‘Right now, i’m scared for my life’

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Case Study 4

HS D’LIMA, Mumbai

FIVE YEARS AGO, a 75-year-old man was attacked with a sickle outside his house. Bleeding, he put up a fight and stopped the attacker from killing him. In the last five years, HS D’Lima, whose father was a salesman in the Indian Army and Navy store during the British Raj, has seen his attacker walk freely on the streets of Andheri. He knows where the assailant lives and offered to take the police there. Yet, Mumbai police claimed they could not find the man, and closed investigation into the case. This isn’t the only irony in D’Lima’s story. A few months before the attack, D’Lima had requested police protection after specific death threats, naming the same person who later tried to kill him. No protection was given. There is none still.

For the last decade, D’Lima has been battling illegal construction in his Andheri West neighbourhood in Mumbai. “Illegal buildings have encroached upon all access to the area,” he says. “The only entry now is from the narrow lane in which I live.”

Photo: Deepak Salvi

D’Lima was walking back home a few months later in March 2005, when he was suddenly assaulted outside his house, stabbed from behind with a sickle. An FIR was registered. D’Lima named at least eight people he suspected who could have been involved. Since then, D’Lima has been fighting not only the land mafia, but the very state police and authorities meant to protect him. “The police recorded statements from some people, but no further investigations were done,” he says. By 2006, a summary report had been filed and the case closed, but D’Lima had no knowledge of this. When his persistent queries about the investigation were not answered, D’Lima filed an RTI application. It was only in January 2007 that he found out that there was no hunt on for the suspects at all.

Meanwhile, through his own investigation, D’Lima had collected concrete information on those who gave the contract for his killing in 2004, but when he met the Andheri DCP and ACP in June 2007, they refused to re-open the case. After a prolonged legal battle and an order from the magistrate, D’Lima succeeded in getting the case reopened in November 2008.

“Still there has been no further development, no investigation,” D’Lima says. He has written atleast 200 letters to the BMC and the Mumbai police. He has supplied evidence obtained under the RTI that points to illegal construction worth crores of rupees.

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FACT FILE

 Contracts to have D’Lima murdered have been given out twice — once in 2004, once two months ago

 He claims he has proof about who gave out the contracts — but the police are unmoved

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“Mumbai’s own building proposals department has admitted that these constructions have not been authorised by them,” D’Lima says. Yet, there has been no action. A PIL he filed in the Mumbai High Court in 2006 submitting the same evidence is still pending. Meanwhile, the threats to D’Lima continue. Two months ago, he received a letter from Mumbai’s land mafia which said, “A supari (contract) of five lakh rupees has been given to have you killed.”

“Activists like me cannot be safe until the police is made responsible and accountable as demanded by the Indian Constitution,” he says. “Right now I am scared for my life.”

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Special Correspondent

Tusha Mittal has been with Tehelka since March 2008. She was educated at La Martiniere, Kolkata, and has a bachelor’s degree from Depauw University in Indiana. While in the US, she worked as a reporter and a special sections editor for a local newspaper in Boston. She also interned with CNN Internationalin Atlanta and NBC Universal in London. In her final year in college, she studied the idea of peace journalism and the role of the media in covering conflict.

She travelled to Kashmir for her graduation thesis, which dissected the role of the Indian and Pakistani media in shaping public perception of the Kashmir conflict. Her journalism interests include reporting on environment, human rights, and conflict. She has recently won The Press Institute of India award for best articles on humanitarian issues published in the Indian media. AtTehelka, she has written extensively on land rights and displacement struggles. She is based in New Delhi.

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