Well-known academic and social activist Bela Bhatia, who has been working for several years in the Maoist-infested area of Bastar in Chhattisagarh, has been threatened to leave her house, where she currently lives – Papra village outside Jagdalpur town – or face “severe” consequences.
A couple of days back, Bhatia, who has been particularly helping out tribal women allegedly raped by security personnel in Bastar, helped a team of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate complaints of rape by security forces in the state.
According to sources, a mob of 30 goondas has told her to leave her house within 24 hours. These people came in “a Bolero-type” vehicle and several motorbikes, the sources said, adding, they were “very threatening”, and told Bhatia to leave immediately. They threatened to burn the house, kill her dog, and also threatened the landlady.
The sources further said, after some time they “theateningly” barged into the house. Meanwhile, Bhatia managed to call the local thana. The police came, but did not do much to restrain the mob, except when they tried to move again into the house.
Bhatia agreed in writing to leave and pleaded for time – a few days. They refused and wanted her to leave immediately. Eventually they agreed to give her 24 hours to leave.
|Bela Bhatia's written "assurance" to mob|
During the NHRC team's visit to the area, Bhatia accompanied it to record the statements of rape and sexual assault survivors, who have filed FIRs against police personnel. In a note that she circulated on WhatsApp, Bhatia said, her landlord and his sons were called to the local thana on Sunday and told them that they must ensure that she left the house immediately.
Journalist Malini Subramaniam, lawyers like Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group and other human rights defenders have been forced out of Bastar after similar mob attacks.
In November last year, the police instituted a case against Nandini Sundar, a Delhi University professor and rights activist, researching on Bastar tribals, for “instigating” murder of a tribal, had false cases foisted on them.
The attack on Bhatia comes following NHRC telling the Chhattisgarh government early this month (click HERE to read) that, during its on-the-spot investigation, it has found 16 women prima facie victims of rape, sexual and physical assault by state police personnel.
It had said that it would further record statement of about 20 other victims, pointing out that the rape victims be given interim monetary relief of Rs 37 lakh, which should include Rs 3 lakh each to eight rape victims, Rs 2 lakh each to six sexual assault victims, and and Rs 50,000 each to two physical assault victims.
NHRC notice was sent after it examined the records of 34 victims, who were mentioned in three separate FIRs – 22/2015, 2/2016 and 3/2016. The material includes copies of statement of victims recorded by the NHRC team as well as those recorded in respect of 15 victims sent by the inspector general of police (IGP), Police Headquarters, Raipur, Chhattisgarh capital, on November 12, 2016.
This is not the first time that Bhatia has been intimidated and threatened for staying in Bastar. The attack against her began in November 2015, when she helped tribal women file an FIR against the police for allegedly sexually assaulting them.
Bhatia is a PhD from Cambridge University, has been researching the counter-insurgency in Bastar since 2007. She has also been on the Planning Commission panel that looked at problems of governance in conflict areas. She has taught at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and also been a fellow in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.