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An open letter: Adivasis need speedy and impartial justice

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  • Gladson Dungdung
    An open letter: Adivasis need speedy and impartial justice May 6, 2013 To, The Government of India, Members of the Judiciary and All Citizens, One of the most
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2013
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      An open letter: Adivasis need speedy and impartial justice

      May 6, 2013

      The Government of India,
      Members of the Judiciary and All Citizens,

      One of the most disastrous consequences of the strife in the tribal
      areas of central India is that thousands of adivasi men and women
      remain imprisoned as under-trials, often many years after being
      arrested, accused of 'Naxalite/ Maoist' offences.

      The facts speak for themselves.

      In Chhattisgarh, over two thousand adivasis are currently in jail,
      charged with 'Naxalite/Maoist' offences. Many have been imprisoned for
      over two years without trial. In Jharkhand, an even larger number of
      adivasis, possibly in excess of five thousand, remain imprisoned as
      under-trials. The situation is similar in many other states of central
      and eastern India currently affected by armed conflict between the
      government and adivasi-linked militant movements, namely Andhra
      Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal.
      The adivasi undertrial population may run into thousands in each of
      the states. Assessing the true scale of the problem is inherently
      difficult, given that none of the police or jail administrations are
      making comprehensive figures public, even after RTI requests have been
      filed by concerned citizens. This opacity adds to the injustice.

      In each of these states, the adivasi under-trials, and particularly
      those arrested under special security statutes, face grave common
      handicaps that obstruct their Constitutional right to a fair, speedy
      trial, to justice.

      One, language barriers. The vast majority of adivasi under-trials
      speak only adivasi languages, such as Gondi and Halbi. However, few if
      any courts have official interpreters/translators. This leaves the
      adivasis unable to communicate directly with the Officers of the Court
      or otherwise effectively make their case.

      Two, the failure, in case after case, for evidentiary material, such
      as captured arms or explosives, to be promptly submitted in court by
      the security forces when they first produce the detainees before the
      Magistrate, as the Magistrate can statutorily direct the security
      forces to do when they level such serious charges. In the absence of
      prima facie proof, the grave risk of injustice being done to innocent
      adivasis is self-evident.

      Three, procedural barriers relating to 'Naxalite/Maoist' and other
      security offences. Being charged with such offences, the under-trials
      are not produced in the courts for lengthy periods. Owing to this, the
      trial does not proceed for years together.

      Four, other procedural barriers. Since under-trials charged with
      'Naxalite/Maoist' offences are only held in Central Jails, many of
      them of them are transferred to jails at a great distance from their
      homes and families. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, nearly one hundred
      adivasi under-trials from Bastar have been transferred to Durg or
      Raipur Central Jails, a distance of over 300 kilometers. The great
      distance, coupled with the poverty of most adivasis, means that
      families are unable to regularly visit them or provide them with vital
      emotional support.

      Five, the lack of proper legal defence. Lawyers who visit
      'Naxal/Maoist' under-trials inChhattisgarh are photographed by the
      authorities and their information listed in a separate register,
      making lawyers reluctant to visit their clients. In any event, many of
      the adivasi under-trials are dependent on legal-aid lawyers who rarely
      go to meet the client or seek instructions regarding the case. Often
      lawyers are careless in their conduct of cases and are amenable to
      pressures from the police or prosecution.

      In addition to the humanitarian imperative, the prolonged failure to
      provide speedy and impartial justice to these thousands of adivasi
      under-trials is damaging the prospects for peace in India's heartland
      - by leading adivasis to feel that the Indian government does not
      treat them as full citizens and by intensifying their generalised
      sense of alienation. It is telling that in the widely publicised
      "Collector abduction" incidents of Chhattisgarh and Odisha, one of the
      major demands raised by the insurgents was speedy and fair trial for
      these thousands of jailed adivasis, accused of being
      Naxalites/Maoists. Yet, virtually none of the efforts belatedly agreed
      to by the state governments - such as the 'High-powered Committee for
      review of the cases of Adivasi undertrials in Chhattisgarh', set up in
      mid-2012 under the aegis of Nirmala Buch, the former top IAS officer -
      have come to fruition or been acted on to any degree by the concerned

      More than anything else, the failure to ensure justice for the
      adivasis is a grave blot on India's human rights record. Not only are
      we as a nation committed to democracy and human rights, but our
      Constitution provides extensive safeguards and rights to the adivasis
      that are being violated by not ensuring fair and speedy trials for
      these thousands of adivasi under-trials.

      On every count - whether humanitarian or strategic - it is imperative
      that this prolonged failure to assure our country's adivasis of
      speedy, impartial justice be set right immediately.

      Justice is in everyone's interest.

      Hence, we the undersigned, a large group of concerned Indians -
      including adivasi leaders, jurists and lawyers, and public
      intellectuals - urge the Union Government, the concerned State
      Governments, and the Supreme Court to undertake to appoint a special
      Commission of eminent jurists to oversee dedicated fast-track courts
      that hear these cases speedily and impartially.


      VR Krishna Iyer, Mahasweta Devi, Swami Agnivesh, Nandita Das, Nitin
      Desai, GN Devy, Jean Dreze, Gladson Dungdung, Anand Grover,
      Ramachandra Guha, Girish Karnad, Manish Kunjam, Harsh Mander, Vinod
      Mehta, Arvind Netam, Rajinder Sachar, BD Sharma, Nandini Sundar,
      Father Stan Swamy, Tarun Tejpal, Mukti Prakash Tirkey.

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