Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ten Attacks on Activists in 2010 already … and a Wild Idea to fight back

# 1. Most recent: Murderous attack on Environmentalists Sumaira Abdulali & Naseer Jalal, and TOI Journalists. Maharashtra, March 16.

On March 16, the sand-mining mafia which is choking Bankot Creek – a rich mangrove habitat for migratory birds, crocodiles and marine life in Maharashtra’s Raigad district -- attacked environmental activists Sumaira Abdulali and Naseer Jalal, and a team of journalists from The Times of India, when they visited the creek on Tuesday afternoon to report on the rampant illegal activities.

After a 10 km high-speed chase on a twisting ghat road, Sumaira’s vehicle was rammed by an LCV as it entered the highway, and immediately surrounded by three other vehicles. In the presence of a traffic cop, 15 to 20 people smashed the vehicle’s rear window, the side mirror and side window. They then tried to snatch the camera from the TOI photographer but failed. The mob threatened to kill local activist Jalal who was in the vehicle and asked Abdulali not to visit the area again… or else.

Cops reached the spot after being phoned by the TOI office, but the attackers continued to threaten and abuse the team of journalists and environmentalists; they had spent Rs 28 crore “buying the creek’’ and nobody could stop sand-dredging there, the mob said.

Cops then escorted the team to the Mahad police station, four kilometres away, where police officials filed an FIR and booked the accused for attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and rioting. The Mahad police registered a case of attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and rioting. Shockingly, they did not arrest the accused who were present at the police station from 3 pm to 9 pm. One of the accused, present in the mob, was the local MLA’s son. At 9 pm, Sumaira and her colleagues were hurriedly ushered out of the police station as the MLA came in. The accused are now said to be “absconding”.

# 2. Police raid on the house of Journalist Dandapani Mohapatra. Orissa, March 11.

On 11th March, while Mr Mohapatra was away in some meeting, violating all procedures, the police raided his house for nearly six hours ransacking all his belongings and not even allowing his ailing wife and children to take their food. The police had not given a copy of any search warrant to his family members, nor stated any reason for the raid. As per Mr Mohapatra the police took away a number of old journals such as Ghadaghadi, Inquilab and Marga O Chinta – none of which is proscribed by the government – without giving a seizure list, which is mandatory. Strangely, the police took the signatures of Mr Mohaptra’s son and that of the local Sarpanch on a number of plain sheets of paper. After raiding the house, the SDPO Chhatrapur threatened him on the same day in the evening asking him to come to the Police station by 15th of March or face the dire consequences. No criminal case is said to be pending against him under any allegation.

It is believed that the intention of the police in raiding the house of Mr Mohapatra was to terrorize him and suppress his dissent, which he has been expressing through his writings continuously for many years. He is the General Secretary of Dakhshina Odisha Sahitya Sammelani, a literary organization. He was publishing a satirical magazine called Ghadaghadi between 1984 to 1990. Currently, he has been writing for a weekly tabloid called ‘Sahanamela’.
The police seem to have told the media that the raid was undertaken due to suspected Maoist links.

#3: FIR on Journalist Dr E Rati Rao. Karnataka, March 5.

Dr E Rati Rao, Vice-President of PUCL-Karnataka and Vice President of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), a senior scientist and activist with many decades of standing in the women's movement, the civil liberties movement, and campaigns against communal violence and caste atrocities, has been charged with sedition by the Karnataka police. The FIR against her implies that in Karnataka, defending secularism, opposing atrocities against dalits and minorities or fake encounters, and organising marginalised communities for struggle amounts to 'sedition.'

Dr. Rati Rao was Editor of an in-house PUCL-Karnataka Kannada language bulletin (called PUCL Varthapatra)– and it is this bulletin (last published in 2007) that is the supposed basis for the charges of ‘sedition’. The FIR against Dr. Rati Rao accuses her of publishing the PUCL bulletin that is “favoring naxals and Muslims and is propagating that the police are killing innocent people in the name of encounter”; that “calls upon dalits, women, minorities, farmers and adivasis to build organizations in order to fight for their rights”; that “accuses the Sangh Parivar in Karavali (coastal Karnataka) of indulging in false propaganda and fueling communal disharmony” and “calls upon the secular forces to raise their voice against such spread of communal hate”; and “by raising such issues incite and spread intolerance, disbelief, discontent amongst the public”; that “in the name of doing good to the dalits, women, minorities, & adivasis the said bulletin is spreading false information against the casteist & communal Government…It is propagating intolerance, disbelief, and discontent amongst the Government officials.” The sections under which Dr. Rati Rao has been booked are Section 124 A (Sedition), Section 505 (False statement, rumour, etc., circulated with intent to cause mutiny or cause communal discord) and sections of the Press Act that relate to knowingly spreading false information.

The PUCL Bulletin in question had discussed the attacks on the Christian community in Karnataka and had indicted the Government for failing to do enough to protect the minority community.

# 4: Murderous mob attack on Muzaffar Bhat & eight others, followed by FIR & arrest. Jammu & Kashmir, February 27

Dr Muzaffar Bhat, Convener of J&K Right to Information Movement and 8 other colleagues who had organized an RTI awareness programme in Branwar had all the tyres of their vehicle punctured during their overnight stay in that town. After they had their tyres repaired in nearby Chadoora market, they were murderously assaulted by a mob of 20 persons, and rescued in the nick of time by CRP and police personnel.

However, when the activists complained to the police, the police booked them instead, based on motivated charges leveled by Rashida Begum w/o Chaudhury Saifuddin of Branwar, who is also Halqa President and affiliated with the National Conference in the area. The activists were booked for rioting and house trespass, assault and theft (stealing gold ornaments) in FIR No. 42 of 2010 registered at Chadoora Police Station. Five activists were arrested and detained in custody over the weekend, namely Mushtaque Ahmed Mir, Abdul Rehman Bhat, Bashir Ahmed Lone, Nazir Ahmed Ganai and Mohammed Sadiq. Muzaffar, Dr. Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, Latif Ahmed and Ashik Ahmed applied for anticipatory bail. Thus, victims of the attack are being further victimized by the police, while those guilty of the attack are at large.

Detailed story:
Contact: , 94195.62190

#5: Murder of Shashidhar Mishra. Bihar, February 14

On Feb. 14 in Bihar, well-known RTI activist Shashidhar Mishra was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on motorcycles at the entrance of his home. He had been working to expose local welfare schemes.

# 6. Murder of Vishram Laxman Dodiya. Gujarat, February 11.

Vishram Laxman Dodiya of Ahmedabad had filed an application under RTI to get details about the illegal electricity connection by Torrent Power. He could not get any information. On February 11, 2010 he was found murdered, shortly after meeting with the company officials. Three people were arrested in the case. His son is yet to receive the information under RTI.
Contact: Harinesh Pandya, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) 079-26821553/0719

#7: Murderous assault on Ajay Kumar & colleague, followed by false FIR. New Delhi, January 12.

When Ajay Kumar asked New Delhi authorities later in 2009 why Municipal councillor Satbir Sharma had authorized the construction of private houses and shops on public land, he didn't imagine the question would land him in the hospital with a fractured nose.

Mr Kumar was stonewalled by the public information officer at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, so he appealed to the Central Information Commission, which directed the MCD together with the police to jointly inspect the property. However, only two persons were allowed to come and inspect. Accordingly, Mr Kumar, who is General Secretary of an NGO, Public Grievance and Welfare Society, Kishan Ganj, went with his colleague Manmohan Gupta on January 12… only to find themselves surrounded by a mob.

"Neither the police nor the MCD officials helped us," says Mr Kumar, who was beaten in the head repeatedly by an iron rod, leaving him unconscious and bleeding profusely. Society president Surinder Puri said, “The police registered an FIR on January 18, after we took up the matter with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate. But to our horror, we found that on January 12, they had filed a false FIR against us in connection with a weapon – a loaded katta (countrymade gun) supposedly found in our car.”

#8: Priyanka Borpujari & other Mumbai journalists assaulted, followed by FIR. Chhatisgarh, January 6

Priyanka Borpujari, a journalist from Mumbai, and her colleagues, were physically assaulted by locals and by police in Dantewada, Chattisgarh. Her camera was forcibly snatched away, they were detained overnight and a motivated FIR was lodged against them with charges of dacoity etc. More details at
For details, contact: Priyanka Borpujari 9820741992

#9: Murder of Satish Shetty. Maharashtra, January 13

Social activist Satish Shetty (39), who had blown the whistle on a series of land scams in and around Talegaon, Lonavala and Pimpri-Chinchwad near here, was brutally murdered near his residence at Talegaon-Dabhade. Shetty was on his morning walk around 7am when he was attacked with swords and sharp weapons. An anti-corruption crusader for the last 15 years, Shetty had used the RTI Act to expose the irregularities in government offices. He had exposed many land scams in and around Talegaon, besides the setting up of restaurants and marriage halls in residential zones, selling in the black market of kerosene meant for distribution through ration shops, etc. Shetty’s murder is a major embarrassment for the police as he had demanded police protection after having received threats to his life.
For details, contact: Sandeep Shetty 99603 86681 or Vijay Kumbhar 99232 99199

#10: Firing outside Nayana Kathpalia’s house. Mumbai, January 8.

Two assailants barged into the Swastik building opposite Oval Maidan in Churchgate at 6.45am and fired a round with a country-made revolver outside Nayana Kathpalia’s first-floor residence. The 65-year-old co-convenor of the NGO Citispace, who has been fighting for open spaces in the city, escaped unhurt. “The two men entered the building to kill Kathpalia. In the absence of a watchman, one stood near the gate while the other went to her house and opened fire after Kathpalia’s domestic help Soma China, 28, opened the grilled security door. The panicked assailant fled immediately,” said an officer from the Marine Drive police station. “While an additional bullet was found outside the house, the gun lay abandoned under a tree outside the building. The police have registered a case under section 307 of the IPC and under various sections of the Indian Arms Act.”
The officer said that the dog squad, deployed after the incident, led the police to a restaurant next to the sessions court opposite the Maidan.

The NGO has been targeted for its relentless protests against Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) scheme being implemented on open spaces and their opposition to hawkers.

THE NUMBERS WILL CONTINUE TO MOUNT. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS? Are we going to be content with signing online petitions? Or are we capable of ramping up our actions? Please remember, by doing so, we will not be acting altruistically, we will be acting in enlightened self-interest.

Let us go beyond just signing online petitions, sending letters of support and holding meetings. Let us organize at least a one-day protest this Sunday in support of all such people, who have been under attack from both anti-social elements and the police / administration.

What kind of protest? Let us think hatke. Also, think nationwide.

Here is one idea: On Sunday, for 24 hours (say 8 am to 8 am), we walk up and down the streets of our own cities wearing black clothes, handcuffs and mouth-coverings of the sort that Jain monks wear. We carry placards that says, "Citizens who seek Truth are under attack by goons and police in all states of India."

Wherever we feel tired, we sit down and rest -- even if it is on a footpath. If the police asks us to move, we move. In the evening, we ask aam janta / supporters to give us candles, which we light at various places -- walls, street corners, gates etc. and we go around all night till 8 am.

And we distribute pamphlets, give people copies of letters to the Chief Ministers of these states, along with postage stamps and envelopes (for which we charge money to meet costs). we ask people to sign, seal and post these letters. Alternatively, we can post them. Hopefully, we can get such letters signed and sent in the hundreds.

Can we all do this in various cities, this Sunday, next Sunday... and maybe the next? In this way, we can try to build public opinion and media glare on the entire issue of oppression of RTI activists.

Please let us discuss.

Column By:
Krishnaraj Rao

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