Editor's Note: On 31 March 2021, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) — India's counter-terrorism task force — raided the houses of over 25 prominent human rights, Dalit, women and Adivasi activists in the regions of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The statement below, from PI Member NAPM, sets out the context behind the detentions — which are based on two first information reports (FIRs), police records of alleged criminal offences.
As Wire partner The Wire India reports (see more here), the offences referred to in the statement below include 120 B (punishment for criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war), 121A (conspiracy to commit offences punishable by section 121), 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly), 144 (whoever, being armed with any deadly weapon, or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence), 124A (Sedition) read with 149 of the Indian Penal Code; Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act Sections 10, 13 and 18; Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act; and Section 25 of the Arms Act.
2nd April, 2020: National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) condemns in the strongest possible terms the high-handed manner of ‘raids’ by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) at the homes of over 16 activists of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, acting on dubious FIRs registered a couple of months back. We express our solidarity with all these activists and advocates who are long standing members of human rights, civil liberties and mass organizations and have been striving to work for the welfare and rights of the most disenfranchised peoples including adivasis, dalits, workers, farmers, minorities and women.
The raids on 31st March – 1st April, took place in the context of two FIRs filed by the AP police:
It is learnt that, in all, 92 persons have been accused in the aforesaid FIRs, with 27 names appearing commonly in both. Of them, 10 persons have been arrested by the AP police and have been in jail since Nov- Dec, 2020. According to information available, some of the activists, named in the two FIRs, at whose residences raids have taken place include:
V. Raghunath, Hyderabad, Chilika Chandrasekhar (Guntur District), V. Chitti Babu, East Godavari – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (CLC)
Devendra, Shilpa, Swapna, Rajeswari (Guntur), Padma (Vishakhapatnam) - Chaitanya Mahila Sangam
VS Krishna (Vishakhapatnam) - Human Rights Forum (HRF)
Varalakshmi (Kadapa District), Arun (Kurnool District), Paani, (Kurnool district) - Revolutionary Writers association (Virasam)
Dappu Ramesh (Hyderabad) - Prajakala Mandali
Anjamma (Prakasham District), Sirisha, (Prakasham district) - Amaraveerula Bandhumitrula Sangham (Association of Friends and Relatives of Martyrs)
Adv. KS Chelam (Vishakhapatnam)
Reportedly houses of some activists associated with Patriotic Democratic Movement (PDM), Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), Kula Nirmoolana Porata Samiti (KNPS), Praja Kala Mandali (People's Art Collective) are also under the radar of NIA.
After the search and seizure, which lasted for many hours and continued late into early hours of 1st April, the NIA issued notices to all of them u/s. 160 Cr.P.C. to attend its offices at Vijayawada / Hyderabad.
There are also multiple FIRs against activists and adivasis in Telangana, wherein people have been falsely implicated under draconian provisions such as UAPA. The FIR lodged at Tadvai police station in Mulug district of Telangana on 2nd November, 2020 names a long list of activists including adivasi teachers and rights defenders. In both Telugu states, human rights workers, civil liberties activists, women's rights activists, writers, academics and lawyers have been targeted for a while now. It is clear that anyone who has the capacity to highlight issues, raise public consciousness against the excesses of the State and build solidarity is facing the wrath of the Governments – both Central and state.
In line with its anti-federal approach towards all areas of governance, the Union Govt. has also sought to ‘centralize’ investigation further by roping in the NIA, even in matters where the state government can undertake investigation. As is known, most state governments (across parties) which in any case have a history of clamp-down on rights activists, are only quick to ‘hand over matters’ to the NIA, especially when they themselves are likely to face the ‘ire of the Centre’. Thus, even in the current context, the NIA Hyderabad took over the investigation of the Vishakapatnam FIR on 7th March and began inquiries at its level, based on its re-registered FIR RC-1/2021/ NIA/HYD and also obtained search warrants from the NIA Special Court.
It may also be noted that the NIA has conducted these raids, even as writ petitions are pending before the Andhra Pradesh, seeking quashing of the FIRs. Reportedly, the High Court has also granted interim protection orders to the petitioners (accused whose names appear in both FIRs) by directing the police not to arrest them, until further orders.
It is indeed a cruel irony that while the 11 adivasi women of Vakapalli (agency area in Vishakapatnam) who were reportedly subject to gang rape by the Greyhounds police in Aug, 2007 are yet to see any semblance of justice, 13 years after the incident, activists like VS Krishna who, along with many others have been at the forefront of supporting the rape survivors and ensuring state accountability are now outrageously being alleged to be ‘influencing the Vakapalli rape survivors to depose falsely against the policemen’ !
The past few years have seen a series of mass FIRs and arrests, all parroting the same narrative of certain individuals ‘conspiring against the State to de-stabilize the Govt’! Numerous activists, students, teachers, lawyers, poets have been behind bars for years now. Human rights defenders across states are being targeted, sought to be silenced by trumped up charges and FIRs. In all these matters, draconian laws like the UAPA and sedition are invoked, thereby making possible long-term incarcerations and repeated denial of bails, even to the ill and elderly persons. In effect, the ‘trial, or rather the mere allegation, becomes the punishment’.
We also wish to point out the absurdity and illegality in these FIRs of criminalizing mere possession of some literature, which is anyways in public circulation. Another ploy that the State has been resorting to is ‘confession statements’ from those in custody or arrested, to incriminate others. There is a vicious, deliberate and consistent ploy across the country today, to defame the valuable work of rights activists and groups through such sensational FIRs, raids and arrests.
By criminalizing activists, the State in effect is trying to crack down on the political work of activist organizations, be it resisting rising Hindutva and communalism, violations of adivasi and forest rights, displacement, land grab, corporate resource loot and environmental violations, caste and gender-based atrocities, exposing corrupt deals etc.
Despite limited hope from the higher judiciary in these times, we still think it is the obligation of the Apex Court to squarely address the constitutionality of institutions like the NIA and laws like UAPA and sedition that have become political tools of harassment, intimidation and incarceration of voices that stand in defence of human rights.
It needs no emphasis that human rights activists and organizations are often performing the duty that the state agencies must, by safeguarding constitutional rights. Instead, the State, by choosing to silence and pin down the very people and groups striving to defend democratic rights is making it amply clear that its only priority is serving the powerful sections, (political and corporate) violating and disenfranchising the vulnerable and marginalized.
As citizens, we need to stand up to our right to organize, dissent and question the State, without being subject to intimidation, false cases and arrests for the same.
We demand that:
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM); Dr. Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti; Rajkumar Sinha, Chutka Parmaanu Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM, Madhya Pradesh;
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), National Campaign for People’s Right to Information; Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); Kailash Meena NAPM Rajasthan;
Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Lingraj Azad, Samajwadi Jan Parishad & Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, Manorama, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti; Lingaraj Pradhan, Satya Banchor, Anant, Kalyan Anand, Arun Jena, Trilochan Punji, Lakshimipriya Mohanty and Balakrishna Sand, Manas Patnaik, NAPM Odisha;
Sandeep Pandey (Socialist Party of India); Richa Singh & Rambeti (Sangatin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan, Sitapur); Rajeev Yadav & Masihuddin bhai (Rihai Manch, Lucknow & Azamgadh); Arundhati Dhuru & Zainab Khatun (Mahila Yuva Adhikar Manch, Lucknow), Suresh Rathaur (MNREGA Mazdoor Union, Varanasi); Arvind Murti & Altamas Ansari (Inquilabi Kamgaar Union, Mau), Jagriti Rahi (Vision Sansthan, Varanasi); Satish Singh (Sarvodayi Vikas Samiti, Varanasi); Nakul Singh Sawney (Chal Chitra Abhiyan, Muzaffarnagar); NAPM Uttar Pradesh
P. Chennaiah, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-APVVU, Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI and NAPM, Chakri (Samalochana), Balu Gadi, Bapji Juvvala, NAPM Andhra Pradesh;
Jeevan Kumar & Syed Bilal (Human Rights Forum), P. Shankar (Dalit Bahujan Front), Vissa Kiran Kumar & Kondal (Rythu Swarajya Vedika), Ravi Kanneganti (Rythu JAC), Ashalatha (MAKAAM), Krishna (Telangana Vidyavantula Vedika-TVV), M. Venkatayya (Telangana Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union-TVVU), Meera Sanghamitra, NAPM Telangana;
Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union; Maj Gen (Retd) S.G.Vombatkere, NAPM, Nalini Gowda, KRRS, Nawaz, Dwiji Guru, Nalini, Madhu Bhushan and Mamatha Yajaman, Susheela, Shashank, NAPM Karnataka
Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai; Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation; Suthanthiran, Lenin, Inamul Hasan, Arul Doss, Vikash NAPM Tamilnadu;
Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan, Prof. Kusumam Joseph, Sharath Cheloor, Vijayaraghavan Cheliya, Majeendran, Magline, NAPM, Kerala;
Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astivtva Raksha Samiti; Basant Hetamsaria, Aloka Kujur, Dr. Leo A. Singh, Afzal Anish, Sushma Biruli, Durga Nayak, Jipal Murmu, Priti Ranjan Dash, Ashok Verma, NAPM Jharkhand;
Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Parth, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti; Nita Mahadev, Mudita, Lok Samiti; Dev Desai, Mujahid Nafees, Ramesh Tadvi and Bharat Jambucha, NAPM Gujarat;
Manshi Asher and Himshi Singh, Himdhara, NAPM Himachal Pradesh
Eric Pinto, Abhijeet, Tania Devaiah, Caroline, Diana Tavers, Emil, Francesca, NAPM Goa
Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha; Kaladas Dahariya, RELAA, Alok Shukla, Shalini Gera, NAPM Chhattisgarh.
Samar Bagchi, Amitava Mitra, Binayak Sen, Sujato Bhadro, Pradip Chatterjee, Pasarul Alam, Amitava Mitra, Tapas Das, Tahomina Mandal, Pabitra Mandal, Kazi Md. Sherif, Biswajit Basak, Ayesha Khatun, Rupak Mukherjee, Milan Das, Asit Roy, Mita Bhatta, Yasin, Matiur Rahman, Baiwajit Basa, NAPM West Bengal;
Suniti SR, Sanjay M G, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe, Mukta Srivastava, Yuvraj Gatkal, Geetanjali Chavan, Bilal Khan, Jameela, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan; Chetan Salve, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Pervin Jehangir, NAPM Maharashtra;
J S Walia, NAPM Haryana; Guruwant Singh, Narbinder Singh, NAPM Punjab;
Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan; Mahendra Yadav, Kosi Navnirman Manch; NAPM Bihar;
Rajendra Ravi, NAPM; Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan Sangharsh Vahini; Anjali Bharadwaj and Amrita Johri, Satark Nagrik Sangathan; Sanjeev Kumar, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch; Anita Kapoor, Delhi Shahri Mahila Kaamgaar Union; Sunita Rani, National Domestic Workers Union; Nanhu Prasad, National Cyclist Union; Madhuresh Kumar, Priya Pillai, Aryaman Jain, Divyansh Khurana, Evita Das; Anil TV, Delhi Solidarity Group, MJ Vijayan (PIPFPD)
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