‘People who raise their voice are hounded by the State’

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Sudha Bharadwaj, 51, Civil Rights Activist
Photo: Sarang Sena

How is the State oppressing those fighting for tribal rights?
In the past decade, the loot of natural resources has intensified. This is primarily because of the international financial crisis. MNCs are investing in the mining sector with no respect for tribal rights. They have a strong hold over the local administration, hence all laws, including forest rights of the tribals, are overlooked. Land is being taken away from tribals. People who raise their voice are hounded by the State. They are also booked under false charges. There are incidents where they have been implicated falsely, shot at and imprisoned.

In June, tribals were killed by security forces in Kothaguda, Chhattisgarh. What really happened?
Around 60 Adivasis from three villages assembled at 8 pm on 28 June in an open area between Sarkeguda and Kothaguda. Meetings in which collective decisions have to be taken are usually held in the night as Adivasis are busy with work most of the day. As the sowing season was coming up, the meeting was held to discuss several issues related to farming, including fixing the date for the traditional seed sowing festival — the bija pondum. In the firing, 17 people were killed, out of whom six were minors. This is not the first time the State has tried to clear the land; similar attempts were made earlier as well. It is a large land-clearing mission that is going on.

It is said that civil rights activists stay quiet whenever security personnel are killed.
This is absolutely untrue. It is an attempt to tar the image of civil liberties groups. Whenever security forces are killed, FIRs are lodged and action is taken. We have always condemned these attacks. But when security forces attack innocent citizens, we have to speak out.

ashhar@tehelka.com

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