Piyush (Sethia) Manush, a human rights and environmental justice defender from Salem, was arrested yesterday, 26th January 2010 and charged with Sedition. His “crime”: To attempt to circulate a pamphlet, in his capacity of a representative of a much-wider Campaign for Justice and Peace at a Republic Day function in Salem.
Campaign for Justice and Peace's pamphlets announced that people will undertake a cycle yatra across Tamilnadu to highlight the Indian and Chattisgarh government’s brutal and inhuman treatment of the adivasis. Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and other parts of central and east India have been long subjected to plunder by Indian and International corporations. The indigenous people have suffered heavily, losing their lands, livelihoods and lives because they resist this invasion. There is absolute lawlessness and blatant violations of human rights.
Journalist and common citizens are intimidated and barred from entering these areas lest the word spreads and the truth be revealed. Even peaceful gatherings are targeted by State police, para military forces, and state sponsored and state-armed militia such as the Salwa Judum. Leaders and others are threatened so that there is no voice of dissent. With Home Minister P.Chidambaram's Operation “Green Hunt”, the situation in Chattisgarh has worsened. The cycle rally to be launched was to travel through Tamil Nadu to the constituency of Home Minister P. Chidambaram to inform Tamil Nadu residents about the State/Central Government's war against adivasis in Chattisgarh. Piyush Sethia was to begin the rally with two other friends after distributing pamphlets at a Republic Day function attended by the Collector. The pamphlet is asking why the State is denying the guarantees under the Constitution by the Republic of India to adivasis, and why the State Government has refused to obey the Supreme Court order directing them to rehabilitate the 644 evicted villages, and their residents. The pamphlet ends by stating that we won't remain silent and will take a cycle rally through the villages of Tamilnadu to build public opinion (hardly a non-democratic means).
Even before he could distribute one pamphlet, police personnel appeared on the scene and demanded to know what he was doing. He shared one of his pamphlets with them. Inspector (IS) Mr. Annadurai, who arrived on the scene in a jeep, got down and instructed Piyush to enter the jeep. When Piyush refused to do that Mr. Annadurai repeatedly hit him on his head, and pushed him into the jeep.
Piyush has been charged with sedition (Section 124A -- see below for the definition of the charge under IPC), and for disrupting a Government function (Section 4(i) under TN Police Act, 1949). The former (Sedition) is a non-bailable offence with a maximum sentence of life plus fine. However, the charge is totally non-maintainable given the content of the pamphlet that was distributed. It appears that Piyush will be in Salem Central Jail for a few days before he can be released. His advocate Mr. Mayan assures that he will be released in a few days, hopefully before 29 January. By charging Piyush for sedition under the IPC, the Tamilnadu Police and Tamilnadu Government has exposed their ignorance of the law, and disrespect and disregard for the Constitution of India that guarantees to every citizen the right to free speech and expression. It is an irony and a sign of our times in that this arbitrary curb on free speech should happen on the 26th of January, the day our Constitution came into effect. Piyush was taken to Central Jail yesterday. The Campaign for Justice and Peace, Tamilnadu, organised a press conference in Chennai on 27 January, 2010 with solidarity support and endorsements from across the country. Update on the situation is awaited.
ROUGH TRANSLATION OF THE PAMPHLET THAT ALLEGEDLY CONTAINS THE SEDITIOUS MATERIAL:
Government of India: Stop the War
P.Chidambaram, who in order to pander to the imperialist designs of Tata, Essar, Mittal, Vedanta, has destroyed 644 villages, and made 3 lakh Indian refugees in their own land. India is becoming Africa Chattisgarh is where this sorry state of affairs prevails. Under such circumstances, is the celebration of Republic Day justified? The Right to Life of Citizens of the country is a big question mark. The Republic Day is a day when the state reaffirms its intent to safeguard the democratic rights of Indian citizens. However, on this day, the Central Government has, in the name of battling the Naxalites, armed some adivasis organised as the Salwa Judum. Further, in the name of Operation Greenhunt, Mr. P. Chidambaram and his cabal have caused more than 5000 adivasi women to be raped. More than 2.5 lakh adivasis have been forced to escape into the forests to safeguard their lives. Further, more than 50,000 adivasis from Chattisgarh are living as refugees in Andhra Pradesh. Further, the Supreme Court has ordered the Central and State Governments to restore to the more than 300,000 adivasis from 644 villages their homes and villages, and to facilitate their return to their home villages. But despite this, the Governments have done nothing to obey the Supreme Court order. Why this illegal act? Where are the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people? On this day, (26th January), what guarantees are being extended by the Indian state to Adivasis? Is it the intent of the Indian Government merely to hand over land to Tatas, Essar and Vedantas, and enrich them? At a time when farmers have underlined their problems by committing suicides, by snatching away agricultural lands and handing it over to the rich, are you declaring that this is the face of progress? We will raise our voices against it. On 26 January, we will undertake a cycle rally via Sivagangai (Chidambaram's constituency) to Chennai. Campaign for Justice and Peace. 14A, 5th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090 Contact: 9443248582
This post is based on compilation of various information inputs by Sayantoni Datta