In an unprecedented win for human rights activists in India, the state of Chhattisgarh has been asked to pay a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each to 13 human rights activists, including academics and lawyers, for falsely implicating and harassing them in a case from 2016.
Those named in the case were Delhi University Professor Nandini Sundar, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Professor Archana Prasad, Vineet Tiwari, CPI(M) leader Sanjay Parate, among others.
In 2016, the Chhattisgarh police had filed an FIR against them for the murder of Shamnath Baghel, a resident of Nama village in Sukma district. The case was registered based on the complaint of Shamnath’s widow, Vimla Baghel. However, no evidence was found.
An investigation in the case happened when a new government was formed in the state in 2018. Following which, the FIR in question was withdrawn in February 2019 with the Supreme Court halting further arrests in the matter in 2018.
Wrong Committed by the State, Case of Abuse of Power
The move has been lauded as being unprecedented and historic, as it is one which highlights the wrongs committed by the state and its abuse of power. Speaking to NewsClick, V.Suresh of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) said: “It is indeed a unique ruling. Human rights activists are facing grave threats from the state today. This is the first time that the NHRC has recognised that the government needs to provide compensation for sufferings that the activists have faced. This case needs to be viewed as a precedent for new cases; it has taken us many years to get to this stage. Legally, this remains a significant ruling as the DGP acknowledged that they looked into the cases and found them to be false. This is not mercy but compensation on the basis of a rational finding.”
While the move is historic, the PUCL is demanding an enquiry against police officers who pressed false charges.
In its statement, the organisation noted: “It has been the consistent stand of the PUCL that the then Inspector General of Police, Bastar, SRP Kalluri, was clearly involved in lodging these false cases, and had also openly threatened and intimidated the Human Rights Defenders, as indicated in the original PUCL complaint. We are dismayed to note that the Government of Chhattisgarh has not taken, nor has it been directed by the NHRC to take, any punitive criminal action against Mr. SRP Kalluri or any other police officer involved in these criminal actions of malicious prosecution, which are evidently meant to punish those speaking out against atrocities committed by the Chhattisgarh police and other armed forces.”
The activists were charged under the Arms Act, various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the UAPA.
What about Others, Ask Activists
PUCL and activists are also questioning why the NHRC was not inclined to consider two other cases of fake FIRs under its purview: that of the Bastar journalist Santosh Yadav, and of Dr. Lakhan Singh, the former President of PUCL Chhattisgarh, now deceased. Santosh Yadav spent nearly 18 months in prison, and has also since been acquitted by the courts.
Speaking to NewsClick, Sanjay Parate of the CPI(M) said: “We had gone for a fact-finding project in Nama village of Sukma distric. We were threatened with arrests and people were told that we are supporting naxals.”
As of now, 12 human rights defenders and activists are languishing in jails in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, the latest among them Delhi University Professor Hany Babu.
“While the NHRC has given its direction, the government has not contacted us. While this is a good move, the real question is that thousands are languishing in jails on non-serious charges and are being labelled ‘naxals’ – what about them? As a result of the CBI’s report, it has become evident that DGP Kalluri was responsible for the burning down of the village; people were threatened to abandon their homes. This case needs to be used as an example to enquire and prosecute those who have been tortured by the police and falsely implicated by the state,” said Parate.
The order was issued by the commission on July 1, 2020, but, to their surprise, activists said they received it on August 5.
The NHRC also ordered for compensation for seven members of a fact-finding team of Telangana advocates. The police had arrested and registered an FIR against this team of advocates as well. After spending seven months in Sukma jail, all of them were acquitted of the charges.
While the order was issued in July, it was brought to the union’s notice only in the first week of August. Speaking to NewsClick, Archana Prasad, one of the academics named in the FIR, said: “As of now, there has not been any communication by the commission over the issue of compensation.”
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