Delhi University professor and human rights activist Nandini Sundar, an author noted for her work in Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh, has been booked with Maoists and others on the charge of murder of a tribal person in the insurgency-hit Sukma district of the state.
An FIR has been lodged against Nandini Sundar, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Archana Prasad, Vineet Tiwari, who is with Delhi’s Joshi Adhikar Sansthan, Sanjay Parate (Chhattisgarh CPI (Marxist) State Secretary) and others along with Maoists for killing Shamnath Baghel. The complaint has been lodged by Baghel’s wife, said Inspector General (IG) of Police (Bastar Range) SRP Kalluri.
They have been booked under sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 147, 148, 149 (punishment for rioting, unlawful assembly) 452 (House-trespassing after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint) of IPC and sections 25, 27 of the Arms Act, at Tongpal police station.
Suspected Naxals allegedly killed Shamnath Baghel with sharp weapons on Friday night at his residence in Nama village under the Kumakoleng gram panchayat in Tongpal area, around 450 km from Raipur. He had been leading a campaign against Maoist activities since April and had recently formed the “Tangiya (axe) group”, to dissuade villagers from joining the Maoists.
Though the case was registered on Saturday, the matter came to light only on Monday.
According to the information provided by IG Kalluri, the victim’s wife in her complaint, mentioned that her husband had been getting threats from Maoists since the other villagers and he had complained against Nandini in May this year.
The IG also said that she entered the village using a fake name, Richa Keshav.
A letter was then written to the Vice Chancellors of both DU and JNU informing that the Bastar police was conducting an inquiry against both the professors following the complaint received against them.
The unfolding of a controversy
All the allegations made against the 48-year-old are being seen as a vindictive attack by Chhattisgarh police on human rights defenders. The FIR, as of now, seems to be a case of vendetta politics against those who have been trying to highlight the excessive use of force by security personnel in the name of restricting the Maoists.
Many activists believe that controversial policeman, IG Kalluri — accused of murders, fake encounters, sexual violence — forced Baghel’s wife to file the FIR.
Background of the tension between police and activists
It was in May this year that Nandini, Archana, Vineet and Sanjay went to Bastar as members of a fact-finding team and reported several allegations of repression, land grab, arbitrary arrests, rape, and extrajudicial execution by the state police and CRPF. In their report titled ‘Caught in an Irresponsible War’, it was written that members of the fact-finding mission were repeatedly harassed by the police. Since then, the police, on different occasions, have tried to corner them, especially the two professors, by pressing various charges against them.
The heat between the two groups was further fuelled last week after the CBI held the Chhattisgarh police and paramilitaries responsible for burning hundreds of homes in counter-insurgency operations in Tadmetla village in March 2011. The charge sheet was filed by Nandini and a few others.
The police under the aegis of IG Kalluri also burnt effigies of activists, petitioners and journalists, including that of Nandini.
Nandini’s history in Chhattisgarh
Nandini has been actively working in the state highlighting the abuses of the authority on tribal people. She was one of the petitioners in the case which led to the Supreme Court banning the state-sponsored vigilante group Salwa Judum in 2011.
After the visit in May, the fact-finding team had appealed to the Centre and state governments, as well as the judiciary, to establish peace in Bastar. The team had also urged the Naxals to become a part of the reconciliation process, and not stand in the way of democratic processes.
However, some villagers accused Nandini of holding meetings with Maoist leaders and inciting them to violence.
Nandini at loggerheads with IG Kalluri
Both Nandini and Kalluri have been at loggerheads because of the latter’s ‘high-handed’ approach in handling anti-Maoist operations.
In recent history, several journalists and civil rights activists have often been jailed under IG Kalluri’s watch for reporting against the brutalities of the police forces.
The 1994 batch Indian Police Service officer, originally from Andhra Pradesh, opted for the Chhattisgarh cadre when Madhya Pradesh was bifurcated in 2000. He is perceived to have weakened the insurgency.
He has now been given a free hand by the government. According to a report by the Hindustan Times, Kalluri has devised a complex strategy that rests on five pillars – surrender, arrests, encounters, development, and ‘empowering people’.
Earlier this year, journalist Malini Subramaniam and the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JLAG) were forced to leave Bastar after a series of attacks by vigilante groups, allegedly provoked by Kalluri, against them.
Nandini has constantly r voiced her opinion against Kalluri.
The government had sought court’s direction to keep people like Nandini away from Bastar. It alleged that such people wanted to keep the fire of violence alive in Bastar for vested interests. However, the argument was rejected by the judges.
The next hearing of this case is scheduled for November 11.
The Logical Indian hopes that justice is meted out in the right direction for this case. There are many such instances that suggest Nandini Sundar is innocent and that it has been a political vendetta launched by the Chhattisgarh Police. Let us hope that the truth prevails