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Lathis, axes Odisha adivasis traditionally carry cited for 'applying' anti-terror law UAPA

Counterview Desk 

Hundreds of activists, citizens and people’s organizations from across the country have expressed at the “outrageous” imposition of the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) cases against nine adivasis and activists of the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (NSS), which spearheaded the struggle against bauxite mining by Vedanta Company, in the ecologically bio-diverse Kalahandi and Rayagada regions of Odisha.
In an open letter to Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Odisha, they have asked him to immediately “quashing of the fabricated FIR filed under UAPA and other serious provisions of IPC against adivasi leaders and supporters of NSS, an end to arbitrary abductions and repression of adivasis, as well as corporate-enabled loot of natural resources in Odisha.”
The letter to the CM states, “We have perused through the FIR and are aghast to note the cavalier and ill-motivated manner in which allegations have been levelled against the aforesaid 9 persons. For instance, lathis and axe which many Dongria Kondh adivasis traditionally carry, are being cited as a ground for filing this FIR under UAPA!”

Text:

We the undersigned, on behalf of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and numerous democratic organizations as well as concerned citizens from across India and beyond, are outraged at the recent developments in Odisha, which has resulted in arbitrary abductions, arrests as well as filing cases against 9 leaders of the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (NSS) and its supporters, under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Action (UAPA) and other stringent provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
The Statement by Odisha activists Lingaraj Azad, Prafulla Samantara, Narendra Mohanty and Biswapriya Kanungo, read with the PUDR statement and Statement by Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) describe in detail the disturbing circumstances, in which these charges have been foisted, through FIR 87/2023, dated 6th August. Those charged include Lada Sikaka and Drenju Krushka (leaders of NSS), Manu Sikaka and Samba Huika (youth leaders of NSS), Lingaraj Azad, (Advisor of NSS), British Kumar (Khandualamali Surakhya Samiti), Lenin Kumar (poet and solidarity activist), Gobinda Bag (villager associated with NSS) and Upendra Bag (member spokesperson of NSS). Of them, Upendra was kept in police custody for 4 days and later lodged at Rayagada Jail on 14th August, on the eve of ‘independence’ day! Reportedly, he was threatened, hit and slapped multiple times, during detention.
We have perused through the FIR and are aghast to note the cavalier and ill-motivated manner in which allegations have been levelled against the aforesaid 9 persons. For instance, lathis and axe which many Dongria Kondh adivasis traditionally carry, are being cited as a ground for filing this FIR under UAPA! Likewise, imputations linking the NSS to ‘left wing extremism’ are completely unfounded. We condemn this abuse of process of law and brazen attack on the right of the democratic movement to peaceful resistance.
We have been noticing with concern the developments since 5th August, when two youth leaders of the NSS (Krushna Sikaka, village Patangpadar and Bari Sikaka, village Lakhpadar) mysteriously ‘went missing’. They were reportedly abducted by plainclothes policemen from Lanjigarh, where they had come to interact with people regarding the upcoming Indigenous People’s Day on 9th August. Despite multiple requests, even senior police authorities denied any information of their whereabouts. Apparently, instead of addressing their concerns, the adivasi people were mocked at by some police during the protest. Further, when the police tried to take into custody Drenju Krisika, leader of NSS, the same was thwarted by people’s unity.
Subsequent to mass protests before the Kalyansinghpur police station on 6th Aug, and a writ petition filed in the High Court, Bari Sikaka was ‘returned’ by the police, but Krushna was shown as ‘accused’ in a 5 years old rape case. It baffles us as to why has Krushna been suddenly picked up in Aug, 2023, if the FIR was filed way back in 2018, and he has all along been in the public domain, participating in open meetings. It is learnt that sometime in July, another local person Bali Karkaria (Denguni village) was also allegedly abducted in similar circumstances on unsubstantiated charges and lodged in a jail.
We are aghast at the suspicious ways in which adivasi leaders, especially youth, are being abducted by police, kept in long periods of detention in violation of law, and some of them are shown as ‘arrested’ after many days! It is learnt that there have been midnight police raids at 3 villages in Kashipur block of Rayagada district on the 13th and 16th Aug, after which several adivasi youth are reported ‘missing’. All of this shows the state government in a very poor light.
The historic struggle of Dongria Kondh Niyamgiri adivasis against bauxite mining in the ecologically bio-diverse Kalahandi and Rayagada regions, by Vedanta Company is known world-over. Even the Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the rights of the adivasi Gram Sabhas in its landmark judgement of 18th April, 2013. Despite this the state government has not only watched over, but also enabled excesses by corporations like Vedanta, while militarizing the adivasi regions. We are furious that a repressive law like UAPA is being used to clamp down on the movement, thus also violating the spirit of the verdict of the Apex Court. In the light of this appalling situation, we demand, the Odisha government to immediately:
Drop all the charges and quash FIR against the adivasi leaders, activists and supporters of the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti, filed under UAPA and IPC.
Make public the whereabouts of all persons detained / arrested, during the month of August and details of pending cases against them.
Uphold the democratic rights of the people of Niyamgiri and all movements in Odisha to peaceful resistance and stop the spree of abductions and arrests, as well as, corporate-enabled violence and militarization in adivasi areas.
Institute a fair inquiry into the questionable FIR against Krushna Sikaka in 2018 and release him from jail, pending the inquiry. RELEASE Upendra Bag from jail as well immediately.
Refrain from undertaking / permitting any mining related activities or arbitrary action, including under the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023 in violation of the rights of Gram Sabhas under the V Schedules of the Constitution, FRA, 2006; PESA Act, 1996 and Judgement of Supreme Court dt. 18th April, 2013.
Sir, even a decade after the judgment of the Apex Court, it is deeply painful to note that the adivasis of Niyamgiri have to keep fighting, for securing their forests and mountains from corporate plunder. The Odisha Govt, has a mandate to work for its ordinary people, not for the profiteering of mega corporations. We hope you will show true statesmanship in putting an end to this persecution of adivasi mulvasi communities, fighting for their jal, jangal, zameen and grassroots sovereignty.
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Click here for signatories, here for endorsing organisations and activists

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