With the government putting its ban on NDTV India on hold, the Narendra Modi government opened up another front quashing dissent when the Chhattisgarh Police accused rights activist Nandini Sundar and 9 others in a murder case.
Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Archana Prasad is also among the accused. Sundar heads the Delhi University sociology department and has worked extensively on the Maoist insurgency, especially in the Bastar region. It was on her petition that the Supreme Court in 2011 ordered the disbanding of the Salwa Judum, a state-backed militia formed to take on Maoists in Chhattisgarh.
In her reaction to the case, Sundar said she had nothing to do with the tribal’s murder and that she hadn’t been to Bastar for the last 5 months. Speaking to NDTV, she said the case was absurd, and a clear case of police harassment and intimidation. She said she and her colleagues have been condemning violence by both the Maoists and the police. The Bastar police is forcing villagers to name her and her fellow activists in the case, she said.
She said Bastar police is supporting “vigilante groups” and went on to claim that “police has burnt effigies of activists, journalists, a clear case of vendetta.” “Bastar Range IG SRP Kalluri has been continuously attacking activists, lawyers,” she said. Sundar said the activists are fighting the case against Salwa Judum and asked, “Are we a banana republic that police can file fake murder cases?”
Sundar is the wife of Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of TheWire.in and a former Editor of The Hindu.
Kalluri told media in Bastar that Sundar has been named in the complaint of the wife of one Shamnath Baghel, who was killed by Maoists last Friday. Apart from Sundar and Archana Prasad, the others accused are Vineet Tiwari, who is with Delhi’s Joshi Adhikar Sansthan, Chhattisgarh CPI (M) secretary Sanjay Parate and the Maoists, the wires quoted Kalluri as saying. The activists have been booked for murder, criminal conspiracy and rioting, Kalluri said, adding, “Strongest possible action will be taken against those guilty after the investigation.”
Reportedly on Friday night, Maoists killed Baghel with sharp weapons at his home in Nama village in Tongpal area, around 450 km from Raipur, the state capital. Baghel and his associates had been leading a campaign against Maoist activities since April and had recently formed the “Tangiya (axe) group” to take them on.
“The victim’s wife has alleged that Nandini Sundar and other workers held meetings in the area and that was provocative. There were threats received that Baghel will be eliminated if he doesn’t mend his ways,” Kalluri said. “As per the complaint lodged by the victim’s wife, her husband had been getting threats from Maoists since he and other villagers had complained against Sundar in May. Even armed ultras were referring to that complaint and anti-Maoist demonstrations while attacking Baghel on Friday,” the IG told media.
It had been reported earlier that Baghel and other villagers had complained in May against Sundar, Prasad and others, accusing them of inciting tribals against the government and asking them to support Maoists.
Police has written to the Du and JNU vice-chancellors informing them that Bastar Police was conducting an inquiry against both the professors, the IG said.