By Campus Watch Staff:
Editor’s Note: On November 7, Nandini Sundar, a Professor of Sociology at Delhi University was booked with the murder of Shamnath Baghel in the insurgency-hit Sukma district of Chhattisgarh. An FIR was reportedly filed by Shamnanth’s wife, Vimala who had named Professor Nandini Sundar and Professor Archana Prasad along with Vineet Tiwari (Joshi Adhikar Sansthan), Sanjay Parate (State Secretary, Chhattisgarh CPI (Marxist), Mangalram Karma and Manju Kawasi (CPI) among others.
However, on November 10, it was reported that Vimala had never named any of the above in the FIR – as it is being claimed by the Chhattisgarh police. In a move to express their solidarity with Professor Sundar and the people in Sukma district, students and alumni of Delhi School of Economics have issued a statement, claiming that the allegations against Professor Sundar and others in the FIR are false. The statement, which has over a 100 signatories till date is produced in its entirety here.
We, the students of Delhi School of Economics, are dismayed to learn about the filing of an FIR against Prof. Nandini Sundar (Sociology, Delhi University), Prof. Archana Prasad (Informal Labour Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University), Vineet Tiwari (Joshi Adhikari Institute of Social Studies), Sanjay Parate (Secretary State, Chhattisgarh CPI-M), Mangalram Karma and Manju Kawasi (CPI) among others for the murder of an Adivasi local, Shamnath Baghel, from Sukma district. Serious charges have been levelled against them, which include IPC section 302 (punishment for murder), 450 (house trespass), 147, 148, 149 (rioting and participation in unlawful activity), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy), section 25, 27 of Arms Act. Also, sections 23, 38(2) and 39(2) of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act have been invoked against Prof Sundar, Prof Prasad, Tiwari and Parate.
These allegations are part of a series of attempts by the State to target and intimidate those who have been bringing out facts about the atrocities being committed against local Adivasis by the state apparatus in Chhattisgarh. Most recently in May, when a team of activists and academicians including Prof. Archana Prasad and Prof. Nandini Sundar went for fact finding to various villages in Bastar, they were falsely accused of inciting the Adivasis against the state. Prof. Sundar has especially been involved in a long legal battle against Salwa Judum, an armed militia promoted by the state. In the landmark judgement that followed, the Supreme Court indicted the state and termed the Judum unconstitutional, calling for its disbanding. It should be borne in mind that the filing of charges against Prof. Sundar and others comes close on the heels of a CBI report which hauls up Chhattisgarh Police for the burning of 160 houses in Tadmetla village of Sukma (then, Dantewada) district in March 2011. Prof. Sundar had questioned the account of the police in this case, which blamed Naxalites for the arson and killings, following which the Supreme Court had asked the CBI to probe into the matter. In the lawless drama theatre of Bastar, IGP Kalluri, who was the SSP of Dantewada at that time, not only audaciously dismissed the CBI report but went on to claim responsibility for directing the Tadmetla operation. In a craven display of bias, members of CRPF and Chhattisgarh Police resorted to burning of effigies of Nandini Sundar, Bela Bhatia, Archana Prasad and other activists only weeks prior to the framing of these charges, after the CBI had submitted its report to the Court.
It is clear that the Chhattisgarh police has taken to a vindictive use of legal institutions in falsely framing Nandini Sundar along with others, given their relentless struggle for holding the state and its institutions accountable to constitutional values. The state apparatus, along with the various vigilante groups that it has nurtured in Chhattisgarh, are continuously forcing academicians, journalists, rights activists into a battle of attrition to tire them out and thus maintain a veil of silence over Bastar. Prof. G.N Saibaba of Ram LalAnand College, Delhi University, who was arrested over suspected Maoist links, and was later subjected to torture and harassment in jail, stands as a grim predecessor to this vindictive application of law. Conforming to this pattern, journalists MaliniSubramaniam and Prabhat Singh, social scientist Bela Bhatia, and lawyers of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLag) have all been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the police and the vigilante groups over the course of this year.
In her public statement, Prof. Sundar has already clarified that she has not visited Bastar in many months and was certainly not present in the area at the time the aforementioned crime took place. A teacher to many of us, Prof Sundar has been inspiring as an academic who has honored her responsibilities towards the people she has done her research with. At this juncture, we want to impress upon the fact that it is the local Adivasis of Chhattisgarh and the tribal populations of Central and Eastern India that are paying the real cost of this war. According to the estimates of Ministry of Home Affairs itself, already this year one hundred and seventy sixcivilians have been killed across the country due to this conflict. Scores have been sexually abused, raped, and tortured. The horrific violence committed in the frontiers of this war has been followed by an indifferent silence across the country. It is precisely for trying to break this culture of indifference and silence and seeking to ensure the basic dignity and rights of Adivasis as equal citizens of this country that civil society members like Prof. Sundar are being persecuted. In this dark hour, we share the grief of the victims of this war and express our shame for not being capable of doing more.
Under such circumstances as prevail, speaking truth to power is an act of courage and dignity. In an increasingly constricting social and political environment in India, we resolve to stand by these and other voices who are fighting to defend the ideals of democracy and justice, which are not the preserve of a few but the inalienable right of every citizen. We stand in complete solidarity with Prof. Sundar and other dissident activists and journalists who refuse to bow despite serious threats to their lives and freedoms. We demand a withdrawal of all these concocted charges against Prof. Sundar and others and call for conducting a fair inquiry into the murder of Shamnath Baghel by an unprejudiced authority. We further call upon the government to show the decency and maturity to work towards a political solution to resolve this conflict, instead of shooting the messengers.
Edit: Latest reports coming in suggest that the wife of the deceased has not named any of the people against whom the FIR has been lodged. Initially the police had claimed to file the FIR against the said persons on the basis of the account provided by the victim’s wife. Though the obvious farcical nature of this FIR is already being exposed, what must be kept in mind, as Prof. Sundar has also said in her statement, that innocent Adivasis are routinely implicated falsely and often are left to face the worse. It is of the utmost importance that the police forces in Chattisgarh be held accountable to the rule of law for the excesses committed by them for there to be any genuine redress.