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Protest against Kanhar Dam in UP: Arrest of activists is illegal, meant to impose rulers' development agenda on people

Statement by National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) on the arrest of Roma and Sokalo Gond, arrested in UP for protesting against the land acquisition bill:
The Government of Uttar Pradesh has showcased its commitment to anti-people policies and disrespect to peaceful and democratic expression of poor and marginalised people once again.
Early morning of June 30, just hours before the big dharna and rally in support of the 100 day nationwide campaign for land rights and labour rights in Sonebhadra district of UP, Roma and Sokalo Gond, both office bearers of the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), along with other activists were arrested and sent to Mirzapur jail. Though many activists were picked up, except both of them, everyone else was released later in the day.
They were not released because they exposed scam in tune of more than Rs 2,300 crore by people in the administration and those sitting at high echelons of power in the government. The scammers are being protected by the police and the administration.
Activists and whistleblowers who have attempted to expose these scams, point out police excesses and protest against illegal land acquisition are being termed as ‘miscreants’ and continuously harassed by the UP government.
One may recall, on the morning of April 14 (Ambedkar Jayanti), the UP police fired indiscriminately on several hundred Dalits and Adivasis, including large numbers of women and children. They were peacefully protesting against illegal land acquisition for the Kanhar Dam project. Several women were injured in the firing.
Following this, false cases were filed against countless unnamed persons. Four days later, on April 18, there was a second round of police firing in which once again several people were seriously injured and some of the key activists of the movement arrested. Those arrested are yet to be released.
These incidents cannot be seen in isolation but should be looked in the context of earlier incidents of police firing on peaceful protesters, which has continued now through severe forms of harassment, illegal arrests and false charges.
These charges are arbitrary and politically motivated, aimed at crushing the peaceful and democratic struggle against the illegal acquisition of land for the Kanhar Dam project. The Government of Uttar Pradesh has used the police to illegally stop democratic expression against the persistence of land acquisition in scheduled areas.
Despite there being court orders, including from the National Green Tribunal, the state government has pursued and targeted activists who are protesting its illegal actions at Kanhar.
At the national level AIUFWP, being part of the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, has been opposing the amendments to the land acquisition proposed by the BJP government. Roma and Sokalo are strong women leaders who have spearheaded many struggles since more than a decade against the land mafia and the nexus between the forest department and the corporates.
Addressing a press meeting, CPI-M politbureau member Hannan Mollah explained the sequence of events where the police forcibly entered the room where women were sleeping, kept the women police outside the door and harassed women activists even when they repeatedly objected to the use of force against them. These attacks, he said, are also an attack on the leadership of Bhumi Adhikar Andolan which has been protesting against forcible land acquisition at the national level.
Ashok Choudhary [AIUFWP] said that while the nature of arrest shows the disrespecting attitudes of the police against women, it is also the state government which has hastened the process of acquisition, resorting to the use of force, due to the pressures created by Hindalco which needs water from the Kanhar dam for its power projects in Singrauli.
The Kanhar dam is neither for irrigation nor serving any other needs of the local people. “These pressure tactics show that the administration has not taken well the fact that adivasi women in the community are taking leader the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal have asked for stopping the process,” he added.
Veteran activist Medha Patkar said that this indiscriminate use of force to restart the construction of dam, non implementation of the 2013 land acquisition act in UP and the prosecution of peaceful activists are a reflection of how the British treated dissent, and added that such things would amount to much more losses in the electoral process for Mulayam Singh and the Samajwadi Party.
The ‘third and fourth front’ thus today need to explain their positions vis-à-vis the government’s not-so-veiled attempts to implement only corporate policies. The DM Sanjay Kumar has explained to the fact-finding team and other activists who met the administration regarding the arrests that ‘no new case’ has been registered against Roma after 2009.
On the inhuman treatment meted out to Dalit leaders in the past such as Gambhira Prasad and a trend that has been proven once again, she demanded that the state should be booked for violation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Priya Pillai of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti added that the independent fact finding committee was harassed when it went to enquire of the sequence of events. The members were stopped from meeting people in hospitals and villages. The police officer responsible for the firing on 14th April, Kapil Yadav, made the arrests and the behaviour clearly pointed out to the aspect of ‘revenge’.
This suppression by force shows patterns in how the state is extremely intolerant of any form of dissent. Dr. Sunilam of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti said that charges should be filed against the police officer for mistreatment of women and harassing peaceful protestors.
Anil Choudhary of Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) said that the coal block re-allotments done by the new government has led to hurried construction at Kanhar dam site, in violation of all laws and guidelines. This is also because Hindalco has consumed the water sources and now it needs more water. This illegality and harassment will go on if the forcing of a ‘development agenda’ on poor and marginalised sections continues.
Bhumi Adhikar Andolan demands the stopping of harassment of activists and local people and asks the UP government to take recognition of massive irregularities in Kanhar dam region, police excesses and stop the illegal land acquisition process immediately. An enquiry into the wrongful arrests, false and fabricated cases, and wrongful police action should be made by the government.
It extended solidarity to the people of Kanhar who are facing the brunt for standing up for people’s rights, and the adoption of wrongful procedures and illegalities in the name of development.

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