One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Human Rights in Eastern India

Kartam Joga

Former prisoner of conscience and Adivasi rights activist Kartam Joga has been released in India.© Private

This week brought a rare bit of good news for human rights in the poor, rural, tribal districts of eastern India. After spending over two years in jail on false charges, human rights activist Kartam Joga was finally acquitted of all charges. Like Binayak Sen, TG Ajay, Kopa Kunjam, Ramesh Agrawal, and Harihar Patel before him, the government of Chhattisgarh tried to silence Kartam Joga for daring to demand that human rights and democratic principles be respected in Chhattisgarh. And once again, the courts found that the state had no case.

But that hasn’t stopped Chhattisgarh from continuing to imprison peaceful critics. Journalist Lingaram Kodopi and activist Soni Sori – both tortured by police – remain in custody after over a year in jail (Act here to demand their release).

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Crackdown on Activists in Central India Continues

Thanks to your work, Indian indigenous (adivasi) human rights activist Kopa Kunjam was released in early October. Mr. Kunjam had been in jail since December of 2009 for his peaceful activism on behalf of adivasis affected by the conflict between Maoist insurgents and the state government of Chhattisgarh, India.

While we’re thankful for Mr. Kunjam’s release, other non-violent activists continue to be jailed in Chhattisgarh for criticizing the state government, Dr. Binayak Sen being the best known.  The latest arrests include human rights activist Soni Sodi and her nephew, journalist Lingaram Kodopi, outspoken critics of human rights abuses in the region who were arrested on false charges by the Chhattisgarh government.

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Amnesty Groups Mobilize for Rights of Indigenous People in India

Kartam Joga

Human rights defender and prisoner of conscience, Kartam Joga.

Since 2005, Chhattisgarh has been at war with armed Maoist insurgents while aggressively pursuing massive and environmentally destructive development projects.

Not surprisingly, human rights have been pushed aside as an impediment to fighting terrorism and as a hindrance to development. Again and again, the Chhattisgarh government has jailed human rights, environmental, and indigenous activists on politically-motivated charges including Binayak Sen, Kartam Joga, Kopa Kunjam, Ramesh Agrawal, Harihar Patel, and most recently Lingaram Kodopi .

It has created and supported armed ant-Maoist militias that the Indian Supreme Court has since ruled unconstitutional. Thousands of locals caught in the crossfire or suspected of being Maoist sympathizers have been killed, tens of thousands have been forced from their homes. Rapes and extrajudicial killings are carried out with impunity.

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Sure Binayak Sen Is Free, But What About Kartam Joga?

Kartam Joga, now languishing in jail, copyright: Amnesty International

In a victory for human rights defenders in India, Dr. Binayak Sen was released on bail last week by India’s Supreme Court after appealing his life sentence for sedition and treason. From the beginning, Dr. Sen – a doctor and human rights activist in Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest and most violent states – maintained his innocence. During his trial Dr. Sen stated:

“I submit that my prosecution is mala fide; in fact it is a persecution. I am being made an example of by the state government of Chhattisgarh as a warning to others not to expose the patent trampling of human rights taking place in the state.”

In Chhattisgarh and other parts of rural India violence between armed Maoist insurgents, state-sponsored militias, and government security forces have resulted in increased hardship for local residents, mostly poor adivasis. Dr. Sen and other human rights activists have struggled to provide services to locals and highlight the human rights abuses they suffer, often at great risk to their own lives and livelihoods. Take action now to call for the release of Kartam Joga, another human rights activist jailed in Chhattisgarh for his criticism of the state government and advocacy on behalf of civilians caught in the conflict.

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Suggested Itinerary for Sarah Palin’s Visit to India

Memo to Former Governor Sarah Palin regarding her upcoming visit to India…

To: Former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin

From: Govind Acharya, South Asia Co-Group, Amnesty International USA

Subject: Your upcoming trip to India

Dear Governor Palin,

I understand that you will be travelling to India to deliver a speech to the India Today Conclave.  This conclave is a a group of extremely wealthy and self-declared important people in India, talking about how awesome India is while pretending not to see all of the poverty and hardship faced by hundreds of millions every day. OK, there are some good people speaking at the event and I shouldn’t be so cynical. But, I digress…

Keep in mind that there are lots of vegetarians in India, Gov. Palin.

I realize that we need not worry too much about your expertise on India. India is pretty darn close to Russia and as you told us when asked about your foreign policy experience, “They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.” But despite that, I thought it might be helpful for me to give you a suggested itinerary to give you a more well-rounded picture of the country:

1. Gujarat: I’m sure that Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who will also be at the India Today Conclave, will tell you all about how much economic growth and development has occurred in his state during his rule. He’ll tell you about the factories, the roads and the GDP growth. But, I’m sure he’ll omit the fact that nine years ago, he presided over the worst communal pogroms since Indian independence, which left over 1,000 dead.  His former Home Minister (sort of like a state Attorney-General) is currently facing charges for his involvement in a “fake encounter”. He will also fail to inform you that malnutrition indicators have deteriorated since Modi took office. But, when you visit, I’m sure you will get a sense of the problems in the state.

2. Kashmir: It’s great you’ll be there right around the time that Amnesty International is planning to release its report on indefinite detentions in Kashmir. The report entitled A Lawless Law: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, documents how authorities are using the Public Safety Act to secure the long-term detention of political activists, suspected members or supporters of armed groups and a range of other individuals against whom there is insufficient evidence for a trial or conviction to ‘keep them out of circulation’. I can send you a link over twitter if you’d like, Governor Palin (by the way, my twitter feed is at twitter.com/acharya_dude in case you’d like to follow it).

3. Chhattisgarh: This rural eastern Indian state has been the center of Maoist violence. And while I doubt that the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh will be at the India Today Conclave, I’d recommend heading over just the same to get a look at the violence wrought by the Maoists and by the government-backed Salwa Judum. It’s a horrible situation for the tribal peoples in the area because they are caught between the two militias. The result has been widespread human rights violations. This state is also the place where Dr. Binayak Sen has been imprisoned (take action here) for speaking out for the rights of the indigenous people in the area. Kartam Joga, a political activist, has also been arrested in the same state. While there, Gov. Palin, I hope you will get a chance to ask the Chief Minister to arrest all those involved in human rights violations and to see that there are no more prosecutions of human rights defenders such as Dr. Binayak Sen and Kartam Joga (take action here).

Well, Governor Palin, I could list other human rights concerns in other parts of India, but I’ll stop there since I know that your time is limited. But, I’d urge you (and others of course!) to check out AIUSA’s webpage on India. And, again, I encourage you and others to follow me on my twitter feed, twitter.com/acharya_dude as I’ll be posting lots and lots of stuff on the upcoming Kashmir report in the coming days.

Fate of Dr. Binayak Sen Will Show Real India

By Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International India Researcher

Dr. Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh.

Ilina Sen says she has no plans to go to Bilaspur this Wednesday. That’s the day the high court in this central Indian state of Chhattisgarh will resume hearing on the appeal filed by her husband, the acclaimed Indian human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen.

Dr. Sen is appealing against the life-term sentence handed over to him last month by a district court here which convicted him for sedition and conspiracy against the State. Unsure when he would be released following the hearing, or whether he would be released at all, Ilina says she plans to meet him two days later in the relative quiet of the prison here.

The conviction and the unusually harsh sentence handed down to Dr. Sen, a proponent of peace and non-violence and pioneer of medical work, have drawn wide protests in India and in the international arena, including condemnation from intellectuals, social activists and workers, medical professionals and artists.

Dr. Sen’s case is a truly test case for India. And the world will be watching this week to see the result.

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Miscarriage of Justice

For continuous updates on human rights in South Asia, follow acharya_dude on twitter.

Binayak Sen being led to court in Chhattisgarh

I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks so I’ve not been able to join the condemnation (until now) of the flawed conviction in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh of Dr. Binayak Sen, a pediatrician and human rights activist, of terrorism charges.  His conviction, if upheld on appeal, will mean a life sentence for a man who has passionately defended the rights of indigenous peoples in his state and has saved the lives of countless children in his medical practice.

Dr. Sen is a recognized human rights activist who has done some amazing work on behalf of the organization called the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL).  The PUCL is very much analogous to the ACLU or Amnesty International USA here in the United States and his arrest, imprisonment and now conviction is akin to one of us here in America being arrested for human rights or civil liberties work.  He was convicted of “sedition” and conspiracy under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004.  After being convicted, Dr. Sen was taken into custody and is now considered a Prisoner of Conscience.

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