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Indian human rights defenders open up on 'state repression' during their jail term

By Our Representative 

A press meet organised by the civil rights group Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) on "Crimanlizing Dissent: Voice of Political Prisoners and Need For United Struggle" saw nearly half-a-dozen human rights defenders claiming to have faced “state repression” and how they were treated on being put behind the bars for asserting their democratic right.
Prof Sachin N began, speaking as the moderator he pointed out how right-wing consolidation has been occurring in everywhere. Thus, the there was electoral victory of Hindutva forces in the Delhi University Teachers' Association. He urged democratic forces to continue struggling even in this rising tide of repression.
Student activist Asif Iqbal Tanha began with optimism towards those who continue to struggle against injustice. He highlighted how in the name of terrorism, Muslims are thrust into jails in a country with 14% Muslim population having 18% Muslim prisoners.
He recounted his experience in Asia's biggest jail, Tihar, as a political prisoner. He exposed the irony of India's Covid-19 lockdown, where no one was allowed outside but, somehow, he was arrested with his entire locality sealed after police conducted marches on the streets to create an atmosphere of fear.
Asif said, he was practicing roza (fast) when was arrested right after he broke his fast and was physically tortured in this condition. He was brutally attacked and starved by the police for his participation in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens protests. He was whipped by the police after tying him to a tree.
Mukesh Mauladh, president of the Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC) shared his optimism on the ability of various sections of society to come together for united struggle. He pointed towards the land struggle in Punjab for Dalit peasants, who were promised 1/3rd share of Panchayati land and how those demanding this land are put in prisons.
He said, in the state political prisoners were held hostage, with police informing the ZPSC that if they stop their land struggle, the political prisoners would be released. Even when they successfully won the land which is their legal right, the state fostered caste-based violence through feudal forces like landlords against the Dalit peasants.
A video message in Gondi from activist Hidme Markam highlighted the violence of the state on the Adivasis in Bastar, the numerous policies brought up by the state attack the “jal, jungle and zameen” of the Adivasis. She was imprisoned for struggling against Adani's land-grabbing 'developmental' project. She talked of the daily violence experiences by Adivasi women, how they are raped, beaten and paraded naked regularly.
A video message from Soni Sori, another tribal rights leader, brought up her 12 year long struggle against fake cases brought against her which culminated with courts acquitting her. Even after this, she is still stifled by the police. She said, the state is not interested in ending Maoists. Adivasis face genocide and loot the resource-rich lands on which they live.
Soni Sori
She expressed solidarity to the people in Manipur but pointed out how the stories of violence in Manipar have become common practices in Chhatisgarh. She talked of how people ask women to file FIRs but when the perpetrators are the police itself, who do they complain to? She concluded with the question, why will Maoism not spread if the state's brutalities and violence continue against the people?
Damodar Turi of the Visthapan Virodhi Janvikas Andolan highlighted how people's struggle for “jal jungle zameen” in Jharkhan had many similarities with Chhattisgarh and even Odisha. He brought up the model of development introduced right after Independence which claimed to make India a temple of development, but at the cost of displacing thousands of Adivasis.
He brought up how the very first government of Jharkhand, led by BJP, sold off people's lands and forests to big corporates like Jindals, Birlas, Tatas etc. through Memorandums of Understanding, similar to Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
Bikkar Singh, financial secretary of ZPSC, pointed out how in Punjab, even if there is no jungle in the struggle, the fight for jal and zameen is real for the people. With 1% of Dalits in India possessing land, the ZPSC was fighting for land rights in Punjab. He talked of how the feudal forces in Punjab are trying their hard to ensure that landless peasants in Punjab do not get their land.
Activist Atikur Rahman recalled the Hathras rape case and the death of the victim. He brought up his harrowing experience as a heart patient because of medical neglect by the Uttar Pradesh police and authorities when his team was arrested for trying to report on the case.
He underwent open heart surgery experiencing a paralysis attack in prison and nearly died due to sheer neglect of the police, he said, insisting on the need for resisting oppression together, whether it be for Dalits, Adivasis or Muslims.

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