Withdraw UAPA cases against leaders, activists and supporters of the movement led by Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti

SUB:  Withdrawal of UAPA cases against leaders, activists and supporters of the movement led by Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti and unconditional release of Krushna Sikaka.

Niyamgiri Protest
NSS protest outside Kalyansinghpur PS on August 6.

On 5th August, 2023 two youth activists, namely, Krushna Sikaka (village Patangpadar) and Bari Sikaka (village Lakhpadar) of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (NSS) had been to Lanjigarh haat of Kalahandi district. Their purpose was to meet villagers and to inform them about the celebration of the World Indigenous Day on 9th August. While they were busy doing this, some plainclothes police personnel suddenly arrived on the spot in a Bolero and forcibly abducted them at about 9 A.M.

As soon as the news reached from villagers who were present with them, the IICs of Lanjigarh and Kalyansinghpur police stations as well as the SPs of both Raygada and Kalahandi districts were contacted by NSS. All officials denied either arrest or abduction by the police.  The police authority kept on denying it even though the news was being reported in the mass media.

On the morning of 6th August, the NSS held a protest demonstration before the Kalyansinghpur PS alleging abduction of their members by the police. They also wanted police to disclose their whereabouts. They submitted a memorandum demanding the release of their two abducted members. Instead of giving any satisfactory answer, the police official mocked at them saying, “are we disari (adivasi astrologer) that we can predict their whereabouts?”. As the villagers were returning home from the demonstration, the police tried to whisk away Drenju Krisika, a prominent leader of the NSS. This seems to be an attempt to provoke the villagers and create a situation leading to further intensification of police repression. The united resistance  of the villagers there prevented the police from taking away Drenju Krisika.

That same day on 6th August, the police lodged an FIR against nine people including Lada Sikaka and Drenju Krisika, prominent leaders of NSS; Lingaraj Azad, the Advisor of NSS; British Kumar of Khandualamali Surakhya Samiti; and poet Lenin Kumar who has been in solidarity with the movement. They have been charged under various sections of UAPA and that of IPC. The news of the FIR reached NSS and all others on 8th August.

We are dismayed and concerned that UAPA, an act purported to be used against secessionist forces and those harmful to the integrity and sovereignty of the state, have been foisted on the leaders and activists of a mass movement. This is unlawful, undemocratic and unconstitutional. This is yet another attempt by the police to stifle the voices of local people especially that of Dongria Kondh community of Niyamgiri, who under the banner of NSS have been resisting Vedanta and other companies’ attempts to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri since two decades. It may also be seen as part of a conspiracy by the state government and Vedanta Company to undermine the historic judgment of the Supreme Court which had upheld the rights of Gram Sabha. In the current session of the Parliament, the Central Government with the support of BJD government of the state has passed the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023 to facilitate the surrender of forest and forest land to the hands of corporates by snatching away the rights of Gram Sabha. Needless to say, all these false cases and repression on the people of Niyamgiri are part of the same agenda to take over people’s natural resources for the corporates.

Meanwhile, a writ of habeas corpus was filed in the High Court to produce Krushna Sikaka and Bari Sikaka. As a result, while police released Bari Sikaka and made him reach his village, Krushna Sikaka was shown to be arrested under the charge of a rape case filed way back in 2018 and sent to jail. This raises many questions. How has the police not been able to find him in the last five years during which Krushna Sikaka has been openly participating in meetings and discussions and also representing his organisation in various platforms? Obviously, the arrest seems to be a deliberate police action to take into custody a leading member of the NSS.

Most importantly, to protest peacefully is a constitutional right of the people in a democratic polity. The peaceful protest held in front of the police station can in no way, even from the point of view of law, be called secessionist or harmful to the integrity and sovereignty of the state. Hence, to foist UAPA on the leaders, activists and supporters of the movement is a deliberate ploy to muffle the voices of the people and to open up the road for Vedanta’s mining. It may also be mentioned here that Lingaraj Azad was not even present at the site of the protest.

We, therefore, demand the withdrawal of all these vengeful, false and fabricated cases slapped against the leaders, activists and supporters of the movement and the immediate and unconditional release Krushna Sikaka.

Lingaraj Azad, Prafulla Samantara, Narendra Mohanty and Biswapriya Kanungo

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