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Free adivasi woman rights leader, drop terror charges on activists: Chhattisgarh CM told

Counterview Desk 

Over 1,000 activists, academics, concerned citizens from more than 20 states in India and across the globe, in a letter to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, have called for “immediate release” of adivasi rights leader and environmentalist Hidme Markam, even as insisting, state “excess” on adivasis in Bastar should end forthwith.
Outraged by “arbitrary” incarceration of Hidme for over 40 days, a petition to Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said he should take “pro-active steps” to end the cycle of repression against adivasis in Chhattisgarh, claiming, the charges against Hidme and other adivasi activists are “false” and should be dropped and an independent inquiry be conducted into all instances of sexual and state violence.
On March 9, 2021, Hidme, working in the Nandraj Pahad anti-mining movement was allegedly abducted by the Dantewada Police, but was later shown as ‘arrested’, the letter says. At the time of her “abduction”, she was attending a programme commemorating the International Women’s Day in Sameli, Bastar.
The meeting was called remember and mourn the rapes and murders of adivasi women “at the hands of the state”, the letter points out, adding, but, ironically, that day became witness to another incident of state high-handedness: She has been in jail for over 40 days now.
The letter states, Hidme along with other adivasis, organized as the Nandraj Pahad Bachao Andolan, has been resisting the mining of a sacred indigenous hill by corporations like Adani Pvt Ltd. She has also been organizing against the Bailadila Mine Deposit project that would result in grave ecological damage in the region especially on the local forest, land and water bodies.
As a member of the Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, Hidme has been present in numerous public spaces and meetings in Chhattisgarh, asserting the rights of adivasi women, especially against displacement and state repression. Her arrest is just the latest in the chain of the State hounding adivasi women activists who are fighting for constitutional and human rights, the letter says.
The letter underlines, the violence of ill-thought and arbitrary ‘development’ projects have haunted the adivasi state of Chhattisgarh and Central-Eastern India for decades. The wide scale displacement and environmental devastation caused by these projects remain unaccounted, and they multiply constantly, to cater largely to corporate profits.
It continues, the local communities who have peacefully existed there for decades, not only depend on these forests and mountains for their sustenance, but also sustain them, have been violently crushed to build mines and industries. But they continue to resist, and democratically fight for their rights.
The letter asks the chief minister to ensure that all charges against Hidme, including those under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), should be dropped, and bring about a halt to “clampdown” on environmental, adivasi and other human rights activists as well as adivasi villagers in Chhattisgarh, in particular women in the garb of ‘combating Naxalism’.

Text:

We the undersigned signatories, representing diverse mass movements, environmental groups, rights organizations, feminist collectives as well as academics, activists and other concerned citizens are aghast at the manner in which Hidme Markam, a noted young environmentalist and human rights defender from the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh and a leader of the Nandraj Pahad anti-mining movement has been picked up by the Dantewada police arbitrarily on 9th March and currently lodged in jail.
We call upon you, as the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh to immediately intervene to ensure that all false cases against Hidme, including UAPA charges, are dropped and that she be released forthwith. We are equally distraught that her open abduction by police happened at a program intended to celebrate International Women’s Day, in the presence of the Sub Divisional Magistrate at Sameli, Dantewada and in violation of all due process.
Reportedly, Hidme, along with Soni Sori, many other activists of Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch and a few hundred villagers gathered there peacefully to remember two young women who had been sexually assaulted and lost their lives because of the brutality of the police and security forces – Kawasi Pande who allegedly committed “suicide” in police custody under the watch of the Dantewada SP after being physically and sexually assaulted by the police, and Nande, who was pushed to take her life after being gang-raped by members of the police and CRPF.
At the meeting, the shocking case of Bheeme Mandawi, who, was picked up by the DRGF in December 2020 along with another young woman from Jabeli, Keda Para, raped and shot, was also brought forward. It is for such brutal human rights violations and violence that Hidme would speak out. It was only upon questioning later that the police claimed to have ‘arrested’ Hidme, in multiple cases with serious charges, including UAPA.
Not only was the manner of the arrest illegal and highly objectionable, but the charges were obviously concocted and even the FIRs the police claimed to have against Hidme had discrepancies even in the name: they refer to Kawasi Hidme, while the person arrested in Hidme Markam! The charges are evidently also being constructed post-facto; as time passes, they suddenly seem to have found more cases against her.
First they identify her as the president of the KAMS, specifying her as an unarmed member of the women's group, and in direct contradiction, the FIRs talk about her as a 'vardidhari bandukdhari' (uniformed and armed) member. Despite the fact that neither the names or the stories match, Hidme Markam, a Human Rights Defender who has been working entirely in the public eye, even meeting with police and officials to raise cases of Human Rights violations, has been arrested.
Hidme is widely respected in the entire region of Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur for her work as an environmental and anti-displacement activist. She has led, along with other adivasis, the Nandraj Pahad Bachao Andolan, resisting the mining of a sacred indigenous hill by corporations like Adani Pvt Ltd. She has also been organizing against the Bailadila Mine Deposit project that would result in grave ecological damage in the region especially on the local forest, land and water bodies.
A member of the Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, Hidme has been present in numerous public spaces and meetings in Chhattisgarh, asserting the rights of adivasi women, especially against displacement and state repression. As convenor of the Jail Bandi Rihai Committee (Committee for Release of Prisoners), she has been vocal in the demand for release of thousands of innocent adivasis implicated and incarcerated in false cases.
Her sudden ‘arrest’ in ‘old cases’ raises many questions including why the State is going after her now, when she was all the time present in public and in fact met many important authorities including the Governor, Chief Minister, Superintendent of Police, Collector etc. demanding the release of arrested adivasis, an end to construction of para military camps in the region and halt to mining.
Her abduction deemed as ‘arrest’, adds yet another shameful layer of harassment to what she has already been facing for speaking truth to power. How does the Govt. explain the arrest of an adivasi woman activist who has only been trying to draw the attention of the state and police authorities to violations of constitutional rights? 
Like many others, Hidme is clearly being targeted for her political work in defence of adivasi lands and lives and standing up against the might of the State and profit-making corporations. The State should know better that such scare-mongering tactics would neither dampen the spirit of the adivasis of the region nor the democratic minded citizens across the country who stand resolutely in solidarity with them. We express our severe condemnation at the manner in which the State is hounding young voices in the environmental and social justice movements.
In this particular case, we cannot but express our utter displeasure at the high-handedness of the Congress Government in the state which is not only turning back on its poll promise of releasing arbitrarily jailed adivasis, but is in fact unabashedly arresting more adivasi women activists who are fighting for constitutional and human rights. We call upon you to immediately:
  • Free Hidme Markam and drop all charges against her, including UAPA matters.
  • Stop clamp down on environmental, adivasi and other human rights activists as well as adivasi villagers in Chhattisgarh, in particular women in the garb of ‘combating Naxalism’.
  • Halt all potentially destructive projects that displace adivasis and jeopardizes the environment and dialogue with the adivasi communities.
  • Disband questionable schemes like Lon Varatu and unconstitutional entities like the District Reserve Guards Force (DRGF).
  • Institute an independent and high-level inquiry into the sexual violence and alleged “suicide” of Kawasi Pande, the rape and death of Nande, the rape and murder of Bheeme Mandawi and other young women who have been sexually assaulted by the police. Put an immediate end to the sexual violence being rampantly inflicted by the police and security forces on the women of Bastar.
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