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Chattisgarh cops handing over activists' personal info to "anti-Naxal" vigilante groups: Rights group PUDR

Shalini Gera
By Our Representative
Are the police handing over personal details of activists working on tribal rights issues in Chhattisgarh to armed vigilante groups, which have cropped up with state support with the claim to fight Naxalism? A premier human rights group, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUDR), has alleged that this is what happened on December 20, following their cadres’ meeting with tribals in Bastar region.
In a statement, PUDR says, it organised a one day conference on tribal rights on December 19 in village Matenaar of Dantewada district, where around 100 villagers from 3 three districts – Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur – participated. “Most of those present were family members of tribals who have been killed in fake encounters, victims of sexual violence and other human rights abuses”, it adds.
Locally organised by Sukul Prasad Barse, a veteran activist, when the participants were returning from the meet on the following day, they were “stopped by police for verification”, says PUDR, adding, “They were questioned about the meeting and were allowed to go only after verification of their names and identities.”
According to PUDR, “The photos of the activists and the meeting taken by the police were handed over to vigilante groups who circulated them alleging that some students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had entered Bastar for provoking the people, when none of the activists who attended the meeting is from JNU.”
PUDR reports, ever since then, the “police officials from Kotwali thana, Dantewada, have been consistently making rounds at Barse's house and threatening him for organising this event even though a prior information was given to the local authorities.” Barse, 70, is a local social activist from Maatenar, who works closely with Soni Sori, well-known tribal rights activist and is associated with Aam Aadmi Party. Sori attacked by throwing inflammable substance on her face a few months back.
Militant vigilante groups actively harassing activists, says PUDR, is pretty common in Bastar. 
More recently, there were reports that Shalini Gera, an advocate and member of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JAG LAG), was harassed by Chhattisgarh police on December 27, when she received a phone call from RN Dash SP Bastar, informing her that he has received a written complaint stating that she exchanged banned notes worth Rs 10 lakhs for Naxalites in Goel Dharamshala in Jagdalpur a day earlier.
Says PUDR, she came to know through a WhatsApp message about the complainant who happens to be a member of a vigilante group AGNI (Action Group for National Integration), said to have been created under the guidance of Bastar police boss SRP Kalluri. AGNI, according to a report, consists of lawyers, teachers, doctors, trade unionists and Bharatiya Janata Party members, many of whom were with the disbanded group, Samajik Ekta Manch.
According to PUDR, Shalini was “indeed present in Goel Dharamshala in Jagdalpur from the night of December 25, 2016 to the evening of December 26, 2016 along with her colleagues for attending an exhumation of the body of Somaru Pottam of Metapal village in Bijapur district for a repeat post mortem to be conducted in Maharani Hospital, Jagdalpur under the directions of High Court of Chhattisgarh.”
On December 16, Bijapur police announced that a team of security forces had killed an ‘unidentified and armed Maoist in uniform’ in Metapal in a gun battle, who was later identified by residents of Metapal, as 13-year-old Pottam. His parents petitioned the Chattisgarh High Court demanding an enquiry claiming that their son has been murdered by security forces. Shalini is representing the petitioners in this case.
“In connection with this case, Shalini and her colleagues had travelled to Jagdalpur”, says PUDR, adding, “They were accompanied throughout by D Mahant, tehsildar of Bijapur; Pankaj Daharia CEO of Bijapur; and the SDM of Bijapur. The Divisional Commissioner had made arrangements for their stay in Goel Dharamshala as the Circuit house was fully occupied. This shows that her visit and stay at Jagdalpur was official and not a secret one as claimed by the SP.”

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