatever papers police wanted him to sign because he was brutally tortured and warned that if he refused to sign they will kill him in an encounter. In the following days, the police threatened the family’s neighbours, took down their names. Three cases have been registered against Gopal (3150/05 under S 121A, 124A, 153B, 120B, and the 7th Criminal Act; 491/08 under S 121A, 124A, 153B, 120B, and 10/20 UAPA; and 492/08 under S 121, 121A, 124, 120B.)
In the case of Dinesh Pandey his family told us about how he was picked up from the office of [an] advocate but officially the police claimed that they had arrested him on the 28th of February, 2008, from the forests of Dhyanpur. They said that local papers reported, on the 19th and 20th of February 2008, that the police were on the lookout for Dinesh Pandey who was absconding. Four days later, Station Officer in charge of Nanakmatta thana came with an inspector, searched Dinesh’s house and found nothing. On their way out they instructed the family to produce Dinesh to the authorities within the coming week. . On 27th February his family informed the court that they wanted to surrender Dinesh before the court and filed an application. On 28 February four advocates (including his brother and uncle who too are lawyers) accompanied him to the court at Khatima. While they were waiting there the police arrived and persuaded the family to allow them to take Dinesh for questioning, assuring them that he would be brought to the court very next day and they will not demand his remand. Taken in by their assurance family members gave their consent. However, the [a couple of days later, between March 1st-2nd] very next day the SO of Nanakmatta presented Dinesh before the Court and claimed that Dinesh had been picked up after police laid siege in Dhyanpur forest and it was from there he was taken into custody on 28th February. The case # 3222/07 for which he is sought is not related to any particular incident but purports to be a case in which all the accused are shown to be members of, or somehow linked to, a banned organisation. This is the same case in which the prime accused is Prashant Rahi.
In Neelu Ballabh’s case he was arrested way back in 2005 from Gadarpur, though the police showed the arrest as having taken place in Radhakantpur where an encounter had taken place. It took him two years to get bail. And more than a year to fulfil bail formalities because police threatened his family and neighbours from furnishing bond/sureties. Finally after 37 months of incarceration he was bailed out. Neelu was active prior to his arrest, with MKSS in their struggle over enforcing ceiling laws in order to distribute land to the landless, as well as for operationalisation of the chakbandi system of land assessment instead of the bandobast system. A nexus of patwaris and big farmers has worked to consistently deprive the landless of their right to land.
Harassment of the family:
While Gopal Bhatt’s family too complained of harassment, as did Neelu’s family, parents and wives of other accused who are absconding have suffered most. Fear of torture appears to be one reason for their refusal to surrender. Khemraj Bora, age 40 years, has been absconding for nearly 11 months. A warrant was issued against him in the same case # 3222/07 as Prashant Rahi. Khemraj’s family has a political lineage- his grandfather was a freedom fighter and a socialist. His father was active member and office bearer in Lohia Vichar Manch. Khemraj himself has had a long activist life. He was secretary of the Vyapar Sangh, and active in the Boraro Vikas Manch andolan (for which he was also arrested.) He was also active in the anti-liquor campaign, the Binsar andolan (in 1992,) and the Lisa Shramik Andolan (in the 1980s.) He was also a member of Srijan Sahityik Sanskritik Sanskara (established in 1993-94.) Khemraj was with the Vyapar Sangh till 2003-04. On the 20th of December, the SP of Udhamsingh nagar and the Somesvar thana daroga came to his house in plainclothes at around 8 a.m., with 5-6 police cars and several women police persons. They searched the premises without identifying themselves. They asked for Khemraj and were told he had been in Nainital for the past 3 days. They took several of his photographs, as well as literature- including copies of ‘Nanital Samachar’ and what they designated “banned literature.” They announced to the family, at this point, that Khem was a Maoist. The squad left, but local police came back later. On the 8th of May, 2008, kurki was done (following a month’s notice.) Since these repeated attempts at intimidating the family. Khem’s wife Nirmala, who was working in Gandhi Ashram on daily wage of Rs 35, has stopped going to work fearing police harassment. Her greatest fear is that Khemraj may already have been killed. This fear was based on police threat to the family that unless they found Khemraj, he might get ‘encountered.’
In Dasau we met the family of Devendra Chamiyal, against whom there is a warrant, and who is also absconding. Devendra has been on the run since 2005, the year when the police first came to his house. They asked Devendra’s father his whereabouts, but were told that his father knew nothing. His father heard the police call Devendra a “Maowadi,” but said he had no idea what that’s supposed to mean. He asked the police a question which in the course of our travels, we heard from several effected families: ‘if you can’t find him, how can we?’ The policemen who came here were also from Udhamsinghnagar. Devendra’s wife, Kamla, has borne the brunt of the police’s brutality. They constantly intimidated her and made her landlord at Almora to throw her out of her rented accommodation saying she is wife of “anti-nationalist”. As a result she cannot no longer work to fend for herself and her child of eight years.
The family of Chandrakala (who is Prashant Rahi’s life partner) are upset at police routinely visiting their house. Her father had been in the military, and is now retired. Her mother suffers from chronic arthritis. Her parents confided that there had been tensions in the family over Chandrakala’s involvement with Prashant, because this was his second marriage and there was difference in their age. However, she used to visit them to care for her mother. Since the warrant came out, her father said, they have not heard from her. The police frequented their house, and still does periodically, keeping a watch on who they meet and- he suspected- perhaps even tapping their phone. This has made life extremely difficult for her parents, who, as her father said, ‘can’t hold their head high in public and have to walk in the shadows.’
All the accused, barring Dinesh Pandey, were subjected to torture. In the case of Prashant Rahi he bore the brunt of the torture which included roller, kerosene being poured through his anus, beating etc. Neelu Ballabh told us that he was made to stretch on the floor and then beaten black and blue with rods which he fears has permanently damaged his lower back. He was stretched and a rod inserted in his anus…. He feared inability to work anymore on farms because of this. Gopal’s family too said that he was brutally tortured, however they were reluctant to describe what was done to him. Santosh Ram who has been jail since 2004 too has been tortured. Unfortunately the jail and judicial authorities regard whatever transpired in police custody as having nothing to do with them and therefore, have not bothered to record what the accused have to say. The very fact that jail authorities did not allow us to speak to the accused alone appears also as an attempt to keep unpalatable facts from spilling out. They also appear to be unmindful of their own authority as per the jail manual in denying them either reading material, table and chair to sit or pen and paper to write. As undertrials they are entitled to meet their lawyer, family and friends, to have access to reading and writing material etc. All this is at the discretion of the jail authorities. And in these cases police personnel in anti-naxal cells give clearance before jail authorities do anything. National security has become a synonym for arbitrariness.
Questions about the authenticity of the charges made:
Considering that there has not been a single incident of violence by Maoists in Uttarakhand and all these people were engaged in activities which are legitimate and constitutional, it is alarming how a witch-hunt is being carried out by an overzealous police and intelligence personnel. Even district officials we spoke to admit that police and intelligence authorities tend to go overboard. As evidence of this we were told that they even consider books of Marx, Engels etc as “banned” literature. And consider even cultural activists as anti-national. We were also told that this crackdown on Maoists/Naxals is taking place not on the basis of any specific information gathered by local authorities, rather it is on orders from state and central authorities. This probably accounts for a crackdown on anyone whose politics appear to police too radical to them. We came across several such instances.
Haspur Khatta 2004: PUDR had investigated this incident which took place in August 2004. We had then said that 8 persons were picked up from their houses on 31st August 2004. However, police claimed that they had caught these eight from “sau footia” jungle during combing operation. According to the police and local media several articles were seized from the jungle which included tents, vessles, cooking material as well as what police described as “aslaa banana ke auzar” (instruments to make weapons). The first three items do not have any criminal association whereas the fourth item need not be anything but ordinary instruments being passed off as “weapon making equipment”. Yet sedition laws were invoked. Later police claimed to have recovered weapons and some ammunition. Three cases were filed, Haldwani, Rdupradpur and Champawat. In the first one (FIR #119/04) deals with recovery of 5 weapons on 17th September 2004 with the help of Santosh Ram and Harish Ram. Significantly, in case # 119/04, a sessions court convicted them on 7th July, 2006 under s25 of Arms Act and dropped sedition and waging war charges. They were awarded sentences of one year and nine months. In the other two cases trail has commenced. Chapawat case relates to recovery of 11 weapons during combing opreation.Four persons were dragged into this namely Anil Chaudakoti, Lalit Ram (then a minor), Santosh Ram and Harsih Ram. None of them were present when this recovery was made. As for the third Rudrapur case 8 persons are implicated of which two Kailsah Ram and Kalyan Singh have expired. All of the eight were picked up from their houses and accused of running a arms training programme run by Maoist guerillas. We had in our 2004 fact finding reported that this appears to be a case of police trying to sensationalise their story to invest their claim about Maoists working to overthrow the government some credibility. It was as part of this exercise that they began assaulting activists of other left organizations such as Progressive Students Forum, Democratic Students Organisation, Parivartangami Chhatra Sagathan, Krantikari Lok Adhikar Sangathan, Uttarakhand Kisan Sangathan and CPI (ML) Liberation.
The 2005 Encounter: We decided to visit the spot where alleged encounter took place and according to the police Neelu and two others were arrested on September 28, 2005, at around 11:00-11:30 a.m. The police claim 7 Maoists were present in Radhakantpur, three were arrested after exchange of gunfire, and 4 escaped into the jungles next to the crime spot. What is important to note that if encounter took place on 28th September 2005 then how come two of the accused (including Neelu Ballabh) were picked up on 25th September, 2005 from Budh Bazar, Gadarpur and the third person arrested from his house on 27th September, 2005! It was apprehended that police wanted to stage an encounter and kill these three. Many members of the public had seen them being abducted. The spot where the encounter allegedly took place is close to houses as well as to a doctor’s clinic and a school play ground. The small bridge, or Pulia, is right next to a plot of land which belonged to Piyush Kant. It was this land which local power broker Khokon Goldar and patwaris had shown as belonging to a big farmer Sardar Amreek Singh, who also happens to be the head of BJP’s Kisan cell. Several people we spoke to confirmed that there had been no gunfire in the area. Even the pradhan of the gram sabha told us that the entire police story is a cock-and-bull story and is meant to ensure that Piyush Kant does not challenge the illegal land transfer. All around us were visible fertile- mostly paddy- fields. No Maoists could possibly have escaped the police in such an area during daytime. There was no jungle cover as far as our eyes could see. The jungle, locals told us, was a good 5 kms away and it was impossible for people to have missed hearing gunshots or from noticing anyone running away through the paddy fields. In this case Jeevan and Neelu have got bail after foiling police efforts to threaten those offering sureties. However, Anil Chaudakoti remains a prisoner. I Anil’s case he was accused in this case and then shown as being an absconder in the Haspur Khatta case and arrested. He was brutally tortured and his health is in shambles.
Case # 3222/07: Prashant Rahi is the main accused in this case one in which no particular incident or commission of crime was shown to have been committed since normal law would considers them legitimate. However, once an organization is proscribed every activity of the organization as well as every member or sympathizer becomes criminal. Which is to say that were the organization not banned none of the acts for which they have been accused, tortured and remain behind bars would be considered anything but legitimate.
Intimidation of activists: In Lakhipur village, a stones throw from the scene of the alleged encounter, we visited the house of Piyush Kant, who has been subjected to frequent threats by the police. We spoke to a range of people who complained about state/police repression in its different forms. For instace policemen who first came to his house demanded to know from Piyush Kant why he had put up posters of Bhagat Singh and advised him to put up pictures of gods and goddesses instead.
Asit Kumar Sarkar (from Durgapur village No.1) told us about how, after he joined the Akhil Bharatiya Bhrashtachar Evam Aparadh Nibaran Parishad, he was advised by the organisation to inform local authorities of his membership. However, when he went to the thana, he was insulted by Inder Singh Rana, (the SHO of Dineshpur thana.) who warned him against “netagiri”. Indeed many people complained to us about I.S. Rana, who we were told, has been awarded the President’s Medal. Birendra Haldar, a member of CPI(ML) Liberation, too described how he was beaten and brutalised in the thana. He had been part of an important movement in Rambagh, where a BJP MLA had captured something between 100-200 acres, dispossessing the locals who had rights over the land. Dinesh Kumar Haldar, a doctor who was earlier a member of BSP but fought the last vidhan sabha elections as part of the CPI(M), told us about the steady process of ‘de-identification’ of Bangladeshi migrants: their voter cards and ration cards were being taken away and declared illegitimate. The fact that they had come from Bangladesh also made them suspect in the eyes of the authorities who tended to see them as potential troublemakers. It was very clear that in a context where, from Rajpura No.2 to Lakhipur (and possibly beyond,) a strong kisan movement was building up voicing the concerns of the landless, the state government had decided to snap into actions using a battery of repressive mechanisms, psychological and physical. Although this part of Uttarakhand has seen strong, organised grassroots movements, the process of ‘de-identification’ is only one step away from a de-legitimisation of their claims too.
In Ramnagar we met people associated with a fortnightly newspaper Nagarik. They have been publishing ‘Naagrik- adhikaron ko samarpit’ since ten years. They have raised different social issues through the newspaper. The newspaper propagates progressive ideas and condemns reactionary thoughts. It is not a declared or undeclared organ of any party or organization. The readership of the newspaper includes individuals who are either political activist or general masses.
On 15th July 2008 they came to know through a complaint from one of their readers, resident of district Mau (Uttar Pradesh,) that he had been threatened by a person who impersonated a C.B.I. officer. The subscriber was told that he was anti-nationalist and terrorist for reading this news-paper. He was informed by the said person that he was being investigated because the Uttarakhand government has demanded details of Nagrik readers from U.P.
Thereafter information came pouring. They received many phone calls from different ‘Nagrik’ readers from U.P. that the annual subscribers (who receive their issues by post) are being threatened and terrorised by the U.P. intelligence department. Many of the readers frightened by these investigations have decided to end their subscription. Interestingly, no one from intelligence department or any other government agency
contacted the ‘Nagarik’ office. It is the intelligence department of Uttar Pradesh which is threatening the readers by making allegations that ‘Nagarik” is an anti-national newspaper. This indicates that intelligence department of Uttarakhand is preparing a list of those readers who receive their issues by post since last several years so that they can be threatened or repressed whenever needed.
On 6th October when Krantikari Lok Adihikar Sanghtana were holding a protest against non-supply of water to people living in Nagina Basti, Lal Kuan and demanding BPL cards for residents as well as compensating those whose house was damaged due to collapse of a basti wall, the local goons attacked them. The local police instead of coming to aid of the public sided with the goons, took them in their custody and beat men and women mercilessly. While a FIR was lodged against the protestors the police refused to allow the victims of their highhandedness to lodge their complaint.
In 2004 PUDR had observed that “It appears that the administration, with police playing a lead role, in conjunction with media looking for sensational stories about gun-weilding ‘Maoists’ working to overthrow the Government of India has squeezed the democratic space in the region. The targeted harassment of a large number of social and political activists appears to be an attempt to stifle legitimate protests…” Four years later the same situation prevails. As we were about to leave Piyush Kant’s home [on the 26th of October], two men in plainclothes walked into the open courtyard with a silent sense of purpose. One of them began filming the gathering without a word. For 5-10 minutes neither said anything. It was only when we asked them who they were that they said they had come from Dineshpur thana. When we were leaving, Piyush and some others voiced their concerns saying that once we go the SP might very well summon them to the thana and brutalise or intimidate them. On our way back to Delhi we therefore met with the SSP, Rudrapur (Ghildiyal,) who told us that unless we have come to meet someone for their “daughter’s wedding” we ought to inform the police about our whereabouts, going so far as to say that we might wish to inform them of our tour itinerary before we begin investigations, since the police doesn’t know who might preach what “ideology” to whom. In support of his statements, he cited a ‘Police Act,’ though it is unclear if the Act entitles the police to stop any citizen from travelling anywhere or meeting anyone. Yet, the SSP (Rudrapur) claimed that the new police act obliges a citizen to inform police in advance if they are visiting villages and village dwellers. For a senior police officer to make such a claim was astounding not only because this is in complete contravention of constitutional provisions but also dangerous in that this appears as early signs of police raj in the making.
We are convinced, therefore, that a police crackdown in the name of fighting Maoists/Naxals is fraught with dangers. It is easy for police to arrest any social or political activists and implicate that person in a crime which never took place because once an organization is banned anything remotely linked to that organization becomes a crime. It has become easy for police to declare any literature seized as being “banned” material or printed matter brought out by a proscribed organization. It is not impossible to lodge false cases invoking national security provisions of IPC and other laws which make it difficult for the accused either to get bail or even be treated as undertrial entitled to certain rights in accordance with Minimum Standards prescribed by UN for prisoners and to which India is a signatory. We are particularly outraged by stories of brutal torture of the accused, and the intimidation of readers of magazines brought out by radical groups, merely because police and intelligence consider them “anti-national”. We fear that what is happening in Uttarakhand is an early sign of making of a police raj where police and intelligence agencies will decide which political and social activities are to be permitted and what outlawed by calling it “anti-national”. Which printed material is to be proscribed and which is not. Which organisation will be allowed to work and which one crippled. Indeed they have been preaching to the people to give up the path of struggle, forget injustices and just get on with their lives. That scores of organisations and persons can suffer repression under the guise of fighting Maoists, their lives turned upside down, and people coerced into obedience, is the most worrying thing of all.
WE therefore, demand that:
1. Government of Uttarakhand withdraw false cases filed by them to showcase Maoist activities in Uttarakhand;
2. Set up an inquiry into allegations of torture of the accused in police custody;
3. Provide a list of banned literature;
4. Prosecute those police officers who carried out intimidation of readers of Nagarik and continue to harass villagers who dare raise their voice against injustice;
5. Provide families of the accused compensation for endangering their right to life and liberty, which also means their right to earn their livelihood.
Rajendra Dhasmana (Uttarakhand PUCL)
Anand Swaroop Verma
Gautam Navlakha (PUDR)
Hem Mishra (Dakhal)
Khem Singh (Dakhal)