India: Academics Refute Allegations of Abetting Tribal Man’s Killing

Jhumur Deb
Guwahati, India
2016-11-11
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161111-IN-professors-620.jpg Indian Central Reserve Police Force personnel listen to instructions at their camp before leaving to patrol a village in Jharkhand, a state in eastern Indian where Maoist rebels have been fighting to overthrow the government, Aug. 7, 2015.
AFP

Two Indian professors Friday refuted allegations that they abetted the killing of a tribal man in the insurgency-stricken state of Chhattisgarh, calling them another attempt by the country’s government to suppress voices of dissent.

Abetment to murder charges were brought against Nandini Sundar, a sociology professor at Delhi University, and Archana Prasad, an anthropology professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, after the wife of the dead man named them as suspects in her complaint, according to police.

Samnath Baghel, who was part of a vigilante group opposed to Maoist rebels, was dragged out of his house in Sukma district’s Nama village by about 15 armed men – believed to be Maoists – and hacked to death with swords on Nov. 4, police said. Police have filed the abetment charges against Sundar, Prasad and four other left-wing activists who allegedly ordered the killing.

“These are absurd and fabricated charges. We had last visited the area in May, some six months back. And police are trying to name us as abettors in a crime that took place last week,” Prasad told BenarNews.

“They are twisting and misusing the law to frame and harass activists who are trying to expose the ill deeds of the state machinery against tribal people in the region,” she said.

Maoists, also known as Naxalites, have been fighting Indian security forces since the late 1960s from jungle hideouts in more than a third of central and eastern India’s 600 districts.

The rebels have accused successive governments of uprooting poor and landless people to exploit mineral-rich forests scattered throughout the region.

Although the level of violence has declined sharply in recent years, as the government offers cash incentives to Maoists who surrender, the group stages occasional attacks on security forces and police informers.

Police brutality

Prasad said she and five others charged with abetment to murder were being targeted because they were part of a fact-finding team responsible for a report in May that detailed instances of police brutality against tribal women.

Besides Prasad and Sundar, the other four who have been charged are Vineet Tiwari and Sanjay Parate – both with the Communist Party of India-Marxist – and two local social workers, Manju Kawasi and Mangal Ram Karma.

Prasad accused Chhattisgarh police of forcing Baghel’s widow, Vimla, to name them in her complaint.

Inspector General of Police S.R.P. Kalluri rejected the allegation, describing those charged as “Naxalite sympathizers.”

“We have simply acted on Vimla Baghel’s statement. We have a very strong case against them that they are helping Maoists. Their arrest is very likely,” Kalluri told BenarNews.

On Friday, Vimla told NDTV that she had not named anyone in her complaint.

“They [the attackers] broke down our door. They barged in and dragged my husband out of the house. They had guns and swords. They pointed a gun at me and asked me to stay inside. There were 15 to 20 men. I did not know any of them. I could not see them properly as they flashed a torch at me. They did not say a word. They took him and killed him on the road,” she said.

On Friday, the government of Chhattisgarh told the Supreme Court that the two professors would not be arrested until the court heard the case on Nov. 15.

In most instances, suspects are arrested when charges are filed before a court hears the case. Upon arrest, suspects must be produced before a court within 24 hours.

‘Preposterous’

Rejecting the accusation of being a Naxalite sympathizer, Sundar told BenarNews: “I have always condemned Maoists for carrying out killings of police informers. And I have also been condemning the police for staging extra-judicial killings in the name of encounters.

“It is preposterous to even imagine that I will help kill a person in a region when I have not been for several months,” said Sundar, who has been involved in research and social work in Chhattisgarh’s tribal-dominated region since the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, the accused activists have found support from rights advocates and historians in the country.

“These charges are certainly a revenge tactic by the police. We demand that these charges be revoked immediately and disciplinary action be taken against police officers guilty of undermining the ethics of the police force,” Indian People’s Theater Association’s Rakesh told BenarNews.

The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, an association of Indian historians, said in a statement: “The charges brought by the Chhattisgarh police are a transparent effort to intimidate independent civic initiatives that focus public attention particularly on the problems of the state’s Adivasi (tribal) communities.”

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