Hyderabad: In late-November, police officials in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana booked 67 Adivasi, Dalit and human rights activists under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and under sedition charges for alleged “maoist links”. Rights organisations are arguing that the activists were falsely implicated and are demanding that charges against them be quashed, terming the police action as a clear case of vindictiveness.
“I've been a government teacher and human rights activist for the last 33 years. My family and I are living in fear now after we were told that the UAPA was slapped against us,” said 53-year-old Athram Bhujanga Rao, a school assistant in Telangana Tribal Welfare Residential School at Indervelly village in Adilabad district, and the vice president of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) in Telangana. He denies any link the banned CPI(Maoist) party . His wife, A. Suguna, and her brother K.Venkatesh, both teachers and members of the HRF, were also booked in the same case.
“The three of us raised our voices for the cause of Adivasi rights in public and strived for tribal upliftment and implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA), Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act,1996, (PESA Act, 1996), and Land Transfer Regulation Act 1 of 1970” said Rao.
On November 2, an FIR was lodged at Tadvai police station in Mulug district against the three. According to the police, the FIR was registered based on information provided by four Maoist sympathisers who had been arrested that day while they were on their way to Chhatisgarh to meet the top Maoist leadership. The FIR, seen by NewsClick, says that Rao, Suguna and Venkatesh were “providing funds” to the Maoist party.
“We helped the poor tribal people by supplying food and medicines during the lockdown. All our activism was done publicly,” said Rao. “I came to know about the case through the media and questioned the district police officials, asking why we were falsely implicated in the case based on bare-faced untruths,” said Rao.
Twenty days later, another 63 activists were booked under the UAPA and under sedition charges in two cases at Munchingput police station in Visakhapatnam district and at Piduguralla in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh, based on information from alleged maoist supporters. According to the police, the two FIRs were based on the confessions of two alleged Maoists -- Pangi Naganna and Kambhampati Chaitanya.
Those framed include V.S. Krishna, convener of the HRF Andhra Pradesh and Telangana units, K.S. Chalam, Balakrishna, Padma, Sreeramurthy and Annapurna, among others.
On Monday, several rights organisations staged a protest near the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, demanding that the government quashes the cases.
In the Munchingput FIR, V.S. Krishna has been accused of influencing the Vakapalli rape survivors to falsely depose against policemen.
“This is an atrocious allegation. Since 2007, the HRF, along with many Adivasi, women’s, and mass organisations were active participants in seeking justice for the 11 Vakapalli women who were raped by special forces personnel. It is because of the sheer resilience of the women of Vakapalli and the intervention of the High Court in 2012 and the Supreme Court in September 2017, that the trial is continuing in the SC/ST Special Court at Visakhapatnam. Thirteen accused police personnel are presently on trial. While two of the Vakapalli women had died in the intervening years, the remaining nine came to Visakhapatnam and deposed in court,” stated HRF in a press release.
“It is certainly not a crime to provide food and shelter to Adivasi women witnesses who have come from remote areas to depose in a criminal trial mandated by the law. It is because of this solidarity and sustained rights activism that the police are now seeking to intimidate V.S. Krishna in what we believe to be a clear case of vindictiveness,” the forum stated.
Further, the organisation stated: “HRF is not a surrogate or front of any political party. We were formed in 1998 with the firm conviction that a broad-based and truly independent human rights movement is desirable and possible. We believe that the essence of human rights is the notion of equality in human value and worth. HRF shall continue to work for the protection of constitutionally or internationally recognised rights of the people and for the right of the people to propose and strive for new rights not yet recognised in national or international law. We will continue to endeavor for the spreading of a human rights culture in society. We demand that the fabricated accusations in the FIRs be immediately dropped.”