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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 31, Dated 06 Aug 2011
    CURRENT AFFAIRS  
    JHARKHAND

    First, they killed him. Now they threaten activists. No fig leaf for Maoists here

    By Kunal Majumder

    Niyamat Ansari was beaten to death for exposing corruption in Jharkhand’s MGNREGA

    Silenced by Maoists Niyamat Ansari was beaten to death for exposing corruption in Jharkhand’s MGNREGA

    Photo: Christophe Payet

    IN AN unprecedented and troubling case of antagonism towards civil rights workers, the CPI (Maoist) has issued threats against economist-activist Jean Dreze, National Advisory Council (NAC) member Aruna Roy and two Jharkhandbased professionals — Nand Lal Singh and Gokul Vasant. A poster issued by the Maoists on 11 July demands that these activists be “punished by a Jan Adalat” for countering the Maoists’ allegations against slain MGNREGA activist Niyamat Ansari. The Maoists have also targeted Ansari’s former colleagues in Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, (GSA) a local organisation spreading awareness about the right to work.

    The tensions began earlier this year when Ansari, 36, and his friend Bhukhan Singh, 35, exposed a Rs 2.5 lakh scam in MGNREGA in Rankikalan Gram Panchayat. The former block development officer (BDO), a panchayat sewak and the son of a local contractor were accused of pocketing the money. After an inquiry by the district administration, an FIR was lodged against the first two on 1 March.

    The next day, Maoists picked up Ansari from his home and thrashed him brutally. When his family tried to rush him to the local hospital, Maoist diktat prevented people from offering even a bullock cart. Ansari’s handicapped brother, widowed sister and wife carried him in an unconscious state on a charpoy to the local police station 10 km away. From there an ambulance took him to the district hospital. But by then it was too late.

    The following day, 3 March, Ansari’s sister Sayida Bibi lodged an FIR against eight persons. All were arrested except local Maoist commander Sudarshan. On 6 March, the CPI (Maoist) issued a statement in local newspapers alleging that Ansari was a police informer and had failed to appear at a jan adalat convened by them to resolve a forest land dispute. They also warned Bhukhan, who had escaped the 2 March attack, that if he failed to come to a jan adalat, he would meet the same fate.

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    This was not the first time Ansari and Bhukhan had been attacked by the contractor- Maoist nexus in Latehar. “Bhaiyas (Maoists) came for him earlier but he escaped through the window,” says Ansari's widow Nooresha, cradling her one-year-old daughter. Both her sons are away in hostels.“ He was even educating my 13-year-old daughter,” says Sayida Bibi, who is dependent on Ansari’s family.“ I don’t know what will happen to us now.”

    Dreze first heard about Ansari and Bhukhan in October 2008, while visiting the area to check progress in MGNREGA work (he was then a member of the NAC). “Initially, I thought the local contractors were using the Maoist tag to merely threaten NREGA activists. But soon it turned serious,” recalls Dreze. Ansari and Bhukhan were then involved with the GSA. In November 2010, both joined the Sahayata Kendra set up by Dreze and Reetika Khera and continued their work.

    A week after his killing, a letter signed by 20 prominent activists, including Arundhati Roy, Harsh Mander, Nandini Sundar and Swami Agnivesh, had demanded justice for Ansari and security for Bhukhan (read full text of the letter). After repeated protests and dharnas, the Maoists came out with a counter-allegation: that Ansari and Bhukhan had collected 13 lakh from villagers and were involved in child sacrifice; that all district officials involved in probing Ansari’s death and protecting Bhukhan Singh were GSA cronies. The note raised questions like: “It is a prestige issue for them: how will they accept that Ansari and Bhukhan made a mistake?”

    Unwanted attention Activists have earned the ire of Maoists for raising their voice against Ansari’s murder

    Photo: Shailendra Pandey

    To conduct an independent probe, Nand Lal Singh, former chairman of Palamu District Bar Association, and Gokul Vasant, a senior journalist, visited Latehar. “Our impression is that Maoist leaders were misled by anti-social elements,” the report says. “In fact, Ansari and Bhukhan have been working to make the people of Latehar aware of their rights under MGNREGA. They lodged FIRs against corrupt middlemen and officials.” In turn, five cases had been slapped against Ansari and Bhukhan since February 2007, when they started their work, the report noted.

    The report was released on 18 May in Ranchi, along with a renewed demand for a CBI inquiry. The state government accepted the demand only in July. But the real shocker was what came after this.

    Akhilesh Srivastava of PUCL says the Jharkhand Maoists have no control over their cadres. They have become criminalised

    The CPI(Maoist) issued a seven-point handwritten letter threatening Abhiyan members with dire consequences unless those arrested for Ansari’s killing are released. They have even called for Dreze, Roy, Gokul Vasant and Nand Lal Singh to be tried and punished by a people’s court for demanding justice and trying to prove Ansari’s innocence. Roy doesn’t work in that area but was present to show solidarity when Vasant and Singh’s report was released.

    Delhi University professor and Vice-President of Revolutionary Democratic Front of India, GN Saibaba, expresses shock at the Maoists’ missive. “I have serious doubts if such a letter was really issued by Maoists. Local contractors might be hand-in-glove with the administration in this act,” he says. He points out that Maoists generally respect intellectuals even if they have divergent views.

    However, Akhilesh Srivastava, president of the Jharkhand unit of PUCL, disagrees. “The Maoists in Jharkhand have no control over their cadres. Their structure has become criminalised. It is disgusting that they should threaten a person like Jean Dreze,” he says. He adds that it’s high time the Maoists rethink violence as a strategy.

    An interaction with GSA volunteers reveals a sense of frustration tinged with fear. “We are doing the same work as the bhaiyas. Why are they targeting us?” asks Sunita (name changed), a 32-year-old tribal woman who has worked in Latehar for five years.

    Close by is the police guest house where Bhukhan was sheltered for some time after Ansari’s murder. His family — wife and two teenaged sons — have been on the move with him since then. The government has offered 24-hour security but his friends advise against it. “It will only bolster the Maoist allegation that he is a police informer,” says a senior member of Abhiyan.


    Social activists get threats

    Letter issued by CPI(Maoist) south Latehar sub-zonal committee

    The above missive translates as:

    • Gram Swaraj Abhiyan should stop using forest for farming.

    • The death of Niyamat Ansari is just the beginning, members of Gram Swaraj Abhiyan are next.

    • Take back all the false cases against innocents implicated in the Niyamat Ansari case.

    • Bhukhan Singh, the stooge of Gram Sabha Abhiyan, come to your senses.

    • Police and brokers, stop filing cases against innocent people or else there will be bloodbath.

    • Punish Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, Gokul Vasant and Nand Lal Singh in a Jan Adalat for claiming Niyamat Ansari is innocent.

    • Sonia Gandhi’s agent Jean Dreze, come to your senses.

    Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
    kunal@tehelka.com


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 31, Dated 06 Aug 2011
 
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