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India: Stop Witch-Hunting Human Rights Defenders

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION -- URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-009-2013

Click Here to send an APPEAL LETTER


28 January 2013
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India: Stop Witch-Hunting Human Rights Defenders

ISSUES: Police violence; impunity; right to life; forced displacement, right to liberty; freedom of association; freedom of expression; human rights defenders; impunity; legislation; prosecution system; democracy; minorities; caste-based discrimination; threats and intimidation
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received very disturbing information from Barwani, Madhya Pradesh regarding the administration's continuing witch hunt against human rights defender Ms Madhuri Krishnaswami of the Jagrat Dalit Adivasi Sangthan. In the most recent attack, the District Magistrate has written a letter to the Divisional Commissioner that found its way to Chief Secretary accusing the organisation to have links with Maoists and have demanded an inquiry into the issue. The attack is not a stray one but comes high on heels of an externment notice served on her by the same district administration in May, 2012 and subsequent attack on a JADS rally by the local goon with the administration looking away. Interestingly, the charge has been refuted by the police with the Inspector General of Police, Indore range categorically denying the presence of any Maoists activities in the reason.

The administration, evidently, is working on the behest of deeply entrenched vested interests whose corruption Madhuri and the organisation have continuously been exposing. The current attack, too, is an attempt to divert attention from the massive scam in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in the area tipped to be worth more than 150 crore INR.

CASE NARRATIVE:

Troubled with the tireless struggle of Ms Madhuri Krishnaswami and her Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangthan against corruption and exploitation of the marginalised sections in the area, the district administration has launched yet another attack on her. In a later written to the Divisional Commissioner that found its way to the Chief Secretary of the state, the District Magistrate had accused Madhuri and the organisation of having links with Maoists and of inciting the local people against the state. Ironically, the absurdity of the charges is exposed by the sheer fact that the police refuses to buy any such allegations and in fact, the Inspector General of Police, Indore range has categorically denied the presence of any Naxal activities in the area. Clearly, the District Magistrate has levelled these charges with some ulterior motives.

This is not the first time when Madhuri and the organisation have been targeted by the administration. Quite on the contrary, they have been facing a relentless witch-hunt ever since they have taken the task of exposing massive corruption in the area run by the nexus of locally entrenched politicians with the administration. Organisation's continuous struggles against massive corruption in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drawn the wrath of such interests in particular as the organisation has managed to not only expose massive corruption amounting to more than 150 crores but has also got the Central government intervening into the issue and thereby upsetting the powers that may.

The organisation had also relentlessly fought against the delays in the payment of MNREGA wages and has affected the supply of poor, desperate labour to the locally powerful people. But perhaps more than all this, what troubles the administration and the vested interests the most is the sense of entitlement and right the organisation has been successfully instilling in the minds of adivasis and thus destabilising their complete control over their lives and labour. The adivasis in the area, unlike before, now make their own decisions and have the courage to refuse to get exploited.

It is in this context that the district administration had served an externment notice on her in May 2012 only to hastily retreat. It, however, kept conniving to silence her voice. The organisation, however, kept fighting and exposed how the Management Information System (MIS), the most important tool to ensure transparency in the implementation of the scheme, was not being updated on the website as is mandatory and this was the reason behind the Ministry of Rural Developments' decision to stop funds till at least 60 percent of the MIS is updated. The ministry had ordered a probe sending its own team and this has irked the administration and the local interests even more.

The JADS had also exposed how the administration and local interests were siphoning off funds from the MNREGA by doctoring muster rolls. They found even the dead listed, and paid, in the muster rolls. Instead of taking action on such concrete evidence put forward by the organisation, the state tried to derail the struggles by holding back the expenditure accounts of previous installments and telling the activists that the work-wise expenditure accounts are not maintained by the administration and that these will have to be collected from the panchayats and other agencies.

Administration's anger against the organisation resulted in open assaults on Madhuri and the organisation with one of the most recent incident coming in October 2012, when JADS' peaceful rally of adivasi women was violently attacked by the local goons led by the local Member of Legislative Assembly Bhartiya Janta Party followed by illegal detention of the women, and not the perpetrators, by the police. The State Human Rights Commisison had taken suo moto notice of the detention.

It is in this context that the recent attack assumes immense significance. It is not merely an attack on an individual or an organisation but an example of the current regime of persecuting even democratic dissenters with fabricated charges and scuffling all voices of resistance. Unfortunately, such persecution of Human Rights Defenders, as we have seen in the case of Dr. Binayak Sen, is becoming a norm than the exception and should be culled immediately if India wants to call itself a democracy.

This case assumes further significance for the fact that the District Magistrate is acting in his official capacity of being a public servant and is trying to "frame an incorrect document with an intent to cause injury" to the Human Rights Defender in question. Section 167 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 qualifies such actions as "whoever being a public servant, and being, as such public servant, charged with the preparation or translation of any document frames or translates that document in a manner which he knows or believes to be incorrect intenting thereby to cause or knowing it to be likely that he may thereby cause injury to any person." Such an offence calls for an imprisonment, if punished for 3 years or with fine or with both.

Further, Section 193 of the Penal Code prescribes punishment of 7 years imprisonment and fine for a government servant who intentionally gives false evidence or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding. It has to be assumed that the letter allegedly written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary is with an intention to charge the Human Right Defender in question on fabricated charges of anti-state activities. Section 211 mandates that whoever with the intent to cause injury to any person institutes or causes to be instituted any criminal proceeding against that person or falsely charges any person with having committed an offence, knowing that there is no just or lawful ground for such proceedings or charge against such person to be punishment that may extend to 2 years or with fine or with both.

The letter written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary could be used for the initiation of a criminal case against the Human Rights Defender in question. In such a case the District Magistrate's action of writing an official letter to the Chief Secretary accusing the Human Rights Defender in question of being engaged in anti-state activities without even offering an opportunity to the accused to defend her case amounts to intentional misuse of public authority.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the authorities mentioned below demanding a judicial inquiry in this case. The AHRC is writing separately to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders as well as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples calling for an intervention in the case.

To support this appeal, please click here:

Click Here to send an APPEAL LETTER

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ______,

INDIA: Stop witch-hunting Human Rights Defenders

I am writing to you with grave concern regarding the witch hunt against Ms. Madhuri Krishnaswami and her Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangthan by the district administration, Barwani, Madhya Pradesh. Incensed at her tireless struggle against corruption and exploitation of the marginalised sections in the area, the district administration has launched yet another attack on her. In a later written to the Divisional Commissioner that found its way to the Chief Secretary of the state, the District Magistrate had accused Madhuri and the organisation of having links with Maoists and of inciting the local people against the state. Ironically, the absurdity of the charges is exposed by the sheer fact that the police refuses to buy any such allegations and in fact, the Inspector General of Police, Indore range has categorically denied the presence of any Naxal activities in the area. Clearly, the District Magistrate has levelled these charges with some ulterior motives.

This is not the first time when Madhuri and the organisation have been targeted by the administration. Quite on the contrary, they have been facing a relentless witch-hunt ever since they have taken the task of exposing massive corruption in the area run by the nexus of locally entrenched politicians with the administration. Organisation's continuous struggles against massive corruption in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drawn the wrath of such interests in particular as the organisation has managed to not only expose massive corruption amounting to more than 150 crores but has also got the Central government intervening into the issue and thereby upsetting the powers that may.

The organisation had also relentlessly fought against the delays in the payment of MNREGA wages and has affected the supply of poor, desperate labour to the locally powerful people. But perhaps more than all this, what troubles the administration and the vested interests the most is the sense of entitlement and right the organisation has been successfully instilling in the minds of adivasis and thus destabilising their complete control over their lives and labour. The adivasis in the area, unlike before, now make their own decisions and have the courage to refuse to get exploited.

It is in this context that the district administration had served an externment notice on her in May 2012 only to hastily retreat. It, however, kept conniving to silence her voice. The organisation, however, kept fighting and exposed how the Management Information System (MIS), the most important tool to ensure transparency in the implementation of the scheme, was not being updated on the website as is mandatory and this was the reason behind the Ministry of Rural Developments' decision to stop funds till at least 60 percent of the MIS is updated. The ministry had ordered a probe sending its own team and this has irked the administration and the local interests even more.

The JADS had also exposed how the administration and local interests were siphoning off funds from the MNREGA by doctoring muster rolls. They found even the dead listed, and paid, in the muster rolls. Instead of taking action on such concrete evidence put forward by the organisation, the state tried to derail the struggles by holding back the expenditure accounts of previous installments and telling the activists that the work-wise expenditure accounts are not maintained by the administration and that these will have to be collected from the panchayats and other agencies.

Administration's anger against the organisation resulted in open assaults on Madhuri and the organisation with one of the most recent incident coming in October 2012, when JADS' peaceful rally of adivasi women was violently attacked by the local goons led by the local Member of Legislative Assembly Bhartiya Janta Party followed by illegal detention of the women, and not the perpetrators, by the police. The State Human Rights Commission had taken suo moto notice of the detention.

It is in this context that the recent attack assumes immense significance. It is not merely an attack on an individual or an organisation but an example of the current regime of persecuting democratic dissenters with fabricated charges and scuffling all voices of resistance. Unfortunately, such persecution of Human Rights Defenders, as we have seen in the case of Dr. Binayak Sen, is becoming a norm than the exception and should be culled immediately if India wants to call itself a democracy.

This case assumes further significance for the fact that the District Magistrate is acting in his official capacity of being a public servant and is trying to "frame an incorrect document with an intent to cause injury" to the Human Rights Defender in question. Section 167 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 qualifies such actions as "whoever being a public servant, and being, as such public servant, charged with the preparation or translation of any document frames or translates that document in a manner which he knows or believes to be incorrect intenting thereby to cause or knowing it to be likely that he may thereby cause injury to any person." Such an offence calls for an imprisonment, if punished for 3 years or with fine or with both.

Further, Section 193 of the Penal Code prescribes punishment of 7 years imprisonment and fine for a government servant who intentionally gives false evidence or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding. It has to be assumed that the letter allegedly written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary is with an intention to charge the Human Right Defender in question on fabricated charges of anti-state activities. Section 211 mandates that whoever with the intent to cause injury to any person institutes or causes to be instituted any criminal proceeding against that person or falsely charges any person with having committed an offence, knowing that there is no just or lawful ground for such proceedings or charge against such person to be punishment that may extend to 2 years or with fine or with both.

The letter written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary could be used for the initiation of a criminal case against the Human Rights Defender in question. In such a case the District Magistrate's action of writing an official letter to the Chief Secretary accusing the Human Rights Defender in question of being engaged in anti-state activities without even offering an opportunity to the accused to defend her case amounts to intentional misuse of public authority.

I, therefore, urge you to:

1. Immediately stop the witch hunt against Madhuri Krishnaswami and the Jagrit Dalit Adivasi Sangthan;
2. Investigate the accusations levelled by the District Magistrate and if the allegations made by him against Ms Madhuri Krishnaswami are found to be false, prosecute the District Magistrate for falsely fabricating a Human Rights Defender with criminal charges;
3. Ask the District Magistrate to tender a public apology for trying to tarnish the image of a respected Human Rights Defender on the basis of fabricated charges;
4. Expedite the investigations into the corruption in the implementation of MNREGA in the area and punish those guilty of siphoning funds;
5. Ensure the safe of life and person of Ms. Madhuri Krishnaswami and other members of the Jagrit Dalit Adivasi Sangthan.

Sincerely,

---------------------------------------
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minster
Government of India
Room No. 148 B, South block, New Delhi.
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 230116857; 23015603
Email: manmohan@sansad.nic.in

2. Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 2338 4863
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

3. Dr. Rameshwar Oraon
Chairperson
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
6th Floor, 'B' Wing, Loknayak Bhawan, Khan Market
New Delhi -110003
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2462462
Email: chairperson@ncst.nic.in

4. Honourable V. Kishore Chandra Deo
Union Minister of Tribal Affairs
Sansad Bhwan, Room number 105-A
New Delhi
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2307 0577
Email: jk.popli@nic.in

5. Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Chief Minister
Government of Madhya Pradesh
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91 755 2441781; 2540501
Email: cm@mp.nic.in

6. Mr Arvind Kumar Chugh
Secretary, Government of India
Ministry of Tribal affairs
Shastri Bhawan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road
New Delhi- 110001
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2307 3160

7. Shriman Shukla
District Magistrate,
Barwani, Madhya Pradesh.
INDIA
Tel: +917290224001
Fax: +917290224003
Email: dmbarwani@nic.in


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Click Here to send an APPEAL LETTER

http://www.urgentappeals.net/support.php?ua=AHRC-UAC-009-2013

Visit our new website with more features at www.humanrights.asia.

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ENDS

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