22, Dec 2021 | CJP Team
We entered 2021 knowing fully well that there would be aftershocks from 2020, especially when it came to challenges posed by Covid-19. But despite the second wave and related hurdles, CJP did manage to overcome several hurdles and achieve some truly unique milestones along the way. Here’s a look at the year gone by.
Helping Gangadhar Pramanik get his life back
This young man, originally hailing from West Bengal’s Bankura district, had found himself in Guwahati 10 years ago. The migrant worker whose family was facing crushing poverty back home, just wanted to help them financially. Instead, he found himself thrown into a detention centre in Assam!
Pramanik was declared foreigner in his own country!
What’s worse, he could not get word to his family and therefore no one came to look for him… until the CJP team found out about him from two other inmates who we were helping get released on bail from the Goalpara detention centre.
“We found out about him in July 2021, but we faced a unique challenge as he has no family in Assam. When we found his address in West Bengal, we discovered that nobody lived there anymore. Moreover, there was no way to contact them as they had left behind no forwarding address or phone numbers,” says CJP Assam state team in-charge Nanda Ghosh. But we did not give up and contacted his former neighbours to gather as much information as we could. After some time, our search paid off and we found that his mother had moved into her daughter i.e Pramanik’s sister’s home. We then located a distant cousin who we requested visit the sister’s home.
That is when we learned of the devastating news. Gangadhar’s father Mantu had passed away, and his mother had suffered a paralytic stroke. “Turns out both tragedies were the result of one thing – they were unable to contact their son who had left to work in Assam. They presumed that he was either lost, or worse… dead,” says Ghosh. But the bigger tragedy was that Gangadhar was unaware of his father’s passing and only came to know about it from us. “Nobody had been able to contact him after he was taken to the Detention Centre and we had to break the news of his father’s death to Gangadhar. He was at a loss of words and just cried,” says Ghosh.
This experience truly shook everyone in the CJP team, and we pushed harder to ensure that this young man finally gets to go home. But the challenge was that as per conditions of bail, a released inmate needs to stay in Assam. But Pramanik did not have a home or family in Assam. This also posed a challenge in getting a bailor.
But CJP persevered and after several hiccups, we were finally able to negotiate a complex arrangement. Since Pramanik did not have an address in Assam, CJP team incharge Nanda Ghosh and Advocate Abhijeet Chaudhury had to give written undertakings that they would take him home to West Bengal and take responsibility for him. They were also made to submit copies of their own documents such as voter IDs and passports. Additionally, the CJP team helped establish contact between police officials from both states via telephone, so that the entire process could be completed smoothly. “Now Pramanik will have to go and sign his attendance at the Radhanagar outpost of the Bishnupur Police Station every week. The officials from West Bengal Police will then send a copy of this via email to the Assam Border Police,” says Ghosh explaining the complex arrangement.
But we didn’t stop at just getting him released. Nanda Ghosh and Advocate Abhijeet Chaudhury, actually accompanied Pramanik all the way to his home in West Bengal, where he had an emotional reunion with his family. Read all about it here. Over the course of the next few weeks, the West Bengal government verified his documents and restored Gangadhar Pramanik’s Indian citizenship and included his name in the electoral roll.
Here’s a video (in Bengali) that showcases CJP’s efforts to help Gangadhar Pramanik and how the West Bengal government subsequently helped him.
Going the extra mile for Sona Khatun
Well in this case, it wasn’t just an extra mile, but an extra 800 kilometers over a period of nearly one year! The CJP team has encountered many challenges in helping our fellow Indians defend their citizenship in Assam. But finding Sona Khatun’s village and contacting her family was one of our most challenging assignments.
Sona Kahtun had been languishing behind bars at the Kokrajhar detention centre in Assam for over five years before CJP helped her get released. But the process took over a year as there was no trace of her family. Assam state team in-charge Nanda Ghosh, who had been leading the search, says, “We found out about her last year when we were helping other detainees get released amidst the Covid pandemic. But it was difficult to locate her family as she was arrested by the border police in Kamrup, but did not have any family there.” Ghosh elaborates, “She had left home early in life after marrying a man her family did not approve of. But her husband left her and she took up a job as a domestic help and worked in Guwahati. We tried to find her family or some information in Guwahati and in the wider Kamrup district. But we couldn’t find anyone.”
We then expanded our search radius, moving from one village to another, from one district to another. “Our search lasted almost a year and spanned five districts: Kamrup, Goalpara, Barpeta, Dhubri and Mankachar – South Salamra. When we went to get Amala Das released from the Kokrajhar detention camp in May this year, the jailor helped us by passing on information from Sona Khatun that Ainul Moulubi, the cleric of a mosque located somewhere in Dhubri or South Salmara would be able to help locate Sona Khatun’s brothers,” says Nanda Ghosh.
We finally found out that Ainul Moulubi lived Harukhunda village that is located along the border with Dhubri district. So, on July 14, Nanda Ghosh went there accompanied by District Volunteer Motivator Habibul Bepari and driver-photographer Ashikul Ali. “We spoke to some locals who directed us to Moulubi’s house in an even more remote part of the village located on the banks of the Brahmaputra. Now, this place lies in Jaleswar circle which falls under Fakirganj police jurisdiction of Dhubri district,” says Bepari highlighting how confusing inter-district borders are in this riverine region. Ainul Moulubi turned out to be quite knowledgeable and directed a young boy, a student of 7th standard, to help take us to the house of Sona Khatun’s brothers Sultan Ali and Sadek Ali. Together this group now started the next leg of their journey, this time on foot to Choto Nichinpur village located on the banks of the Brahmaputra, in a region devoid of any roads. We found and spoke to her brothers an even managed to arrange for a bailor, but this involved a treck through thick foliage, marshy lands, and fields inundated with water, not to mention poisonous insects.
On just July 14, 2021 – the day we found her brothers, we travelled 258 kilometers by car and then 8 kms on foot. In the preceding month, as our teams looked for Sona Khatun’s family in different districts we travelled 440 kms in Kamrup district, 174 kms in Goalpara district, 160 kms in Barpeta district and 455 kms in Dhubri district every day as we moved from one village to another looking for Sona Khatun’s family. Read more about this incredible search for Sona Khatun’s family here.
Here’s an infographic that showcases just the distance covered by the CJP team as they travelled across Assam to help Sona Khatun.
But our perseverance paid and we finally managed to secure Sona Khatun’s release on August 19, after she had spent 5 years, 11 months and 29 days behind bars. Here’s a video that showcases this incredible journey.
History created in Chitrakoot
But CJP’s work isn’t just limited to Assam. We have a vibrant Forest Rights program that is spread over forest lands across Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Madhya Pradesh at present with online trainings in Forest Rights laws held for a nation-wide audience. This program is conducted in association with our partner organisation – All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP).
This year, our biggest achievement came in March when women forest rights defenders from as many as 8 villages in Chitrakoot region filed community land claims. Our teams have been toiling relentlessly in Chitrakoot, a forested region of Uttar Pradesh, even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, putting together all documentation necessary to file community claims to forest land. We have been supporting these communities, especially their women grassroots leaders, navigate the complex labyrinth of bureaucracy and stake legal claim to forest land, in accordance with the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
At present we are pursuing as many as 20 community forest rights claims filed by women in Chitrakoot. This is significant as women have seldom been accorded the same respect as men in agriculture, not only by society, but also by law. Their status as farmers is questioned, despite women bearing an equal, and often a larger burden of the work done in agriculture.
This video showcases the perseverance of women community leaders:
“We have put together files of 18 villages, out of which 8 are complete and 10 are work in progress. This is a painstaking process and some of the grassroots workers are facing difficulties,” says AIUFWP deputy general secretary Roma. This is no mean feat, given how there is a vast difference between urban and rural India, and the absence of the smallest of conveniences that city folk take for granted, can prove to be major hurdles of villagers fighting for their rights.
“It was difficult to get the necessary documents, often simple things like getting photocopies would prove to be stumbling block as these are rural areas,” says Amir Khan Sherwani. “We have to collect and fill out all necessary forms, giving details of the exact amount of land to which the claim is being made, then attach all relevant documents and proof, and then get them all verified,” he explains. Read all about this incredible process here.
But our work doesn’t end here. “We are putting together details of the traditional occupation of people in forest areas from different states. We have already started putting together working plans in Dehradun. We are replicating the same process in Bihar (Kaimur) and Odisha as well,” says Roma shedding light on future campaigns.
CJP persists in its pursuit of justice for Gujarat 2002 genocide victims and survivors
It is well known that CJP came into being soon after the 2002 Gujarat carnage and has since then led from the front when it comes to seeking justice for victims and survivors of one of the most inhumane pogroms in India’s history. To this effect while we have been part of multiple cases dealing with individual massacres, our most significant campaign has been via the Zakia Jafri case.
Zakia Jafri is the widow of late Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri. Ehsan Jafri was brutally lynched by a mob when he bravely offered to sacrifice his own life while shielding hundreds of others in the infamous Gulberg society massacre.
However, the Zakia Jafri case deals with the wider conspiracy surrounding the targeted violence against members of the minority community, and particularly the complicity of as many as 66 people in various levels of authority, who via acts of omission or commission, permitted the violence to continue unabated for days, even though they had the power to put an end to it immediately. While Zakia Jafri is the primary petitioner, CJP via its secretary Teesta Setalvad is the second petitioner in the case.
In 2021, we moved a Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court to seek clarification about an order passed by a Magistrate’s court in Gujarat which accepted a closure report by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the violence at face value and did not order a detailed probe even though there were glaring lacunae in the SIT’s investigation.
During the hearings of the SIT that took place in November and December 2021, Zakia Jafri and CJP, represented by senior counsel Kapil Sibal placed before the courts several such instances of investigative deficiencies, including but not limited to:
- Inflaming communal passion by allowing autopsies of Godhra train burning victims to be conducted in public view.
- Handing over of bodies of these victims to a political leader and allowing them to be taken in a procession to further inflame communal passions
- Disregarding repeated warnings of mob build up
- Ignoring confessions by key perpetrators caught on tape during the Tehelka sting operation, and accepting at face value their explanation that they were merely reading from a script.
- Blatant vilification of police officials who called out the communal agenda of the regime
CJP assists Kavitha Lankesh in getting justice for Gauri Lankesh
While Gauri Lankesh, a fearless journalist and dear friend, may have been snatched away from us too soon, there is bitter-sweet victory in the Supreme Court’s decision to restore organised crime charges against Mohan Nayak, one of the key accused in the case. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had assisted Gauri’s sister, filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh move SC against the Karnataka High Court’s order that had previously dropped charges under the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act (KCOCA).
Gauri Lankesh, a fearless journalist who often raised her voice against communalism, gender-based discrimination and caste-based oppression, was shot dead by a bike borne assailant on September 5, 2017 outside her home in Bangalore. CJP assisted Kavitha Lankesh, the filmmaker sister of Gauri Lankesh in moving a Special Leave Petition (SLP) against Nayak, who is a close associate of Amol Kale and Rajesh Bangera, two men who are key accused in planning and committing the assassination of the slain journalist.
Lankesh’s SLP, filed with CJP’s assistance, details the nature and extent of Mohan’s involvement saying that investigations had found that he had been “actively involved in providing shelter to the killers prior to and after committing the offence and has participated in a series of conspiracies, abetting, planning, providing logistics.” Read more here and here.
Minorities Commission responds to CJP’s petition
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) sought an expedited action taken report (ATR) from the Chief Secretary of Tripura, in its letter dated November 18, 2021. This was in response to a complaint filed by CJP against the alleged vandalisation of mosques, houses, shops in Tripura by right-wing groups.
We had, in our complaint dated October 29, 2021, written to the NCM detailing how several news reports suggested that mosques, houses and shops belonging to Muslims in Tripura have been vandalised, attacked and ransacked in retaliation to the anti-Hindu attacks in Bangladesh. We also gave details of the five affected districts, namely: Unakoti, north Tripura, West Tripura, Sepahijala and Gomati. Read more here.
In another petition against Vikas Sehrawat, the hate mongering disciple of spiritual leader Yati Narsignanand, the NCM wrote to Meerut’s Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) and requested a detailed report within 15 days. CJP’s complaint dated July 22, 2021 to the honourable commission highlighted the series of Islamophobic speeches given by Sehrawat. We also reported the various videos uploaded by him on social media, passing vile and sexually explicit remarks against Muslim women. Our key prayer to take cognisance of our complaint under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, was accepted by the NCM via their communication dated September 1, 2021. Read more here.
Twitter takes down accounts of trolls harassing Muslim women
In May this year, CJP had written to Twitter bringing to its attention certain accounts that were indulging in a sexualised campaign against Muslim women. The complaint listed down some unchecked accounts that promote material that is not only pornographic but also glorifies sexual violence against Muslim women. We showcased how social media platforms are mostly unsafe and toxic spaces for women, but in India, Muslim women in particular are subject to an “orchestrated right-wing campaign, abused for both their gender and their religion.”
In response to our complaint, Twitter took down as many as 21 of these accounts in July this year. It also removed 11 posts for violating Twitter’s norms. Read more here.
CJP’s complaint gets “Conversion Jihad” show taken down
CJP is dedicated to finding and bringing to light instances of Hate Speech, so that the bigots propagating these venomous ideas can be unmasked and brought to justice. In pursuit of this goal, we often file complaints with various regulatory bodies against communally charges television programs.
In November this year, one such complaint bore fruit when the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) ordered News Nation to take down all videos of its show on “Conversion Jihad”. This was in response to a complaint by CJP drawing attention to the deeply communal and outright Islamophobic content of the show.
The show that was telecast on November 6, 2020, told the story of one Memchand from Mewat, who was allegedly forcibly converted to Islam and threatened by the Tablighi Jamaat. Deepak Chaurasia, who was the anchor of the show, openly claimed that there is a conspiracy by ‘one gang’ to do away with all ‘Hindus of Hindustan’. The show then launched into a diatribe that can be essentially summarised as a series of baseless claims and conspiracy theories that broadly suggest Muslims want to convert and oppress Hindus.
As per protocol, CJP first wrote to the news channel and when they did not respond within the stipulated period, we sent a complaint to the NBDSA (then called the NBSA). The channel finally responded on December 5, 2020, saying the allegations were “false, baseless and wrong”. It further said that the programme was a live debate and that it was, therefore, “an uncontrollable event on which the editor or anchor of the show has no control over what is said by the panellists.”
After going through the complaint, response, rejoinder and submissions by both parties, the NBDSA concluded that the channel had only “made generalised submissions” and “failed to submit any specific reply to the grievances of the complainant.” There appeared to be a lack of due diligence by the channel and it had displayed disregard for the Code of Ethics and Guidelines. In its order dated November 13, 2021, the NBDSA advised the broadcaster to engage in introspection and remedial measures and train anchors better.
It warned the broadcaster to be careful in future, and directed it to remove the video of the show, if still available, from the website of the channel, or Youtube, or any other links, and the same should be confirmed to the NBDSA in writing within seven days. Read more here.
From “dayan” to “didi”
Over the last year, CJP has been running a unique Grassroots Fellowship program to groom young community leaders to play a more decisive role and bring about positive change on the ground in far flung villages of India. As part of this program, four youth leaders were tasked with reporting on important developments related to culture and immediate concerns of the community, especially amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, so that lives and hardships of people often ignored by mainstream news media could be brought to light.
One such endeavour truly helped bring about a laudable transformation. CJP Grassroots Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh brought to us the story of Churki Hansda, a young Covid warrior whose family had to leave their home in Gopalnagar village of Kasba panchayat in Parui in Birbhum district, because they were accused of ‘witchcraft’ by the villagers. They weren’t just blamed for every mishap that happened in the village, but even attacked with sticks and stones. Slurs of ‘dayan’ or witch, followed them everywhere, till one day the family of six packed up their meagre belongings and moved to Bolpur city. But this young woman wo was once accused of being a witch, now drives emergency vehicles and carries supplies such as oxygen cylinders to people reeling under the impact of Covid-19. When Sheikh’s story Meet Churki Hansda: Once branded a witch, now hailed as a Corona warrior was published, it soon began circulating via social media and messaging apps in various social and youth groups of the state. More and more people read about Churki Hansda’s life and work. This led to her being hailed as an icon and, respectfully addressed as “di” (meaning elder sister) instead of “dayan” as her family had been called for years.
She once against spoke to Sheikh after publication of the report to tell us exactly how life has changed for her. Hansda said, “After the CJP report, many people approached me. Some have offered support for my work, let’s see if that works out, and many more have heaped praises on me. Most importantly, I have heard that now parents are happy to encourage their daughters to study. Some even want their daughters to follow my footsteps into social work. That is really encouraging. I feel delighted. My parents are happy, too. There was a Santhal Festival a few days ago. On that day, I was called to Siuri and felicitated in front of a huge crowd.” Read more about it here.