New vigilante formations such as the ‘Samajik Ekta Manch (SEM), Mahila Ekta Manch and most recently formed Agni in Chhattisgarh have been targeting Adivasis, religious minorities, political activists, journalists and researchers to discredit, defame and silence them, declared noted human rights activist Bela Bhatia in New Delhi.
She said that SEM was disbanded following a sting operation in which members of the organisation were heard saying that in every district they have local units and in case the organization was banned, they could start operating through another name.
“These vigilante groups are unarmed groups and are primarily used to intimidate and harass the pro-democracy activists,” she said and added that after the Supreme Court banned Salwa Judum—an armed state-sponsored anti-insurgency militia, the State has formed other groups like Chhattisgarh Auxiliary force besides local district level groups like COBRA Commandos and District Reserve Guards.
“The members of these groups can be seen moving around in cars. They get unaccounted money and enjoy police patronage to discourage democratic activism.”
“Bastar is being increasingly saffronised by Hindutva brigade and it was further marginalising and alienating the Adivasis and minorities in the trouble-torn area. What is happening in India at large has a reflection on Bastar too. We have been witnessing a collective growth in fascism, authoritarianism and capitalism,” she cautioned.
Maintaining that the security situation was worsening in Bastar, Bhatia cited several instances of “innocent killings” and alleged that security forces were not following due course of law during the counter-insurgency operations. “Both security forces and Maoists have been killing innocent civilians merely on the basis of suspicion.”
“Though police outrightly dismiss us when we approach them for the registration of an FIR but even in those cases where issues of serious human rights violations are taken up by the mainstream political leaders, police don’t register cases of sexual assaults and killings,” she lamented, adding that police in fact turns vindictive against anyone who takes up the cases of human rights violations.
She was delivering the third Shahid Azmi Memorial Lecture on ‘Democratic Rights and Political Responsibility in a conflict zone’ organised by Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association in collaboration with Shahid Azmi Memorial Committee.
“The state is going to such an extent in conflict zones where not even the first step towards justice was allowed,” she alleged. “In areas like Jagdalpur, even IPS officers who are pass outs from JNU become blunt and give open threats to the activists.”
Apprehending that in the wake of shrinking democratic space and expansion of saffron brigade things could worsen in future, she stressed on direct conversation with ordinary people of Bastar.
“Even though the social media activism is growing by the day, yet we are not communicating with them. There should be a direct conversation and we need to look at things from their perspective if we need to make our democracy more real and radical. We need to fight for it to ensure that fundamental democracy is not taken away from us.”
“Constitutions are not only for courts to defend,” Senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said earlier in his introductory remarks referring to human rights violations in conflict affected areas before adding that “in all the conflict-affected areas, extra-constitutional measures were being used to take the fight of activists away from the doors of administration.”
“Every battle in Chhattisgarh, Kashmir and Manipur or in every city and town of India is to ensure that a policeman operates within the frame work of law and our constitutional machinery exists to keep him not as colonial master or inheritor of colonial states but as servant of a democratic constitution,” he said and added, “That is the fight that Bela Bhatia and others like her have been fighting.”
Corrections were made at 21:19 by changing the name to Shahid Azmi Memorial Committee; Sanjay Hegde quotes too were earlier wrongly attributed