Thursday, February 25, 2016

Attack  on Soni Suri and cause behind it : An editorial by The Hindu

A sordid record in Chhattisgarh


Adivasi rights activist and Aam Aadmi Party leader Soni Sori was attacked by motorcycle-borne assailants in Chhattisgarh on February 20. They threw an acid-like substance on her, which left her in deep pain, and her face swollen with chemical burns. This was not the first physical attack on Ms. Sori. As international human rights watchdogs have reported, Ms. Sori was also allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted by the Chhattisgarh police while in their custody in October 2011. The latest attack on her comes in the wake of a series of developments that suggests a government-endorsed clampdown on free speech and dissent in the State. Earlier this month, Malini Subramaniam, a journalist associated with the news portal Scroll, and Jagdalpur Legal Aid, a group of human rights lawyers working with Adivasis, were allegedly forced out of the State for highlighting police atrocities against the tribal population. Both the journalist and the lawyers have claimed that their landlords were intimidated by the police into issuing eviction notices on them. It is worth noting that Ms. Sori had been trying to lodge an First Information Report against the Inspector General of Police, Bastar Range. She has been leading a powerful Adivasi movement that has sought to hold the State administration accountable for the killing of Adivasis in fake encounters, arbitrary arrests, and alleged sexual assault and torture of Adivasi women by the police and security forces. She had planned to highlight these issues through a 200-km march from Bijapur, set to end in Jagdalpur on International Women’s Day, March 8, before she became a target of the latest attack.
For some time now, free speech and dissent have been on the retreat in Chhattisgarh. The official excuse for this has been the ongoing civil conflict between the state and Maoist insurgents. But the fact that individuals who have no connection with the conflict are being forced out, suggests a larger anti-democratic agenda at work. And this is in keeping with the pattern across the world where so-called underdeveloped but mineral-rich regions have fallen prey to fierce corporate plunder of natural resources at the expense of the local population. The Bastar region is rich in minerals as also Adivasi settlements, and the people are loathe to giving up their land for resource-extraction. It is their resistance to being forcibly evicted from their land — best exemplified in the figure of Ms. Sori — that is the trigger for the crackdown on democratic rights in Chhattisgarh. Given the current political scene where a perverse form of nationalism is threatening to shut down free speech, the attack on Ms. Sori represents another front in the battle against the criminalisation of dissent. The kind of spotlight that has been illuminating the absurd charges of sedition against the JNU students needs to also be focussed on the likes of Ms. Sori who have been waging such battles for a long tim

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