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Is standing up for human rights make one a Maoist ?

Is standing up for human rights make one a Maoist ?

- the police do not observe their own rules in arresting a person –

Stan Swamy

Massive displacement of people, especially the Adivasis & Moolvasis, is taking place. It is done in violation of the Supreme Court’s directive [Samata Judgement, 1997] that the government should consult the concerned Gram Sabha before starting any project. It is natural, therefore, people have begun to resist displacement and refuse to hand over their land to industry and mining. Of late, the Jharkhand, Orissa and Chattisgarh governments have started arresting human rights activists who are providing leadership to anti-displacement and anti-communal movements.

The list is long, but I will mention only some of the more prominent among them:

Jitan Marandi Jharkhand author, poet, human rights activist
Damodar Turi Jharkhand anti-displacement & human rights activist
Munni Hansdah Jharkhand anti-displacement & human rights activist
Ram Charan Roy Jharkhand anti-displacement & human rights activist
Hopna Baskey Jharkhand anti-displacement & human rights activist
Abhay Sahu Orissa anti-displacement & human rights activist
Lenin Kumar Orissa author & anti-communal activist
Ravi Jena Orissa publisher & anti-communal activist
Dhananjay Lenka Orissa anti-communal activist
Protima Das Orissa advocate & anti-displacement activist
Pradeep Orissa anti-displacement activist
Binayak Sen Chattisgarh medical doctor & human rights activist

And there are many more.

Adding insult to injury . . . the police do not observe their own rules.

The National Police Commission (1997) affirms that Legal Protection/Safeguards for Detainees in Custody are inherent in Article 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution and therefore require to be recognised and scrupulously protected. Some such safeguards are:

1) An arrested person being held in custody is entitled to have one friend or relative informed that he has been arrested and where he is being detained.

2) The police officer shall inform the arrested person when he is brought to the police station of this right.

3) An entry should be made in the Diary as to who was informed of the arrest. A police officer making an arrest should also record in the Case Diary the reasons for making the arrest.

Apart from the above, the historic judgement of the Supreme Court in D.K.Basu v/s State of West Bengal (AIR 1997 SC 610) compels the Indian police force to follow these requirements:

1) The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designations.

2) The police officer carrying out the arrest shall prepare a memo of arrest at the time of arrest and such memo shall be attested by at least one witness, who may be either a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality. It shall also be countersigned by the arrestee and shall contain the time and date of arrest.

3) The person arrested must be made aware of this right to have someone informed of his arrest as soon as he is put under arrest or is detained.

4) An entry must be made in the Diary disclosing the name of the friend / relative who has been informed of the arrest.

5) The arrestee should, where he so requests, be also examined at the time of his arrest and major and minor injuries on his body must be recorded.

6) The “Inspection Memo” must be signed both by the arrestee and the police officer, and its copy provided to the arrestee.

7) The arrestee should be subjected to medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention in custody.

8) The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during the interrogation.

9) The right of every person detained / arrested to know the grounds of arrest and his right to bail should be honoured.

10) Failure to comply with the requirements mentioned above shall apart from rendering the concerned official liable for departmental action, also render him liable to be punished for contempt of court.

Added to these are the recommendations of the Law Commission (November 2000) that

1) representatives of registered rights groups and NGOs should be entitled, under law, to visit police stations and examine custodial records.

2) Arrest or search of women should only take place in the presence of women police officers and should not take place at night.

3) Women should be detained separately from men. The effectiveness of this gender-based detention should be monitored by independent mechanisms.

The reality is very different. . .

There are serious flaws in the way police goes about arresting people.

1) most often the police raids a place like a bull-dozer breaking doors and any thing that is on the way. The custom among Adivasi people is they leave footware outside and enter their house bare-footed. The place where they prepare and have their food (‘adig’) is considered a sacred place where the spirits of their dead ancestors dwell. The police have no consideration for the cultural values of people and enter the house with their dirty boots, pushing and thrashing any and every body in the house.

2) The police do not usually produce ‘search warrant’ but jump on the person they have come to catch. Then they search the house / office turning every thing up side down. They usually bring with them some leaflets / booklets called “maoist / naxalite literature” and pretend they found it in the premises.

3) Rarely is a respected local person present during the raid to bear witness to the search operation. Some times one or two ‘police informers’ may be brought along who will do the police bidding.

4) It is a rare occasion a “search-inventory”is made which is signed by the arrestee and one other witness.

5) Once they have arrested a person they want, they can do any thing to him / her. The arrestee is brought to the police station, beaten up brutally like an animal under the pretense of “extracting truth / evidence”.

6) Can the police in all honesty say they do not use ‘third degree methods’ on the detainees?

7) if the police wants to put the label “naxalite / extremist / maoist”, they just place a table, put some old pistols / guns on it, line up the detainees behind the table and call some press persons to take a photograph and publish in local news papers. Sadly, many of the press reporters also go along with the police version without checking / verifying the facts.

Once this is done, the general public is made to believe that the detainees are really extremists and the police have done well in catching them.

But who will bell the cat?

Sadly, we cannot look up to the local government to come to the rescue of these victims of police atrocity. In fact the local govt administration is part of the game. Neither can we expect the district-level judiciary to save them because it goes by the version of the police and even refuses to grant bail.

The electronic media and the press in general play safe and mostly project govt views. Only in exceptional and shocking cases such as Babri Masjid demolition, Gujerat genocide, Orissa Kandhamal attack on Christians we saw some sane reaction from the mass media. There are plenty of intellectuals, authors, legal experts, artists who can play a healthy role. Only they need to be helped to form distinct forums of their own so they can speak their mind when glaring human rights violations take place. Last but not the least are the masses of people who through specific People’s Movements and People’s Organisations can undertake civil disobedience movements. There is nothing like people’s power. Shri Jayprakash Narayan has shown us the way.

We are then left with human rights and democratic rights organisations at local, national and international levels who alone will come forward to defend the human & constitutional rights of the unjustly arrested and tortured human rights activists. The challenge before us is to network these groups and organisations so they become strong pressure groups. And if they can be connected to international bodies like the United Nations Human Rights Commission it can go a long way in safeguarding human rights. There is no other way.

20 December 08