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Activist Says Won’t Pay SC Fine for Seeking Justice for Adivasis, Civil Society Calls Order a ‘Farce’

Activist Himanshu Kumar claimed in his petition that in 2009, 16 tribals were “murdered” by the police and security forces at Gompad, Chhattisgarh.
activist

New Delhi: Activists, Authors, and lawyers, and other civil society members on Friday, July 22, held a press conference in New Delhi condemning the Supreme Court’s recent order in Activist Himanshu Kumar’s case. The Apex court has imposed an ‘exemplary’ fine of Rs 5 lakh and has recommended the Chhattisgarh government press criminal charges on the activist who filed a petition seeking an inquiry into alleged massacres of tribals in Chhattisgarh.

Speaking at the press conference, Kumar said that he will not adhere to the court’s order and pay the fine even if the authorities put him in jail.

Chattisgarh-based activist Soni Sori, authors and activists Nandini Sundar and Arundhati Roy, senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Bhim Army Leader Chandrashekhar Azad addressed the press conference and described the order as a complete ‘farce’.

Kumar, in his petition, had stated that 16 tribals were “murdered” by the police and security forces at Gompad in 2009. Among those killed were women, children and elderly people, and the fingers of a one-and-half-year-old boy were chopped off. Kumar had filed petitions in as many as 519 cases of alleged atrocities, including alleged rape and looting by the police. 

On July 14, the apex court’s two-benched jury of Justices Pardiwala and A.M. Khanwilkar dismissed the petition filed by Kumar. The apex court has not only charged Kumar with a fine of Rs 5 lakh, describing the allegations by the petitioners as “false charges” but has also instructed the Chhattisgarh government to act against the petitioners for “criminal conspiracy”. 

The alleged massacres had taken place on September 17 and October 1, 2009, at Gachhanpalli, Gompad and Belpocha villages in Chhattisgarh. Witnesses to the massacre, interviewed by The Hindu on January 15, 2010, alleged that on October 1, 2009, uniformed men stormed the village. They fatally stabbed and shot three men, three women and a 12-year-old girl, and cut off a two-year-old infant’s fingers.

Kumar said he believes that seeking justice is not a crime and that paying the imposed fine would mean that he was in the wrong.

“These are heavy paramilitary zones. Why are the forces present in the land of the Adivasis? To protect them? …and if so, from who? No. They are there to help a handful of individuals and corporations to gain control and access to the Adivasis’ land. In the Adivasi areas of India, a full-fledged war is going on --the silent war of India! It is full of arms, rape, loot, truth, deceit and propaganda, but they (the authorities) are trying to hide it,” Kumar said.

He further said that his non-profit organisation Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, which worked for the tribals in Dantewada from 1992 to 2009, worked in tandem with the National Legal Services Authorities (NALSA), an organisation of the Supreme Court, to help the Adivasis. “Our organisation was a member of NALSA’s local committee. At that time, judges and magistrates would ask me to help them hold camps in the villages. I would take them to the villages where they would tell the people to address their grievances in courts where they would have access to lawyers and legal aid,” he said.

“They said, when you face injustice, come to court. We took our grievances and went to court. Now, the Supreme is asking us - why are you here? But, you had called us! We are asking for our rights because you told the Adivasis to come to the court with their problems. And now, in my case, the Supreme Court is saying that we are wasting the court’s time,” Kumar added.

However, he believes that a few judges are scared of the government, and are handing out such judgements and that there is a distinction between the Supreme Court and its judges

Senior Supreme Court lawyer and Human Rights activist, Prashant Bhushan also criticised the judgement and said that a pattern of imposing fines is emerging and it is a blatant misuse of power. Calling it a ‘retirement plan’ of some judges, Bhushan said, “Those judges who want post-retirement jobs are being lured to subjugate the judicial process. Such use of arbitrary power! These are serious threats to the independence of the judiciary. Our constitution, high courts and the Supreme Court are watching as spectators as the democratic fabric of the country is being violated. The independence of the judiciary is crumbling, bending down to the whims of the government. We must protest against this judiciary, every time this happens.

Tribal rights activist Soni Sori believes that when the Adivasis so much as even ask for their rights that are mandated by law, they are labelled ‘Naxals’ or ‘Maoists’. “People in Bastar are being killed. They are being encountered. Our women are still being raped. Who will give us our lives and our time back? Be it the Congress or the BJP. We are being labelled as Naxals when we fight for our rights. This is not about money, this is about weakening the fight of Adivasis. People from Gompad are ready to come to Delhi. We will come and meet the President,” she said.

The alleged Gompad Massacre was extensively reported at the time by The Hindu and the witnesses in the case had alleged that they did not have faith in the functioning of the police. Not only this, but several benches of judges at the time had also expressed their dissatisfaction with the police. 

Nandini Sundar, activist and author, said at the meeting, “Despite so many questions, victims have not been compensated and no FIR has been filed against the officials responsible. In 2022, the police will be told that they are absolutely correct. This is contempt of the people and Himanshu Kumar and the Supreme Court itself.” She added, “Previously, the Supreme Court itself said that it had no faith in the Chhattisgarh Police. Now they are saying that the Chhattisgarh Police is absolutely correct. The court is asking people like Teesta Setalvad and Zakia Jafri questions now! A woman who saw her husband hacked in front of her is being accused of keeping the ‘pot boiling’?… Our contempt case against the machinery is pending… The question is -- who is wasting whose time? I have no respect for this.”

The Forum, which came together under the banner of ‘Save Adivasis, Save Constitution,' said that the Adivasis continue to fight against injustice and will come to Delhi to register their protest against the Supreme Court’s decision.

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