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Kerala human rights defender's 'crime': She sought food security for Dalits, Adivasis

Counterview Desk 

India’s top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), in a letter to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has sought immediate withdrawal of “arbitrary and unjustified” FIR against social activist Prof Kusumam Joseph by the state police.
The NAPM letter says, the only crime of Prof Joseph, a human rights defender, is, she drew attention to the failure of the state to ensure food security for the Dalit and Adivasi people at Arippa, and yet local authorities, which received multiple requests from different quarters, failed to act.
Pointing out that the case against Prof Kusumam claims that “by concealing the Government’s social security measures she incited insurrection among communities”, the letter insists, “Her demand for immediate supply of food grains to the affected people was in line with the promises made by the Kerala government that the people in Kerala will not be allowed to starve.”

Text:

We, the undersigned members of diverse people’s movements across India, have been deeply dismayed to learn of the arbitrary and unjustified FIR filed against social and environmental activist Prof Kusumam Joseph by the Kerala police. The FIR is based on a facebook appeal by her to the state government in April 2020, to ensure food kits for Dalit and Adivasi families in Arippa, Kollam District. We deem this as a completely arbitrary act of the administration and seek your immediate intervention for the withdrawal of the impugned FIR.
Prof Kusumam is a respected retired academic in the educational and social circles of Kerala. She has been an active human rights defender, environmental crusader and has also previously been the Kerala state-coordinator and currently one of the Convenors of the National Alliance of People’s Movements.
As per information available, the Kulathupuzha police, based on the complaint of Panchayath Secretary, Kulathupuzha Gram Panchayat registered Cr. 415/2020 on 18th April, 2021, under section 153 of IPC and Sec.118(b), 120 (b) of Kerala Police Act. However, Kusumam herself was notified of this FIR only on April 28, 2021, through a notice asking her to surrender her mobile phone within 72 hours.
We are given to understand that during the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020, Prof Kusumam made a public demand on Facebook that the Kerala government ensure food kits for Dalit and Adivasi families in Arippa, Kollam. Her Facebook post highlighted the dire situation of more than 160 families, including older people and children, who are part of communities struggling for the right to cultivable land on which they had built their huts for over a decade.
With the lockdown declared due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they had lost all means of subsistence and their income. While acknowledging the efforts of the Kerala government to provide food kits for those in need including migrant workers and even birds and animals, Prof Kusumam drew attention to the failure of the State to ensure food security for the Dalit and Adivasi people at Arippa, even after the local authorities received multiple requests from different quarters.
Her demand for immediate supply of food grains to the affected people was in line with the promises made by the Kerala government that the people in Kerala will not be allowed to starve.
The case against Prof Kusumam claims that ‘by concealing the Government’s social security measures she incited insurrection among communities’! It was alleged that her post constituted ‘wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot.’ This is a malicious accusation made against an activist who was fighting to ensure basic necessities for survival for communities already living under precarious circumstances.
The attempt to suppress her voice, using police force is a disappointing departure from the principles of a state claiming to fight for all working classes and oppressed sections including Dalit, Adivasi and minority peoples.
We call upon you to immediately ensure:
  1. that the Kerala government withdraws the pending FIR/s against Prof Kusumam Joseph,
  2. that the govt upholds the principles of democracy, including the right to protest and the right to publicly hold government agencies responsible for denial of social entitlements and rights.
  3. The Kerala government must guarantee that activists and human rights defenders are not targeted and persecuted for bringing issues to public notice, and instead state mechanisms are employed to address the violations of human rights they point out. Towards this end, police and administrative personnel must be given necessary training and direction.
We look forward to immediate intervention from your end to ensure justice in the current circumstances.
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