An open letter: Adivasis need speedy and impartial justice
- 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
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.