Press Statement by Concerned Individuals and Organisations from the Civil Society of West Bengal

Statement of recent attacks against lawyers in Chhatisgarh, Jagdalpur working for under trial prisoners, Adivasi activist Soni Sori, Journalist Malini Subramaniam, public intellectuals such as Bela Bhatia among others.

We, the members of civil society in West Bengal stand in firm solidarity with the Jagadalpur Legal Aid Group, Malini Subhramaniam, Bela Bhatia, Soni Sori, Sudha Bhardwaj and all other groups and individuals who were working for human rights and upholding the Constitution and Rule of Law in Bastar. Their activities should be seen in the context of an increasingly oppressive state. These conscientious persons have played a critical role to bear witness to the plight of the indigenous peoples in the region.

Bastar is a conflict zone where the democratic institutions of our country have broken down. The state has deliberately supported land grab efforts of the mining profiteers. Police and armed forces displace whole communities. Deployments of paramilitary forces isolate dissent by laying siege on entire villages. Armed anti-social groups like the notorious Salwa Judum, banned by the Supreme Court, unleash systematic sexual violence. The state-corporate nexus continues to act with total impunity, demonizing the local indigenous peoples under the rhetoric of ‘counter insurgency’. All legal and democratic processes have broken down.

Advocates such as Isha and Shalini of Jagadalpur Legal Aid Group, journalists and writers such as Malini Subhramanium, public intellectuals such as Bela Bhatia, and activists such as Soni Sori are a necessary force in restoring the Constitution and Rule of Law as well as invoking international Human Rights institutions and frameworks in Bastar. Starting November 2015, there is a concerted effort by the state to silence them and the 20th February chemical attack on Soni Sori is part of this plan. This is clearly a sinister design, which includes re-launching the banned Salwa Judum, and pulling a smoke screen behind which land grab plans can be executed. The role of the Collector, SP and other state officials clearly implicate them in violating the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and in subverting the Constitution and democratic processes.

We, the members of civil society in West Bengal express our gratitude to the National Human Rights Commission for their immediate response to the present crisis by sending a notice to the Director General of Police, Bastar and agreeing to send a team to Bastar. We also call upon the media to awaken the public conscience, protect the steadily shrinking space of democracy in the region, and help restore democracy in Bastar.

— On Behalf of Several Concerned Individuals and Organisations from the Civil Society of West Bengal

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