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'Insidious': Arrest of Sarju Tekam for raising awareness on jal-jangal-jameen in Bastar?

Counterview Desk 

Civil rights network* Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), condemning the continuous arrests and harassments of democratic rights activists such as Tirumal Sarju Tekam and fake encounters of Modu Ram and Kanha Ram in Chhattisgarh, has regretted in a statement that those fighting for democratic and civil liberties, human rights and labour rights, anti-caste and women’s rights, Marxist-Leninist and Gandhian ideologies are being labelled as potential Maoists.


On 28th October 2023, at around 4 am in the morning, Sarva Adivasi Samaj State Vice President and Bastar Jan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti Convenor Tirumal Sarju Tekam was arrested by the police on trumped up charges from his residence in Manpur district, Chhattisgarh. He has been arrested under section 295A, 153A, 506B. 435, 34 of the Indian Penal code for his alleged speech in a programme. Sarju Tekam has been a vocal voice against the corporatization and militarization occurring in Bastar, the natural resource-rich belts of India. 
He has been active in the democratic rights struggle against the creation of military camps in Chhattisgarh which have displaced numerous Adivasis and facilitated the loot of land and natural resources in the region. Around the same time period, on 22nd October in Kanker district, farmers Moda Ram Pada and Kanha Ram were murdered in a fake encounter under the allegation of being Maoists when they were travelling back from a trip to buy rice. Their family members allege that after being killed, the two were dressed in Maoist uniforms. One of them, Moda Ram, was just 18 years old.
The anti-camp movement in opposition to the overt militarization of Chhattisgarh sprouted after the police fired on unsuspecting Adivasis in Silger. It is currently still active in seven districts of Chhattisgarh, including Bijapur, Kanker, Narainpur, Sukma, Dantewada and Bastar. Tens of thousands of Adivasis have participated in this movement where the large-scale sit-in protests have been taking place against big corporations displacing Adivasis for the sake of looting natural resources and grabbing their lands with the military assistance of the Indian state. 
For this purpose, the Indian state has even undertaken cross-state border operations with Maharashtra police coming into Ambelli, Bijapur district where anti-camp movement is going strong. One of the successes of the movement can be seen in Bechaghat, Kanker where the contract for a highway that would have displaced numerous Adivasis was cancelled after an 18-month sit-in protest against the camps and the highways which connect the mines and the camps. Democratic rights activists taking part in this struggle have had to face all sorts of police violence, be it false charges, abductions or arrests and fake encounters. 
What is even more insidious is that the arrest of Sarju Tekam is the third arrest from a team of activists which had come to Delhi last year for raising awareness of the struggle for Jal-Jangal-Jameen in Bastar. There is a concerted attempt by the Indian state to silence journalists and activists who are trying to raise their voices against state repression in Bastar and the arrests of these activists ensures a “chilling effect” to create fear among others who wish to raise their voices against state repression.
Arrests, raids, false encounters and red scare tactics are currency of Indian state when it comes to democratic dissent
At the same time, fake encounters have become commonplace in Chhattisgarh. In 2012, a judicial probe led by Justice Vijay Kumar Aggrawal had found that 17 villagers were killed in a completely staged gunfight by the police in the name of fighting Maoists. In 2018, independent media outlet Newslaundry also published a ground report exposing how the police’s claim of killing 15 Maoists in an encounter in Sukma was actually a case of police firing upon unarmed civilians to prop up their numbers regarding Naxal deaths, a statistic built on the corpses of hundreds of unarmed civilians killed in many such fake encounters. 
In a manner highly similar to the encounter in Kanker, Sodhi Deva and Rava Deva were killed in Chintafuga police station and dragged to the forests as purported Maoists in Tadmetla district last month. Large scale protests took place as people gathered from 25 villages in opposition to these fake encounters. Along with these activities, the NIA has committed raids all across the country, with the neighbouring state of Jharkhand witnessing 64 organizations, ranging from democratic, civil liberties, human rights, labour rights, anti-caste, women’s rights, Marxist-Leninist to even Gandhian ideologies being labelled as part of a list of potential Maoist-linked organizations. Arrests, raids, false encounters and red scare tactics are the currency of the Indian state when it comes to democratic dissent, of which Tirumal Sarju Tekam is the latest victim.
Campaign Against State Repression (C.A.S.R.) strongly condemns the continuous arrests and harassments of democratic rights activists such as Tirumal Sarju Tekam as well as the fake encounters of Modu Ram and Kanha Ram.
CASR demands the immediate and unconditional release of Tirumal Sarju Tekam, independent inquiry into the state-sponsored murders of Modu Ram and Kanha Ram and the end of state repression upon the democratic struggle in Chhattisgarh.
*AIRSO,AISA, AISF, APCR,BASF, BSM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, bsCEM, CEM, CRPP, CTF, Disha, DISSC, DSU, DTF, Forum Against Repression Telangana, Fraternity ,IAPL, Innocence Network, Karnataka Janashakti, LAA,Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, , Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, Nishant Natya Manch, Nowruz, NTUI, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Samajwadi Lok Manch, Bahujan Samjavadi Mnach, SFI, United Against Hate, United Peace Alliance, WSS, Y4S



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