The Supreme Court’s warning to the Chhattisgarh government is a welcome gesture, writes Neha Dixit
Question: Define a Naxal sympathizer.
Answer: A person who offers free healthcare to tribals, opens ashrams to shelter them, attends meetings to honour the kins of those killed in the Naxal war, conducts independent enquiries on operation Greenhut. For example, Binayak Sen, Himanshu Kumar, Sandeep Pandey, Nandini Sundar.
For over a year, the Chhattisgarh government has chosen to put on blinkers to distrust all those who have ever offered to be human in their approach towards tribals in the state. On February 23, the Supreme Court finally broke its silence over this peculiar branding system. The court warned the Chhattisgarh government against blindly labelling human rights activists, concerned about the lives of tribals in Naxal-hit areas, as “Naxal sympathisers”. A two-member bench comprising of Justice B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar asked, “Suppose somebody fights their (victims) case, so what does that imply? First, you say they are Naxals, then you say they are sympathisers, then you say they are sympathisers of sympathisers. Why do you resort to these innuendos?… Should everything be ordered in the name of operations? Is there no concern for human or Fundamental Rights? We want to know why such incidents took place and how the security forces conducted themselves”
The remark came in response to a comment by senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, representing the state government, that activist Himanshu Kumar, who had moved the Supreme Court for the protection of 12 tribals, was a Naxal sympathiser. The 12 tribals were allegedly eye-witnesses to the massacre of nine of their villagers by a group of people at Goompad village in Dhantewada district in the state. They had recently given statements to the Delhi District Judge confirming the killings.
Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, repeats what the bench says, “The government behaves as if those who do not agree with it have no right to live.” No wonder those at the receiving end have faced the destruction of their organisation. Says Himanshu Kumar, civil rights activist, whose ashram was razed on the allegation of sympathizing with the naxals, “The Supreme Court’s response comes as a breather because the state government has been using the term ‘naxal sympathiser’ to dismiss all the questions raised against it and refuse to answer whether the nine tribals have been killed or not. Also, this trend is against democracy, where anyone who raises issues of misgovernance is discredited. The SC clearly saw that our queries are to strengthen the system and hence responded.”
The Supreme Court’s response is heartening. In fact, two weeks back too, the SC had significantly lashed the Chhattisgarh government. It refused to believe the state government’s plea that Sodi Shambo, a witness in the case pertaining to the disappearance of 13 villagers who witnessed the police massacre of nine people on October 1, 2009, in Goompad village, in Chattisgarh’s Dantewada district is missing, even when TEHELKA managed to trace her in a hospital. It ordered, “As a state, it is your responsibility that victims reach the court.”
Hope arises. It may not be so easy to ‘define’ anymore in Chhattisgarh.
Published in Tehelka Magazine on February 24, 2010