URGENT APPEAL

Aparna Marandi, her four year old son Alok Chandra, Satish (16 years old) her distant relative and her two friends Baby Turi and Susheela Ekka were picked up the police on 8th December. The manner in which they were picked up, interrogated and detained, are in clear violation of all established procedures and rules. Aparna was forced to sign a confessional statement on the basis of which she has been taken away to Dumka prison. All of them were mistreated and mentally tortured during this unlawful interrogation.

Earlier in the day I and my colleagues at Video Volunteers, Anand Hembrom and Tania Deviah, spoke at length with Baby Turi and her husband Damodar Turi. Their detailed narration of the last 3 days (below) gives us enough evidence of grievous human rights violation by the Jharkhand police : illegal detention, violation of arrest guidelines, forceful confession, intimidatory and abusive interrogation, threatening to seriously hurt and kill.

Given that this is not an isolated incident, and marks a pattern of silencing rights activists who challenge repression and exploitative ‘development’ projects , we must take strong and urgent action on this matter. I urge you all to take this matter up in your respective individual or collective capacities to ensure justice to all affected.

Backstory:

Aparna Marandi is the wife of cultural activist Jeetan Marandi. Jeetan was a composer and singer and  sang about poverty, starvation, corruption, oppression – realities of life in some of the most marginalized regions in the country. The state reacted to his activism with draconian force and incarcerated him. Despite being acquitted by the Jhakhand High Court, Jeetan continues to languish in prison. It has been four long years since he was arrested.

Since Jeetan’s arrest, Aparna has been indefatigable. With her son in her arms, she would go from courts to police stations to government officers to conferences to rallies in the streets in an effort to secure justice for Jeetan. She is one of the most outspoken voices for human rights and justice in grassroots Jharkhand.

Baby Turi is the Mukhiya (village council head) of Jitpur panchayat in Tundi block, Dhanbad district of Jharkhand. Damodar Turi, a well known human rights activist specifically working against displacement and forced eviction, is Baby’s husband. Damodar is also accused of being a ‘Maoist sympathizer’ and has baseless cases slapped on him since the last four years.

Baby Turi’s Statement

On 8th December 2012, I along with  Aparna Marandi , her four year old son Alok,  Sushila Ekka and Satish Kumar were to take a train from Hatia railway station to go to Hyderabad to attend the Rajnitik Bandi Rihayi Samiti (Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners) meeting. At 4pm, while we were still sitting in the train and waiting for it to move, we were approached by plain clothed police officers. They told us that they were Railway Ticket Examiners and that we needed to be interrogated for traveling on unconfirmed tickets. We were all were made to remove our luggage and get out of the train. They asked us why we are going to Hyderabad. Aparna said she is attending the meeting as her husband is a political prisoner. ‘I will try everything I can to get my husband out of jail because he is innocent’, she said.

From the railway station we were moved to the CBI office in Ranchi where we were interrogated about our links to Maoist groups. They kept throwing names at us but we did not know any of those people. We said that we have no links or connections with any Maoists group or person. Through out that questioning they used foul language and kept cursing. Their whole approach was to scare us, intimidate and to make us to accept their charges and allegations.

At 10.30 pm on the same night (8th December 2012) they moved us to the Women’s station in Ranchi. They kept us in the lockup room. We were given very little food and after demanding it several times. They did not even give some biscuits to Alok. They used abusive language and wouldn’t allow us to use the toilet. They said we were faking the urge to use the toilet because we wanted to walk around.  That night we slept in the lockup room with one male guard outside. The guards took turns to keep an eye on us.

Next morning, on  9th December, Aparna was called out individually. They started asking her about her connection to Maoists. They cursed her and threatened her a lot. The poor thing was very scared. Aparna was asked to sign a document stating that she was part of group who set a company’s dumper (truck) on fire in Dumka and in the shoot out in Khatikhund. Aparna was forced to sign it. She told us later that she had no choice but to sign it because she felt her life ws in danger. The camera that you (Video Volunteers) had given her was confiscated. They asked us to us to sweep the lock up and do things like this. They weren’t giving us food. We told them that we’ll give them money, just buy us some food! Aparna had picked up the broom but we told her to drop it. Are we sweepers?

I overheard the police officer talking to her superiors on the phone. She said ‘we have captured four Naxals and we are taking good care of them Sir.’ Although it was a women’s police station, there were many CRPF men guarding both the inside and outside the station. Through that day we were photographed many times by the police.

When the media persons came, there was more tension. They told us we had informed the media and that we were lying that we hadn’t contacted anyone. We know that many activists in Ranchi and elsewhere were calling the SP to know about our whereabouts and that the SP said that he doesn’t know about any such arrests. All that time we were in the lock up.

Sushila too was interrogated. ‘How come people from different districts are here together’, they asked. We explained that we knew each other since Jeetan and Damodar were arrested under false charges in 2008.

They asked me if I knew about a CRPF camp near my village. I said yes. They asked if I knew about the murder of a landlord there. I said no. They said, ‘how come you don’t know about it when you are the Mukhiya of the village’. I said that I was not the Mukhiya (village council head)  at the time of that killing. The police woman accused me of wining the election with the support of the Maoists. They were trying very hard to make us accept that we are Maoists.

Only women police officers were interrogating us. But CRPF men were all over the station. They even accompanied us even when we went to use the toilet.

On the evening of the 9th I and Susheela and Satish were asked to write and sign a document stating that we were taken in for interrogation with Aparna Marandi and were released without harm and that the police had not misbehaved with us. We were asked to write that we had gathered in Hatiya railway station to meet Jeetan Marandi. But we refused to write that part because this was not true. Jeetan Marandi has been in jail for 4 years so how can we have gone to meet him at the railway station?!  We protested vehemently. We insisted that we will only write the facts and they relented. However, they made us write that we were picked up for questioning on the evening of the 9th. We told them that we want to put the actual date which was the 8th. But they started cursing us again and even threatened to kill us and so we relented to this and allowed them to put the date as 9th .  We wrote and signed that statement because the three of us were totally scared for our lives.

That night we were again made to sleep in the lock up. We were not allowed to contact any our relatives nor did they inform any of our relatives of our whereabouts or charges on us.

The following day, on 10th of December, at about 11am Aparna was taken away to be produced before the magistrate in Ranchi. We came to know later that she was taken to Dumka jail from there.

One police officer wanted the three of us to also a sign the confession document of Aparna Marandi wherein she was made to write that she was involved in the two incidents of Maoist attack. We started worrying badly. Just then another police officer told her that the 3 of us need not be added to Aparna’s. ‘We’ll slap some other case on them’, she said.

At 4pm on 10th December , Sushila, Satish and I were released. We don’t know what will happen next. We just know that they have taken our photos and our signatures on this document. We don’t know how Aparna is doing,

Damodar Turi statement: 

I am the State Convener of the Visthapan Virodhi Janvikas Andolan (People’s Campaign against Displacement). I have charges under UAPA and under section 17 and 18 CRPC Act filed against me since 24th June 2008.  No FIR was made. No information was given to me or anyone about this. That night at 9pm, police surrounded my office in Ranchi and arrested me. Police officers from 5 stations were present, about 100 police men.  They started beating me in the office itself. They beat me in the vehicle on the way. In the station they beat me in various ways, kicks, slaps, with sticks. Then they took me to Lalpur Police Station and began third degree torture. They kept throwing names of Moist leaders at me and asked me how I knew them. I said I don’t know any of them and that my work is against displacement and for the development of Adivasis and Dalits. ‘So you are against all the companies that want to come to Jharkhand is it”, they asked me. I said that my work is to secure the rights of the marginalized people. They then asked me how I met various activists and leaders and where we get funding from. I showed them receipts of how people donated small funds to the movement. They did not listen. They confiscated the cash in my office and claimed that it was “levy ka paisa” (money collected as levy*). I felt upset and protested that this is not levy money. They tortured me more and made me sign a statement. The same night they moved me to the Muffosil police station. They threatened me that they will kill me in an encounter. I told them who I was and and what my work was and that this fact will not change no matter how much they tortured me. I told them to go ahead and kill me in an encounter if they want.

The next morning they took me to a press conference. At first the hall was empty. Then they took me out of the room and when they brought me back in, on each of the tables they had laid out Lal Chingari pamphlets, alongside brochures of my organization. Lal Chingari is the pamphlet brought out by the Moists. I tried to protest and told the press who I am and that the Lal Chingari pamphlets were not mine. SP (Superintendent of Police) MS Bhatia told the media persons gathered there that the Lal Chingari were recovered from my office. The fact is that they did not find any such thing on me or in my office. This was the only evidence they produced to prove that I am a Maoist. The press then wrote both sides of the story.

This is the context under which my wife’s recent arrest plays out. In the biggest democracy in the country, there is a lot of suspicion against the Adivasi and Dalits. A lot of us are targeted as Maoists and Naxals. We have no forum to voice our sorrow. There is a report stating how 100s of Adivasis have been jailed with such charges. All the armed operations against Maoists have targeted defenseless Adivasis and Dalits in this state. That is the systematic attempt of the Government. My wife and her companions are being treated this way because they are Dalits. If they were women from upper class or upper caste families, I don’t feel they would have been looked at with such suspicion.

My wife and others were detained illegally. They were picked up police men in plain clothes, they had no name tags, there were no women police at that time. This is a blatant violation of law and laid down procedures. They were not told the reason of their arrest. They weren’t allowed to use the toilet and were mentally tortured. They were not given adequate food and had to fight for it. They police used abusive language. They were detained for more than 24 hrs and were not produced before a Magistrate. The police kept talking about their connection to Maoist leaders. There were threats to beat kill them.