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Arresting Film Maker May Have Been a Mistake--DGP CHHATTISGARH

The full report of the DGP visit with photos is available here:
http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=ddp3w2ff_32hcwr52gj&hl=en

DGP CHHATTISGARH UNDER FIRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD AT BERKELEY CONFERENCE
"Arresting Film Maker May Have Been a Mistake": Vishwa Ranjan

For a change, it was the turn of Vishwa Ranjan, the high profile DGP
(Director General of Police) of the Indian State of Chhattisgarh, to
be interrogated. Questioning the DGP about the massive human rights
abuses perpetrated by the police under his direction were over fifty
students, faculty and members from a coalition of South Asian
community groups at a conference on Indian Democracy at Berkeley,
California, where he was one of the invited speakers.

And some of the 'confessions' that emerged from him were startling.
The arrest of film maker Ajay T.G., Vishwa Ranjan said, was a
'technical mistake'. The continued incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen in
Raipur jail was the responsibility of the Chhattisgarh government and
not the police.

Apparently, the chief police official of Chhattisgarh is so unused to
questioning that he became flustered and signed a post-card to the
Prime Minister asking for Dr Sen's release! The card he signed reads
'The imprisonment of this brave and good man is outrageous. I demand
his immediate unconditional release.'

READ ON for a full account of the conference...
**Videos, Photographs available below**

The FDRI/Berkeley Conference on Indian Democracy held at the
University of California, Berkeley, on September 26 and 27, 2008, had
a 2-hour session on the human rights situation in the Indian state of
Chhattisgarh. The panel consisted of Justice Srikrishna (former
Justice of the Indian Supreme Court), Vishwa Ranjan (DGP of
Chhattisgarh), Nandini Sundar (Professor of Sociology, University of
Delhi), Sunil Kumar (Editor, Daily Chhattisgarh) and Dipti Bhatnagar
(Students for Justice in Chhattisgarh).

Chhattisgarh is the site of an ongoing conflict between Naxalites
(Maoist insurgents) and state security forces, including the
state-backed "Salwa Judum" vigilante army. Counterinsurgency programs
have displaced over 300,000 tribals from their villages. The state
security forces, including the Salwa Judum, have been implicated in
many instances of extrajudicial killings, rapes, extortion, torture
and theft from adivasis, the main inhabitants of the mineral rich
southern part of the state. Human rights activists who have
criticized state actions, journalists reporting on state atrocities,
and tribals resisting forced dislocation have been aribitrarily
detained, harassed and/or imprisoned under the draconian Chhattisgarh
Special Public Security Act of 2005, and accused of working for the
Naxalites.

Dr. Binayak Sen, an acclaimed human rights activist and development
worker, has been imprisoned in Raipur jail since May 2007, despite
calls for his release from Nobel Laureates, Amnesty International,
national and international organizations of physicians, and thousands
of individuals from around the world. Ajay T.G., who made a film
about the circumstances surrounding Dr. Sen's arrest, was himself
arrested by Chhattisgarh police in May this year, but had to be
released after 93 days in jail because the police were unable to
produce a charge-sheet (final police report). Almost five months
after his arrest, although out on statutory bail, the charges against
Ajay have neither been filed, nor dropped.

THE PANEL

The first speaker at the panel was Justice BN Srikrishna. He
forcefully pointed out that there was no role for vigilante armies in
a democracy, and who was or was not a Naxalite or what punishment
should be meted out to a Naxalite, are questions that only a court of
law can decide, not private citizens. Next, DGP Vishwa Ranjan
defended the Salwa Judum's "peaceful," "spontaneous," nature, despite
widely available evidence to the contrary, including a recent report
by Human Rights Watch enumerating numerous violent abuses by the
militia. Nandini Sundar challenged the DGP's description of Salwa
Judum. She traced the collusion of the state in supporting and arming
the Salwa Judum, and detailed some cases from the widespread murder,
rape, arson, and theft committed by Salwa Judum. She also talked
about the increase in Naxalite violence in the past three years.

However, Sunil Kumar alleged in his presentation that human rights
activists only speak out against violence by the state and disregard
Naxalite violence. He was directly challenged by Nandini Sundar who
reminded him that when she had written a letter condemning the
Naxalite driven blackout in Bastar and the Salwa Judum violence
earlier this year, all papers in Chhattisgarh, including Sunil Kumar's
Daily Chhattisgarh, had refused to carry it. The audience were
appalled to hear Sunil Kumar claim in his presentation that the"little
political understanding" of the people of Chhattisgarh, unlike that of
a "mature democracy" such as the US, makes them incapable of
appreciating the difference between state and extra-state actors.

The final speaker was Dipti Bhatnagar, a UC Berkeley graduate student
who had been added to the panel at the request of student groups. She
challenged Vishwa Ranjan, as the chief of Chhattisgarh police, to
explain his role in suppressing dissent in Chhattisgarh. She
highlighted specific cases, such as the fabrication of evidence in the
trial of Dr. Binayak Sen, the arrest of documentary film maker Ajay
T.G. without any charge-sheet, and the tacit complicity of the
security forces with Salwa Judum when it exacted revenge on residents
of Nendra village for testifying against it in front of the National
Human Rights Commission.

THE QUESTION-ANSWER SESSION

Rajeev Dhavan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, started off
the question and answer session by challenging DGP Vishwa Ranjan's
facts and asking for his resignation. Students attending the event
silently carried signs that, among other issues, voiced protest about
children being held in police custody, about a Chhattisgarh
superintendent of police accused of rape and murder, and about the
ongoing harassment of Dr. Binayak Sen's family. One protestor carried
a placard pointing out that even Gandhi would be jailed as a dissenter
under Chhattisgarh's black law (CSPSA). The DGP was handed a letter
written by 106 academics calling for him to address a number of
egregious human rights and police brutality cases; the signatories
included professors from many universities including UC Berkeley's
Center for South Asia Studies, the organization co-hosting the
conference.

The DGP evaded most of the pointed questions from conference
attendees. When asked why independent filmmaker Ajay was arrested and
jailed for 93 days, given that the police has not been able to come up
with charges even after 150 days, the DGP replied that it might have
been a "technical mistake"! If so, then why has the police still not
withdrawn the case against Ajay? How many other such technical
mistakes are there?

The DGP was asked that based on his claim that there are 3,200 SPOs
today, and his recent article in the Pioneer where he wrote that 3,250
SPOs have been discharged for indiscipline, can one draw the
conclusion that most SPOs have engaged in criminal behavior? He
neither answered nor acknowledged this question.

Given that the chargesheet against Dr. Binayak Sen is very vague,
mentioning no date or time or place, nor a description of any actual
illegal act, the DGP was asked to list the specific charges for which
Dr. Binayak Sen has been imprisoned. But instead of answering the
question, the DGP merely said that the charges were about providing
"logistical support" to Naxalites. The DGP also claimed that he had
nothing to do with Dr. Sen's imprisonment since the arrest happened
before he became the DGP of Chhattisgarh, and that Dr. Sen's
supporters should petition the government. The DGP is either
obfuscating, or being disingenuous, because as chief of police, it is
within the DGP's power to withdraw the charges against Dr. Sen, and
to not oppose his bail application in the court.

When asked about recruitment of child soldiers as SPOs, a very common
practice in Chhattisgarh, DGP Vishwa Ranjan replied that the police do
not deliberately recruit children, but go by whatever age the
applicant claims to be. This means that despite reports by several
independent human rights groups--including Human Rights Watch, Forum
for Fact-Finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA), and Asian Center
for Human Rights--that large numbers of children are being employed by
the state as soldiers, the police has taken no steps to verify the
ages of the SPOs. This is a war crime under the Rome Statue of the
International Criminal Court, and the DGP is liable for this gross
human rights abuse.

THE DEMANDS

Apart from the unconditional release of Dr. Binayak Sen and other
political prisoners, community members also demanded that the Salwa
Judum be disarmed, the Black Law (Chhattisgarh Special Public Security
Act of 2005) be repealed, and the use of child soldiers in
counter-insurgency measures be prohibited.

_Videos_

DGP Vishwa Ranjan on Ajay TG's case: http://tinyurl.com/3lqm5c
DGP Vishwa Ranjan answering Srividhya's question on Dr. Binayak Sen's
arrest: http://tinyurl.com/422bbr
Attorney Rajeev Dhavan says charges against Dr. Binayak Sen false;
asks DGP to resign: http://tinyurl.com/45cp56
Protestors chanting slogans after the session is over: http://tinyurl.com/52dvcq

_Photos_
Available at: http://tinyurl.com/4uoqpc

_ Organizations_

Students for Justice in Chhattisgarh
Progressive Bengali Network: ( http://www.bengali.net/pbn/ )
People's Health Movement, USA (http://hesperian.org/ )
Sanhati (http://sanhati.com/ )
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action: (www.asata.org)
Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia
(http://www.alliancesouthasia.org/)
Association for India's Development (http://www.aidindia.org)
Friends of South Asia (http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/)
Campaign to Free Binayak Sen
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (www.stopfundinghate.org/)
Hesperian Foundation, Berkeley (http://www.hesperian.org/)
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (www.bhopal.net)

_Background_

1. FDRI/Berkeley conference is an annual conference organized jointly
by the Federation of Democratic Reforms in India (www.fdri.org ) and
the Center for South Asia Studies, Berkeley

2. Human Rights Watch report on Chhattisgarh: "Being Neutral is Our
Biggest Crime" Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India's,
Chhattisgarh State, 2008
http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/india0708/index.htm

3. Faculty Petition with signatures: http://tinyurl.com/3mywo7
Questions for the DGP available at : http://tinyurl.com/4yjvjf

4. Front and Back copy of the post card signed by DGP of Chhattisgarh,
Vishwa Ranjan : http://tinyurl.com/42ne68

5. Text of the speech delivered by Dipti Bhatnagar:
http://tinyurl.com/4yzjmp [See selected slides ]

For more information, write to freebinayaksen at gmail.com