A Gandhian activist and his crusade against gagging the voice of dissent


  • August 31, 2022
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Who is the next target?

 

Vitriolic attacks on the human rights activists continue unabated in our country. Amidst this despicable ploy to implicate the activists in numerous cases, the next question which obviously arises is, who is the next target? We think we already know the answer. This time, the venomous arrow has been turned towards Himanshu Kumar.

 

Himanshu Kumar, as we all probably know, is a well-known Gandhian and human rights activist in Chhattisgarh, who has always held aloft the rights of the downtroddens. According to the apex court of the country, Himanshu Kumar was engaged in a conspiracy against the Indian state. Monetary penalty, thus, is not sufficient to punish him. As per the necessity, CBI or Chhattisgarh government could take punitive measures against him, after conducting necessary trials. In a nutshell, the judiciary gave green signal to the Chhattisgarh government to take action against the petitioners not only for perjury but even for the offence of “criminal conspiracy”.

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We already know the reasons for his ordeal. But in order to delve deeper into the different facets of the background, we have to hark back to the past. In 2009, when the central forces and law enforcing agencies of Chattisgarh were conducting a search operation to flush out the allegedly Moaists from their hideout, 17 adivasis lost their lives in two separate encounters respectively on 17th September and 1st October. These two incidents occurred in the villages of Gachaanpalli and Gampad respectively. Himanshu Kumar, along with 12 adivasis of these villages, had categorically stated that these were the incidents of cold-blooded murder. Armed personnel were responsible for the gruesome murders, and they had appealed to the Supreme Court to order a fair probe into the incidents to ferret out the truth.

 

After listening to the versions of both sides, the Supreme Court rejected the plea for independent probe into the incidents. But the matter did not remain confined to only the rejection of their petition. The bench comprising Justice Mr. A.M Khanwilkar and Mr. J.B Pardiwala, imposed a fine worth Rs 5 lakh on the adivasi rights activist for initiating the process of seeking justice. According to the Bench, the killings were perpetrated by the Maoists. The Bench maintained that to malign the reputation of para-military, and to bring disrepute to the police force,  Himanshu Kumar, in cahoots with other activists, had filed the petition. After the verdict, Himanshu Kumar said, without leaving any space for any kinds of doubts whatsoever, that he would not pay the fine. Rather, he said,  he would prefer the fetters. Again, through such principled stand, Kumar reminded us that he was indeed committed to the truth and the conscience that comes with it. Consequently, he would not kowtow before any fabricated allegations.

 

Known modus operandi to implicate

 

This judgement of the Apex Court reminded us of yet another verdict, delivered only a few days ago. Needless to say, there are uncanny similarities between both of them. The Supreme Court upheld the report of SIT regarding the Gujarat riot, brushing aside the demands raised by Teesta Setalvad and others in their efforts to bring out the truth regarding that pogrom. On top of that, the court denounced them those who had sought justice – as conspirators, and ordered criminal proceedings against them. A day later, social activist Teesta Setalvad and ex- DG of Gujarat Police RB Sreekumar were apprehended and put into jail.

 

The moot point of both the judgments was that the Apex Court issued a warning to the citizenry of the country. That message implicitly communicated was that if any citizen took recourse to the law to seek justice for state sponsored crimes, he or she would face dreadful consequences. These verdicts not only rang an ominous alarming sound, but also stand against the basic tenets of justice and have dealt fatal blows upon the relationship between state and its subjects.

 

Commenting on the judgments, Anjana Prakash, the retired judge of the Patna High Court, has said, previously  commoners went to the court to seek justice without any dithering. They did not fear any consequences. The complaint might be relatively insignificant, but the complainant reposed their faith upon the judiciary. The court also gave its judgments based upon certain precepts of justice. However, that is not the case anymore. A People’s Tribunal was organised on August 6 2022 in Delhi on the “Judicial Rollback of Civil Liberties”. Speaking at the occasion Justice Anjana Prakash had observed that the Supreme Court has in fact added to the injustice to victims by its two judgements. ‘We must constantly demand from the courts, we are living in a democratic set up, not in a feudal set up. Courts are being paid from our pockets, from taxpayers’ pockets, their work is sanctified because of the work they do, not because they are sanctified,’ she said.

 

While analysing the verdict, veteran lawyer Chander Uday Singh has commented that this judgement makes it almost impossible for the accused to prove one’s innocence at the court. The way words have been selected during the time of writing observations isn’t only dangerous for democracy, but also casts aspersion upon the very notion of the impartiality of the court. A quick reading of the portion of the verdict quoted below, would prove the implicit truthfulness of such a statement:

“(b) pass an order directing CBI/NIA or any other central investigating agency…as this  Hon’ble  court deems fit and proper to register an FIR and conduct an in-depth investigation to identify the individuals /organisations who  have been conspiring , abetting and facilitating filing of petitions premised on false fabricated evidence before this Hon’ble court…with a motive to either deter the security agencies to act against the  left wing (naxals) militia by imputing false charges on them to screen off the left wing (naxalites) militia from being brought to justice by creating a false narrative of victimisation before the Hon’ble court…”

 

Judiciary and gossamer of illusion

 

After imposition of the hefty fine on the Gandhian activist, there has been much hue and cry over the similarities between the two cases. I think, apart from this identical pattern, there is also reason for graver concerns. Since 2014, the Indian Judiciary has undergone a kind of change that has created an optical illusion before the people of the nation. On the one hand, in the presence of a naked political system, free-flowing corruption and the aggression of the state, the courts are being construed as the only “messiah” for the masses. On the other hand, the court and its judgements are facilitating the process through which, using the model of “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan,” a fascist state can be created. The courts have temporarily stopped the use of the draconian sedition law, thus revealing the desire that the judiciary wants to project itself as the protector of constitutional values during this distressing time. The judiciary has issued a directory to simplify the process of acquiring the bail. The nation should not be turned into a police state, it has claimed. Such observations, thus, create an impression of the progressive role of the court. Recently, in a roundtable discussion, the Chief justice of India commented, “Our entire criminal justice system in itself is a form of penalization and punishment. We should look into the matter of indiscriminate arrest without the proper legal procedure and the onerous process of acquiring a bail. Under-trial prisoners continue to languish in prison and suffer from inordinate delay. These things need immediate attention. Previously the ruling party and the opposition respected each other. Now the space for opposition has shrunk.” However, such comments reveal only one side of the coin.

 

The other side reveals itself in several anti-people judgments, which validated the unconstitutional and oppressive stance of the ruling dispensation. The judgement on the demolition of Babri Mosque was the most glaring example of such. It is astounding to think that an ancient mosque has been ravaged and demolished in broad daylight, and the highest court had allowed the perpetrators to go scot free. To add insult to injury, it is precisely backed by the order of the court that the slogan ‘Mandir wahi Banayenge’ (We will build a temple there) has been materialised. In case of the Delhi riot or Bhima Koregaon, the legal system simply brushed aside the rudimentary precepts of the jurisprudence. After the pejorative remarks on Prophet Muhammad by Nupur Sharma, when the entire country was in turmoil, the court accused her in strongest terms, yet prohibited her arrest, although multiple FIRs had been filed against her in several states.

 

We would not like to lengthen the list. Instead, let us get back to the case of Himanshu Kumar about which this current essay is. In the above-mentioned case, the Chhattisgarh government had filed an affidavit with the SC in 2010. There it was stated that applicants were ‘Naxal sympathisers.’ The Court rejected that affidavit, and warned against raising the issue again. In 2017, Chhattisgarh government again filed an affidavit to state that the social activists Soni Sori and Himanshu Kumar were closely associated with the Naxalites. Again, the court rejected such a pronouncement. But in 2022, the scenario changed abruptly. The central government had filed an affidavit and demanded a probe against anyone who would raise his/her voice against the encounter killings, the witch hunt against the Maoists, and Adivasi rights. Because, according to the central government, such individuals are bound to be “naxal sympathisers.” Since both of these activists – Kumar and Soni – had been living in Chhattisgarh for a long time, and they had been quite vocal regarding the rights of the adivasis, they cannot be anything other than “Naxal associates” or “Naxal sympathisers.” Consequently, the central government wanted the NIA and CBI to undertake a probe against them. In Himanshu Kumar’s case, the judgement of the Supreme Court substantiated the government’s demand.

 

Why had Himanshu Kumar been targeted?

 

First of all, the truth is, Himanshu Kumar has been facing the wrath of the Chhattisgarh government for a long time. Irrespective of the colour of the government – whether it’s Congress or the BJP – he had to face the ire of the ruling dispensation. For those who are even vaguely aware of this work, it is not difficult to ascertain the reason. Almost thirty years ago, inspired by Gandhi’s ideals that ‘real India lived in the countryside,’ Himanshu Kumar established his ashram in Dantewada of Chhattisgarh.

 

In order to delve deeper into the context, we have to recall the oft-quoted comments made by Manmohon Singh on 18th June, 2009. He warned against the growing influence of left-wing extremism in the mineral rich areas of the nation, and stated that the prevalence of such ideologies would mar the ideal ambience for investment. And that can’t be allowed to happen. It became quite clear that the government did care for the rule of law and wanted to ‘liberate’ those areas from the clutches of the Maoists under the guise of  “development.” The government wanted to keep the flow of the investment intact. In a nutshell, they wanted to prioritise the interests of the national and/or international companies over that of the people.

 

In order to protect the interest of the multinationals and facilitate the process of unhindered plunder of natural resources, the government armed one section of the adivasis, thus creating a civil war like situation. The private militia formed thus, was officially rechristened as Salwa Judum. But, the court declared it unconstitutional. Then the central government, in cahoots with state governments, waged a war against its own citizens. Under the auspices of the then Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram, the operation was named ‘Operation Green Hunt’. Much water has flown under the bridge ever since. “Operation Green Hunt” has been replaced by, or evolved into ‘Operation Samadhan’. According to a recent report published in The Times of India, the government routinely uses helicopters and small aircraft to counter the Maoist resistance. In reality, Dantewada, Abujmar, and Bastar have been transformed into an extended battlefield, where the adivasi citizens often fall victim to the government’s bullets. In this grim scenario, Himanshu Kumar, Bela Bhatia, Nandini Sundar and Sudha Bharadwaj became the representatives of the hapless people, who question the relentless onslaught of the state upon its own citizens. So, the state, in various ways, have also transformed them into objects of attack.

 

Himanshu Kumar’s depiction of Bastar’s reality

 

For a long time, Himanshu Kumar has been making attempts to speak out against the long history of corporate loot in Chhattisgarh, which has evicted millions of adivasis from their own land. For example, on 31st October, 2009, in Mumbai Press Club, he spoke at length about the issue. An excerpt from his speech, which later was published in Economic and Political Weekly, has been quoted below:

 

Why have lakhs of citizens taken up arms? We middle class people find it inexplicable. We live in cities; the police are for us; the government is for us. We are on one side. On the other side are those for whom there is no police, no government. They have nothing to eat. They are the ones who have picked up arms. These people have been deprived for years. There is a structure. Those who are outside this structure – this is their fight. If you were to ask – whom does all the land on this earth belong to? The answer would be to all of us. Yet, the reality is that some have more land, some less. You live in the city, so you have more. You are a brahman, so you have more. You are educated, so you have more. The child who is born in Marine Drive can demolish the home of the child born in Dharavi. Why not vice versa?

 

Inequality is inbuilt into the system. All these notions about who can command more resources have become part of our value system, and then our political system. Both are supported by our economic system. These constitute the basic structure of the society. It is this structure that keeps the poor poor and the rich rich. We are content with this structure. But what of those who bear its brunt? They want to break it. This fight is against structural violence. This would not end till the structure changes so that all become equal.

 

The man who is in distress will fight. This is the fight of the poor. The Naxalites have just tagged on. If there had been no Marx, no Gandhi, would not the poor have fought? They do not need the Naxalites or the Gandhians. But sometimes a Vinoba, a Gandhi, or the Maoists join them in their fight. If the centre thinks they can crush this fight of the poor with the army, they are mistaken. Sometimes extreme oppression can embolden those who are fighting.

 

Himanshu Kumar and the crisis of Indian republic

 

There is no denying the fact that Himanshu Kumar also belongs to the mainstream, the structure that he critiques. But he, and many like him, who believed in the democratic ideals took the plunge, and attempted to stride the unbeaten path. They were those messengers who exposed, without any inhibition, the reckless plunder, ravages, and systemic-structural violence which pushed the very concept of the republic to the edge of the precipice. The government, in its turn, has wanted to gag such voices, and thus, prevent the vocalisation of these unsavoury truths at any cost. It would, thus, be futile to engage in a never-ending debate whether Himanshu Kumar is a Maoist-Gandhian or Gandhian-Maoist. In order to keep the legacy of the democratic spirit of India alive, the presence of individuals like Kumar needs to be ensured. Needless to say, this is a critical challenge that awaits every democratic-minded citizen of this nation.

 

(This article originally written in Bengali by Suman Kalyan Moulick was published on 4 number platform website. It has been translated by Joydip Ghosal)

 

 

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  • comments
    By: Mohit Ranadip on August 31, 2022

    It’s a very important article to defend a human rights defender and expose the character of our present judiciary.

  • comments
    By: Rimi Sarkar on September 1, 2022

    Nice

  • comments
    By: Prosenjit De on September 1, 2022

    Good job. Just the beginning…long way to go…

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