Indian authorities and Maoist insurgents have threatened and attacked civil society activists, undermining basic freedoms and interfering with aid delivery in embattled areas of central and eastern India, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 60-page report, “Between Two Sets of Guns: Attacks on Civil Society Activists in India’s Maoist Conflict,” documents human rights abuses against activists in India’s Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh states.
Human Rights Watch found that grassroots activists who deliver development assistance and publicize abuses in Maoist conflict areas are at particular risk of being targeted by government security forces and Maoist insurgents, known as Naxalites.
The international non-governmental organization called for an immediate end to harassment, attacks, and other abuses against activists by both government forces and the Maoists.
“The Maoists and government forces seem to have little in common except a willingness to target civil society activists who report on rights abuses against local communities,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. “Aid workers and rights defenders need to be allowed to do their work safely and not be accused of having a political agenda simply because they bring attention to abuses.”
The report is largely based on more than 60 interviews with local residents, activists, journalists, and lawyers who were witnesses to or familiar with abuses by Indian security forces and the Maoists primarily in Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh from July 2011 to April 2012.
While human rights defenders have rarely come under direct attack from Maoists, they operate in a climate of fear and are at great risk if they criticize Maoist abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
"The Maoists have been particularly brutal towards those perceived to be government informers or “class enemies” and do not hesitate to punish them by shooting or beheading after a summary “trial” in a self-declared “people’s court” (jan adalat)."
In its report, the New York-based rights organization further observed that government authorities in Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and otherwise ill-treated many civil society activists. "They have frequently brought politically motivated charges against them, including for murder, conspiracy, and sedition."
Often these cases are dropped only when prosecutors are unable to support the allegations in court. But by then the activists have already served unnecessarily long periods in detention because their bail pleas are routinely denied.
“Anyone, including activists, who engage in criminal activities should be fairly prosecuted,” Ganguly said. “However, local authorities should act on specific evidence of criminal activity, not a blanket assumption that critics of the state are supporting Maoist violence. The national government needs to step in and bring an end to politically motivated prosecutions.”
Activist Himanshu Kumar had to stop his grassroots work with the predominantly tribal population in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh because of state intimidation. He had built a network of local activists to implement government food and healthcare programs, and work on other development projects.
After the Chhattisgarh government began to support the Salwa Judum vigilante movement against the Maoists in 2005, he started filing complaints against Salwa Judum abuses. He became visible in the media and during protests. In retaliation, the district administration declared that his organization’s office was located illegally in protected forest land.
In May 2009, police demolished the structure. Unable to secure any other space in the area, and because of threats and arrests of several of his workers, Kumar had to leave Chhattisgarh.
“The Indian government has repeatedly asserted that a parallel approach is needed to resolve the Maoist problem by delivering development while undertaking security operations against Maoists,” Ganguly said.
“However, the government has failed to stop local authorities and the security forces from attacking and intimidating civil society activists who are often implementing the very programs that could deliver development in these remote and long ignored areas.”
Civil society activists under attack from both govt & Maoists: HRW
Wednesday, 1 August 2012, 22:32 (IST)
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