Condemning the arrest of Lingaram Kodopi, a tribal youth who earlier ‘dared’ to come to the capital and study journalism, a press conference was held in New Delhi.
“It is the classic case of witch-hunt by the Chhattisgarh government of a tribal youth who managed to empower himself by becoming a journalist and working for exposing the state atrocities against his community,” said Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan while addressing media person in Delhi. The others who spoke at the Press Conference at New Delhi Press Club included Arundhati Roy, Vrinda Grover and Himanshu Kumar (associated with Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewada).
Lingaram Kodopi was arrested from Dantewada on 9th September, 2011 on the charges that he was collecting money for Maoists. He has now been sent to judicial custody in Dantewada and charged under UAPA, CSPSA and Sections 121, 124A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code – criminal conspiracy, sedition and waging war against the State.
“This is nothing new and the Chhattisgarh police has a well-established record of imprisoning social workers and activists on trumped up charges, detaining them for prolonged periods, and dragging their trials out for as long as possible. Kopa Kunjam, Binayak Sen, Sukhnath Oyame, Kartam Joga and Ajay TG are a few who have been subjected to this treatment. On 5th September, 2011, 59 organizations in India and internationally called for the unconditional release of Kopa Kunjam. The arrest and the outlandish allegations against Lingaram Kodopi fit this pattern,” the press statement reads.
Condemning the politically motivated arrest of adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi, speakers at the Press Conference pointed out that the charge against him of collecting money for the Maoists is completely fabricated and that they fear for his safety in custody.
In a similar attempt at harassment, the Senior Superintendent of Police SRP Kalluri had named Lingaram as the prime suspect behind an attack on the house of Congress worker and civil contractor Avdesh Singh Gautam on 6th July 2010. He also claimed that Lingaram was to succeed former Communist Party of India (Maoist) spokesperson, Azad. These charges were later withdrawn, since the police did not have a shred of evidence. Then on 13 July 2010 Lingaram held a press conference at Delhi with Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Swami Agnivesh and publicly stated how he was tortured and was now being victimised by the Chhattisgarh police.
In September 2009, Dantewada police had detained Lingaram for 40 days, pressurising him to become a Special Police Officer (precisely the sort of appointment against which the Supreme Court issued severe strictures in its 5th July 2011 Judgement). He was released only after a habeas corpus petition was filed in the Bilaspur High Court. Since then, Lingaram and his family have been repeatedly and systematically harassed.
At the Independent People’s Tribunal held in Delhi in April 2010, Lingaram spoke about how the Gram Panchayats were mute to the cause of the tribals, and questioned the enormous amount of money spent on the ‘welfare plans’ for the tribals and the lack of any progress. Lingaram also translated for several young tribal women who said they were victims of police atrocities. In retrospect, all those surely add up as the key crimes he committed against the masters in state police and political leadership.
Of particular significance in this context is Lingaram’s visit to the Chintalnar area of the Dantewada district as a journalist, documenting the impact of attacks by COBRA and the Koya Commandoes, SPOs and the Salwa Judum on the villages, Morpalli, Tadmetla and Timmapuram in March 2011.
The speakers also expressed concerns over news reports that Soni Sori, Lingaram’s aunt, is being targeted by the police. Soni Sori is a respected superintendent of a residential school for adivasi children run as part of the tribal development programme in Chhattisgarh. Recently, she also became known for her work of delivering food to the children of the three villages attacked by the security forces. We fear she might be arrested by the police too.
In the press conference many organisations including National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh (CPJC), Citizens’ Initiative for Peace, etc condemned the arrest of Lingaram and demanded:
– the immediate and unconditional release of Lingaram Kodopi.
– In the total absence of any credible evidence, the allegations against him should be withdrawn immediately.
– the police must stop intimidating Lingaram Kodopi and harassment of Soni Sori.
– State government must immediately be pulled up by authorities for the witch-hunt of activists and those who are standing up for the rights of adivasis.