Tag Archives: Chhattisgarh

A Fallujah-Bastar Road #KKM

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State policy must honour KKM’s handling of their Maoist ‘guilt’
ANAND PATWARDHAN,  Outlook June 24, 2013

Our democracy, like another it attempts to emulate, takes one step forward, two steps back. A victim of paranoia like the one it emulates, it is undermining its own founding principles by emphasising order and wilfully sacrificing the law. Without the guiding hand of a civil society conscious of its rights, it may well fall on its face, as it did during the Emergency.

In April 2013, when Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) did a satyagraha for freedom of expression and gave themselves up outside the state assembly to an anti-terrorist squad (ATS) that had supposedly been hunting for them for two years, it seemed to have established a healthy precedent. Within a month, encouraged by the fact that under intense public scrutiny no torture of the arrested took place, Ramesh Gaichor and Sagar Gorkhe of the KKM also gave themselves up, expecting that the due process of law would restore their freedom of expression.

The KKM is a Pune-based cultu­ral troupe largely composed of wor­king class Dalit poets and art­istes. Two years ago, they went und­erground after a member, Deepak Dengle, was arrested and tortured into giving a ‘confession’ by the ATS. The ATS implicated him and others under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as persons associated with a banned Naxalite party. It may be recalled that the ATS notoriously got similar ‘confessions’ from Muslims, who ‘admitted’ to bombing their own mosque at Malegaon. When Hindu terrorists later owned up to the bombing, the ATS was left with not just egg on its face, but the blood of innocents on its hands. Torture is an unreliable method of investigation.

After a KKM defence committee was formed by members of a civil society that had begun to learn about and appreciate its cultural and political contributions, the media started to take positive notice. Finally, in March 2013, Justice Abhay Thipsay of the Bombay High Court in a landmark judgement granted bail to six accused under the UAPA, including Dengle. The judgement pointed out that while it wasn’t proven that the accused were Naxalites, even assuming they were, merely belonging to a banned body did not constitute a crime. The Thipsay judgement followed logically from an SC judgement upholding the principle that even under the UAPA, which criminalises membership of a banned outfit, a distinction had to be made between active and inactive members. These judgments helped those who argued that under no circumstances can one criminalise expression.

Back in April, we learnt that the KKM’s Sheetal was six months pregnant. Thankfully, she was remanded to judicial custody. The government prosecutor said they were not asking for her police custody, as they did not want to risk harming her baby! Does one need more proof of what is considered routine in police custody?

Since then two months have elapsed. In the sessions court Sheetal’s bail hearing kept getting delayed, and was finally rejected. Bail is denied to those who might run away. Sheetal and the KKM came out of hiding voluntarily and are hardly a security risk. Yet, her baby may now be born in jail.

It is nobody’s case that the KKM participated in violence, but there are two possibilities. One is that they were mistaken as Naxalites because of the militant nature of their songs. The other is that they were attracted by Naxalite ideology, but later changed their minds. It is the latter that prevents their release. The government does have a mechanism where Naxalites, even those with a violent past, are given financial rew­ards in return for turning state wit­nesses. Such people are relocated at government expense and given ‘protection’, but are regarded as mercenaries by their own and often lose self-respect. The KKM chose a third, more honourable path. They deny any wrong-doing and refuse to turn approvers. They merely express the desire to live an open life in a democracy. Will they be granted this space?

Meanwhile, in court and in the media, the atmosphere has changed. The massacre in Chhattisgarh has seen to that. Horrific as the event was, the indiscriminate use of state violence in tribal areas and the use of draconian measures in court, together with the blanket tarring of all dissidents, can only aggravate the situation. Naxalites are undeniably fighting for and with the most oppressed people. It is their hearts and minds that must be won. Increased state repression will do the opposite. Attempting to restore order while abandoning the rule of law will do exactly what the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan did to restore democracy.


(Anand Patwardhan is a documentary film-maker)

 

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Ultra vires regulations- does association with a banned outfit make you a TERRORIST?

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SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu , fEB 22, 2013

Mere association with a banned outfit or studying its literature does not tantamount to being a terrorist, says a recent Bombay High Court judgement

Freedom of speech:Sheetal Sathe, lead singer of Kabir Kala Manch.

Freedom of speech:Sheetal Sathe, lead singer of Kabir Kala Manch.

The definition of a ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ has been a major topic of continuous debate in India especially in recent months. Can a person collecting and studying literature of a banned party be defined as a terrorist? Can a song with revolutionary lyrics — despising social inequality — be called an act of terror? Or is it that quoting Mao Tse Tung or Karl Marx in a street theatre be defined as a terrorist ploy?

A recent judgement by the Bombay High Court has stated that such acts are not terrorism. Even the judge went on to say, “… the expression of views to the effect that a change in the social order can be brought about only by a revolution would not amount to any offence.”

The judgement — delivered while granting bail to four members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a Pune-based cultural group of Dalit protest singers — has been lauded by social activists and lawyers in Chhattisgarh and other States where a large number of tribals are languishing in jail allegedly for participating in Maoist rallies or providing food to the rebels. The KKM members were arrested and booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) allegedly for being members of the banned CPI-Maoist.

The judgement by Justice Abhay Thipsey has specifically questioned Section 20 of UAPA which penalises members of ‘terrorist gangs or organisations involved in terrorist acts’ with imprisonment for life. Quoting extensively from several verdicts of the Indian and U.S. Supreme Courts, the judgement says that Section 20 of UAPA challenges Article 19 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, right to form unions and assemble peacefully.

According to the judge, KKM members were arrested for practising rights guaranteed by Article 19. Moreover, the same section of IPC, 120B, which was used against Afzal Guru for allegedly abetting a criminal conspiracy, was also used against KKM members for associating with a banned outfit.

Deconstructing various sections of IPC and UAPA used to frame charges against KKM members, Justice Thipsey said, “Mere membership of a banned organisation will not incriminate a person unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence,” quoting, inter alia , from a Supreme Court judgement.

Justice Thipsey added if “passive membership” of a banned party is criminally liable, then parts of UAPA may become ultra vires . “It is very clear from the observations made by the Supreme Court that if Section 20 were to be interpreted in that manner (passive membership as active terrorism), it would at once be considered as violative of the provisions of Article 19 of the Constitution of India, and would be struck down as ultra vires ,” page 37 of the judgement stated.

Justice Thipsey has also expressed “surprise” that KKM members were arrested for organising “street plays wherein social issues such as the eradication of corruption, social inequality, widening gap between the rich and the poor, the exploitation of poor, etc.” are addressed. “There is nothing wrong in raising these social issues,” he said.

“The same views (regarding social inequality) are expressed by several national and eminent leaders and the expression for these views cannot brand a person as a member of CPI-Maoist. On the contrary, such a reasoning would indicate that these issues, which are real and important, are not addressed to by anyone else, except the CPI-Maoist, which would mean that the other parties or social organisations are indifferent to these problems faced by the society,” the judgement said. Advocating the teachings of Karl Marx or “having some faith in the Maoist philosophy” is also not criminally liable, said the judge. The judgement has also emphasised that possessing of banned literature of an outlawed political party (CPI-Maoist in this case) is not an offence.

In large parts of India, especially in States where tribals are in jail for being alleged sympathisers of the CPI-Maoist, the judgement has acted as a shot in the arm of the activists and the lawyers. “This is a landmark judgement in context of Chhattisgarh, as there are more than 2,000 tribals languishing in various jails. However, I am not sure if this verdict will be taken into cognisance while passing a judgement,” said K.K. Dubey, who represents several under-trial tribals in south Chhattisgarh. Activists in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand have also welcomed Justice Thipsey’s judgement.

Will sheetal sathe ever be exonerated by the Maharashtra Police ?

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Sandhya Sathe, mother of Sheetal Sathe speaks her ordeals and atroocities by the Maharahstra State and ATS

शीतलला पोलिस दोषमुक्त करतील का?