Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Human Rights Defenders working in tribal area against displacement in Orissa are under wrath of the state - Please take action

Justice G. P, Mathur
The Acting Chairman
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House
Copernicus Marg
New Delhi-110001

Respected Sir,

We are deeply concerned by the fact that the members and activists of one fraternal organization namely Keonjhar Integrated Rural Development and Training Institute (KIRDTI) came under police rage for their legitimate work in the forefront of human rights. This is a clear case of attack upon the human rights defenders by the state.

The organization has been working in Keonjhar district of Orissa state since last 19 years in the area of Ecological protection, land rights of tribal people, mining and displacement, pollution, Right to Information, and on the food security issues of the Adivasi (tribal) community. It has also taken up issues against pyrophilite mining and iron ore mining. Similarly the organization had mobilized a strong mass movement since 2003 against the lease of Khandadhar Hill range to different companies. Moreover effort has been given by KIRDTI since 1997 to stop transfer of land owned by Adivasis (tribal) and restore the transferred land.

The organization soon became an eye shore of the log mafia, money lender, mining lease holder and the administration and it was cautioned number of times by the administration not to sensitize people in respect to the mining and displacement.

On 30th June, 2008 some miscreants attacked the house of Mr. Khageswar Mahanta, village-Rebena Palaspal , Police Station-Daitari. At the time of the incident there was rumor that Maoists attacked his house. On the next day he went to the local Daitari Police Station and the police registered one FIR being 22/2008 dated 1.7.2008 under sections 458/ 392/ 397/ 435/ 436/ 427/ 294/ 506 of Indian Penal Code and Section 25/27 of Arms Act upon one written report of the incident which was signed by Mr. Khageswar Mahanta. The said written report (FIR) did not contain any name of the alleged miscreants for which the police registered it against unknown persons

The police took this as an opportunity to harass the members of KIRDTI and soon started to round up the members of KIRDTI in the said criminal case. On 10th July 2008, police of Daitari Police Station raided the house of Ms. Mamina Munda, a KIRDTI women volunteer’s house. The police took both Mamina and her father along with another villager who had come to visit Maminas house. Ms. Mamina Munda and her father were detained illegally in police lock-up for two days and subjected them to brutal torture. Several civil society organizations protested against such illegal action of police and this led to the release of Ms. Mamina Munda and her father from illegal detention.

But this did not dissuade the police to harass the other members of the organization. Mr. Rabindra Kumar Majhi and Mr. Madhusudan Badra, both members and activists of KIRDTI were arrested on 11.7.2008. Another member of KIRDTI Mr. Kandera Hebram was arrested on 13.7.2008. The police was in look out for other members but several members of the organization went underground due to police harassment.

All the arrested members (Mr. Rabindra Kumar Majhi, Mr. Madhusudan Badra and Mr. Kandera Hebram) of the organization and the informant Mr. Khageswar Mahanta know each other well as all of them reside in the same and the neighbouring village. So it was possible for Mr. Khageswar Mahanta to identify the aforesaid arrested members of KIRDTI at the time of the alleged incident if they were involved in attacking his house. But as already stated above the written report (FIR) signed by Mr. Khageswar Mahanta, did not contain any name of the miscreants. The police deliberately tried to establish the connection of the aforesaid arrested persons with the criminal case by holding a Test Identification Parade of them by Mr. Khageswar Mahanta, the informant. The police subsequently filed Charge Sheet under sections 458/ 342/ 397/ 395/ 435/ 436/ 427/294/506 of IPC in the court against them including other 15 persons among whom 7 persons are shown in the charge sheet as absconders.

Mr. Rabindra Kumar Majhi, Mr. Madhusudan Badra and Mr. Kandera Hebram are now facing the trial (S.T. Case no. 27/125 of 2009) pending in the court of District & Session Judge, Keonjhar. They are still in detention and number of times their bail applications have been rejected by the court. The trial is in progress and the key witness Mr. Khageswar Mahanta has already stated inter alia in his deposition before the trial court that the accused persons are his co-villagers and he knew the accused persons earlier by their names. He also stated inter alia that he did not scribe the written report before the police and did not know its contents.

We condemn that a section of the administration has been active in leasing out vast area of land in the district Keonjhar which is rich in minerals like iron ore, Manganese, Pyrophylite, quartz etc to profit earning companies for mining. The forced land leasing in Adivasi area for mining operation and industrialization leads to confrontation and repression on Adivasis with gross violation of human rights. In the year 2006, as reported by KIRDTI, the Adivasi people of Revanapalaspal Panchayat have fought against the survey of mining lease and did not allow the company vehicle to enter in to the area since there was possibility of damaging the entire agricultural land of 4 villages. But instead of giving the Adivasi people an opportunity of being heard there was police case against 80 Adivasi(tribal) leaders.

Therefore it was quite expected that the members of KIRDTI would also come under police wrath for sensitizing people in respect to the mining and displacement due to unholy nexus between the administration, police and the influential profit earners.

Therefore under the circumstances we condemn the police action in harassing the members of KIRDTI and framing them in concocted police cases. We consider this as a means to dissuade them from carrying out their legitimate job and also the tribal (Adivasi) people of the area who with the help of the organization started to fight for their rights against forced displacements.

We demand that an impartial probe must be initiated by an independent body which would forthwith probe into the forced displacement of tribal people in the district-Keonjhar, Orissa. We demand a judicial inquiry in the matter whether a section of administration and police have been guilty of acting extra judicially against tribal people and the members of KIRDTI for their movement against forced displacement. We urge for immediate release from detention for Mr. Rabindra Kumar Majhi, Mr. Madhusudan Badra and Mr. Kandera Hebram, the members of KIRDTI.

Thanking You
Yours truly,

Kirity Roy
Secretary, MASUM
National Convener, PACTI