Sunday, February 01, 2015

Warning "terrorist activities", Gujarat government imposes curfew on tribal district ahead of protest movement

Romel Sutariya leading a rally in Chhotaudepur
By Our Representative
In a curious move, the Gujarat government has imposed curfew under Section 144, prohibiting assembly of more than ten people in the predominantly tribal district of Chhotaudepur, till February 14. The order, dated January 31, 2015, says that it has been “imposed in order to prevent terrorist activities in Chhotaudepur town and all the talukas of the district”. The order adds that it has been necessitated to “ensure law and order, peace and security”, and “no procession or gathering” could be held during the period.
Reacting sharply, the tribal organization, Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha (AKSM) chief Romel Sutariya, who was scheduled to begin an indefinite fast in front of the district collector’s office in Chhotaudepur against the “failure” of the administration to stop the sand mining entrepreneurs from "grabbing" tribal land, said, “By this order, the Gujarat government appears to think that the tribals, who have been peacefully protesting for their rights, are terrorists.” He added, “This is nothing but a conspiracy against the tribals’ efforts to claim their right over land, jungle and water.”
In a statement, AKSM wonders, “Is this the face of the Gujarat model? It seems that the government is terribly afraid of our continuing protest movement in the district. Already, one of our senior leaders, Jayram Gamit, a tribal, was arrested on Saturday late evening under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA Act), and taken to Rajkot. And, now prohibitory orders to prevent the district from terrorist activities have been imposed. Are these the good days (acche din), which the Modi administration had promised?”
State order on curfew referring to "terrorist threat"
The statement said, “We had decided, starting on February 2, to demonstrate for the tribals’ sovereign rights over the natural resources and privatization of their land. One of the programmes was to stage a sit-in demonstration in front of the district administration office in Chhotaudepur. This was going to be in culmination of the protests we had launched demanding better infrastructure in the district, including road, school, power, hospital, women’s security, and complete stoppage of illegal sand mining.”
The statement added, “One of our demands of our demonstration has been to withdraw the recent land acquisition ordinance, which was promulgated by the Modi government without any discussion in the Lok Sabha. It has opened up land resources for private interests in large parts of India. The ordinary replaces the land acquisition Act, which made social impact assessment and consent of the local people a must for any move to acquire land by the government for private and public-private projects.”
The statement does not say whether the planned protest move in front of the Chhotaudepur district administration would continue despite prohibitive orders. It merely terms the order as “draconian” and “dictatorial”, but gives no indication on how the ADSM is going to fight against it. “There is no statement from the Opposition Congress over the move declare the district as terrorist prone, nor have any voluntary organizations come forward to declare it as such”, a keen Gujarat observer said.

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