Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression condemns the recent attack against Bela Bhatia, a researcher and activist, based in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. On the 23rd of January, 2017, a group of 30-odd men attacked Bela near her house. They barged into her house violently, and threatened to burn the building down if she did not leave immediately. The mob also attacked the owners of the building as well as their children, threatening them with dire consequences if Bela was not evicted immediately. Despite Bela’s assurances that she would leave, the mob continued to be belligerent, in the presence of the police, and even when the Sarpanch arrived.
In the meantime, concerned friends of Bela, who were informed by her of the attack and threat to her life, called SRP Kalluri, who is the Inspector General of Police, Bastar District, to enquire about her well-being. One person spoke to SRP Kalluri and asked him about Bela, and he lied to her that she had succumbed to her injuries in the hospital.
Further calls and messages from different friends elicited replies such as “if you come in front of me, I will chappal you idiot”, “F U” and “Yes, very soon Maoists and their dogs will be thrown out of Bastar. We will take strong action”. To friends asking him to ensure the safety of Bela Bhatia, he replied “Naxals will be kicked out of Bastar”. He replied “the drama has just begun dear” to another friend who asked him why Bela and her landlords were being harassed”.
IGP Kalluri’s response to the attacks on Bela Bhatia make it amply clear that he is in support of these attacks against Bela. An activist and researcher has been repeatedly attacked, harassed and abused, in full view of the police, and the highest ranking police officer in the district is not only blatantly encouraging these attacks, but is also abusing well-wishers and friends who are calling up to enquire after Bela. SRP Kalluri’s track record of harassing activists in Chhattisgarh is well known. IG Kalluri has recently proudly announced that he has claimed to kill 134 Naxalites in Bastar. However, it is well-established that many of them were innocent Adivasis, including a nine-year old who was shot dead and then arraigned as a “dreaded naxalite”. IG Kalluri has also repeatedly harassed activists such as members of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, and is running a propaganda campaign branding anyone who seeks to defend adivasis in Bastar as “Maoist sympathisers”.
Bela Bhatia was recently instrumental in bringing to light before the NHRC incidents of sexual assault of women in Bijapur. She assisted women in the villages of Chinnagelur, Peddagelur, Gundam, Burgicheru and Pegdapalli to file FIRs against police personnel. The NHRC took suo moto cognizance of newspaper reports and visited the area, which has resulted in an interim order by the Commission, issuing notice to the Chhattisgarh government on the basis of prima facie evidence of sexual assault.
Bela is being targeted because of her exemplary work among adivasis in Bastar. The Chhattisgarh government has encouraged IG Kalluri in his human rights abuses, and is pursuing, through the IG, a systematic campaign against Adivasi rights in Bastar. IG Kalluri has recently announced that he is going to go after “White-Collar Naxalites”, by which he is referring to activists in the area. IG Kalluri’s contempt for rule of law in Bastar is amply clear, and it is evident that he will resort to any violent means to ensure that the voices of Adivasis is not amplified in this struggle. We call upon call upon the Chhattisgarh government to take strict action against such acts of violence encouraged by the police in Bastar.
(1) SRP Kalluri should be immediately dismissed from the post of Inspector General of Police (Bastar District).
(2) The Chhattisgarh Government must institute an enquiry into the actions of SRP Kalluri in instigating and supporting violence against Adivasis in Bastar.
(3) The Chhattisgarh Government must immediately institute an enquiry into the actions of SRP Kalluri in instigating and supporting violence against activists in Bastar.