New Delhi-In a recent development, the Campaign Against State Repression (C.A.S.R.), a coalition of several civil rights organizations, has vehemently condemned the arrest of Tirumal Sarju Tekam, a prominent Adivasi activist in Chhattisgarh, along with the alleged fake encounters of Modu Ram and Kanha Ram in Kanker district.
The arrest of Tirumal Sarju Tekam, State Vice President of Sarva Adivasi Samaj and Convenor of Bastar Jan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, took place on the morning of October 28th, with police levying multiple charges under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to an alleged speech. Tekam, known for advocating against the corporatization and militarization in Bastar, has been actively involved in protests against the establishment of military camps that have resulted in the displacement of Adivasis and exploitation of natural resources in the region.
He has been arrested under section 295A, 153A, 506B. 435, 34 of the Indian Penal code for his alleged speech in a programme. Around the same time period, on 22nd October in Kanker district, farmers Moda Ram Pada and Kanha Ram were murdered in an alleged fake encounter under the allegation of being Maoists when they were travelling back from a trip to buy rice. Their family members allege that after being killed, the two were dressed in Maoist uniforms. One of them, Moda Ram, was just 18 years old.
The anti-camp movement in opposition to the overt militarization of Chhattisgarh sprouted after the police fired on unsuspecting Adivasis in Silger. It is currently still active in seven districts of Chhattisgarh, including Bijapur, Kanker, Narainpur, Sukma, Dantewada and Bastar. Tens of thousands of Adivasis have participated in this movement where the large-scale sit-in protests have been taking place against big corporations displacing Adivasis for the sake of looting natural resources and grabbing their lands with the military assistance of the Indian state.
For this purpose, the Indian state has even undertaken cross-state border operations with Maharashtra police coming into Ambelli, Bijapur district where anti-camp movement is going strong. One of the successes of the movement can be seen in Bechaghat, Kanker where the contract for a highway that would have displaced numerous Adivasis was cancelled after an 18-month sit-in protest against the camps and the highways which connect the mines and the camps.
Democratic rights activists taking part in this struggle have had to face all sorts of police violence, be it false charges, abductions or arrests and fake encounters. What is even more insidious is that the arrest of Sarju Tekam is the third arrest from a team of activists which had come to Delhi last year for raising awareness of the struggle for Jal-Jangal-Jameen in Bastar. There is a concerted attempt by the Indian state to silence journalists and activists who are trying to raise their voices against state repression in Bastar and the arrests of these activists ensures a “chilling effect” to create fear among others who wish to raise their voices against state repression.
At the same time, fake encounters have become commonplace in Chhattisgarh. In 2012, a judicial probe led by Justice Vijay Kumar Aggrawal had found that 17 villagers were killed in a completely staged gunfight by the police in the name of fighting Maoists.
In 2018, independent media outlet Newslaundry also published a ground report exposing how the police’s claim of killing 15 Maoists in an encounter in Sukma was actually a case of police firing upon unarmed civilians to prop up their numbers regarding Naxal deaths, a statistic built on the corpses of hundreds of unarmed civilians killed in many such fake encounters.
In a manner highly similar to the encounter in Kanker, Sodhi Deva and Rava Deva were killed in Chintafuga police station and dragged to the forests as purported Maoists in Tadmetla district last month. Large scale protests took place as people gathered from 25 villages in opposition to these fake encounters. Along with these activities, the NIA has committed raids all across the country, with the neighbouring state of Jharkhand witnessing 64 organizations, ranging from democratic, civil liberties, human rights, labour rights, anti-caste, women’s rights, Marxist-Leninist to even Gandhian ideologies being labelled as part of a list of potential Maoist-linked organizations. Arrests, raids, false encounters and red scare tactics are the currency of the Indian state when it comes to democratic dissent, of which Tirumal Sarju Tekam is the latest victim.
The Campaign Against State Repression (C.A.S.R.) has strongly demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Tirumal Sarju Tekam, an independent inquiry into the alleged state-sponsored murders of Modu Ram and Kanha Ram, and an end to state repression on the democratic struggle in Chhattisgarh.
The coalition, comprised of multiple civil rights organizations highlights the urgent need to address these human rights violations and repressive actions by the state authorities.
(Campaign Against State Repression: AIRSO, AISA, AISF, APCR, BASF, BSM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, and numerous others have united to protest against these grave incidents and demand justice for the affected individuals and communities.)