Pooja Chaudhuri Chaudhuri
The only fiction I enjoy is in books and movies.
On May 1, 20-yr-old Kuni Sikoka from Niyamgiri was picked up by the police from her in-laws’ house at midnight when she was asleep in her bedroom with her husband.
Kuni is a tribal woman from Niyamgiri’s Dongaria Kandha tribal community, Rayagada, Odisha. The daughter-in-law of Dongria Kondh leader Dodhi, she was arrested by CRPF personnel and confined for 36 hours in Muniguda police station. People took to social media to outrage against the illegal confinement, demanding her release.
After 36 hours of confinement, the police claimed Kuni to be an armed cadre of Bunty group under BCN division of outlawed CPI (Maoist) organisation. They further added that she carries a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh on her head announced by the Odisha government.
In its report, the police put the charges of exchange of fire with police in Dangamati forest in February last year, torching road construction vehicles at Pajjibali village under Muniguda police limits in 2013, and killing Shyama Kadraka of Nirgundi village under Kalyansinghpur police limits in 2016 on her and five others.
Niyamgiri activists said that Kuni’s family members went to the police station and demanded her release. However, she along with her husband, father-in-law and three other relatives, was paraded as a Maoist and asked to surrender.
Niyamgiri activists claim that Kuni’s arrest was illegal as she has no links to any Maoist organisation.
“The arrest of Kuni and the five other persons was illegal and an attempt to scare the tribal population of Niyamgiri,” said Lingaraj Azad, an indigenous tribal activist from Odisha, speaking to The Logical Indian.
Last month, the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS) in Odisha which has been vigorously campaigning against bauxite mining by Vedanta group in Niyamgiri hills was linked to Maoists organisations by the Home Ministry.
The allegation was made following NSS’ efforts in 2013 to hold as many as 12 gram sabhas of Dongaria Kondh and Kutia Kandha spread across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts to oppose any mining activity in the area and safeguard the livelihood of the tribal people.
“Kuni is an active member of NSS, this was the reason she was taken into custody – to instil fear into the minds of those who oppose the government. And this is not limited to her and the five other tribal people who were arrested, as the police make random arrests of our leaders as well,” said Azad.
On Kuni’s surrender, Azad said, “How can she surrender to being a Maoist when she isn’t one? We will continue to challenge the arrest because the allegations are completely false. The reason for such arrests is to allow bauxite mining to Vedanta which is profitable for the government but disrupts the livelihood of the indigenous population. Such police activities are nothing more than an attempt to establish control over people.”
Kuni was released from custody last night.
The Logical Indian contacted the Sub Divisional Police Officer of Muniguda, who justified Kuni’s arrest. “She was arrested because she has Naxal links. We only let her go after she surrendered and vowed to never engage in Maoists activities in the future,” he said.
This is not an isolated incident when a Niyamgiri tribal was arrested on allegations of Maoists links. “The police arrest innocent citizens when they should try and catch people with actual links to Maoist organisations,” said Azad.
Deputy jailer of Raipur jail, Varsha Dongre, made similar allegations of harassment of tribal people in Chhattisgarh. She said that women personnel in police stations have stripped tribal girls as young as 14 and 16, and tortured them by giving electric shocks on their hands and breasts. The girls are also raped. “I personally saw Mudiya Madia Adivasi girls of 14 to 16 years of age in Bastar who were tortured by women police in the police station. They had marks on their wrists of both hands and breasts. I have seen the marks myself,” she said in her Facebook post which is now deleted and an enquiry has been ordered.
Dongre further claimed that tribal people are registered under false cases to force them to leave their land. “The constitution and law of our country do not give any right to oppress anybody, so everyone needs to wake up…Adivasis should be developed according to tribals…they are patrons of nature, we should also act like custodians of nature and not justify the diabolical policy of killers and brokers of capitalists,” she said.
Varsha Dongre has been known as an upright officer. An RTI filed by her in the past led to exposing Chhattisgarh PSC scam case in 2007.
Indigenous people in our country are subject to immense prejudice despite being a crucial part of the Indian heritage. The harassment faced by them directly points to a faulty model of governance which allows room for such hatred.
Kuni Sikoka was not only wrongfully detained, but her rights under the law were also breached for two reasons. First, her release points to the fact that she was never at fault in the first place. Kuni was released after 36 hours because she “surrendered to her alleged offences”, however, the law requires a criminal to be punished for their crimes and not released because they “vow to never repeat the offence in future”.
Second, she was arrested in violation of Section 46 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which states “no women shall be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, and where such exceptional circumstances exist, the woman police officer shall, by making a written report, obtain the prior permission of the Judicial Magistrate of the first class within whose local jurisdiction the offence is committed or the arrest is to be made.”
However, Kuni was arrested from her house at midnight.
The Logical Indian urges the central and state governments to eradicate such hostility against tribal people across the nation. Steps should be taken to give them their rights as guaranteed in the Constitution and not strip them of their basic demands.
A proper enquiry needs to be conducted to punish the guilty, and not harass the innocent.
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