07, Sep 2018 | Sushmita
In a significant breakthrough in CJP and All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP)’s campaign to release Adivasi Human Rights Defenders Sukalo and Kismatiya Gond, the Allahabad High Court has allowed both women to seek ‘judicial remedy’. AIUFWP Treasurer Sukalo and Forest Rights Committee (FRC) Secretary Kismatiya Gond, were produced before the court on September 7 due to a Habeas Corpus petition filed by us.
Both women had been languishing in prison for over nearly three months under false charges and even though they were not released immediately, they can now apply for bail. “As these two women leaders are in Judicial Custody, they can seek remedy [for their release] as per the law applicable for Habeas Corpus petition,” said Adv. Farman Naqvi, appearing for the petitioners, Sukalo and Kismatiya.
The Court recorded their statements and asked relevant questions to both of them. The local police was severely upbraided for misleading the court in their affidavit: a police official, a constable had tried to pass himself off as a higher officer. “If you dare to mislead the High Court on a sworn affidavit, we can only imagine the terror that you try and spread locally,” the Judges remarked directing orally that the state government take action against the officer.
CJP has been closely following how Adivasi women of Sonbhadra, UP, who are a part of a peaceful struggle for land rights, are being systematically bullied and harassed. Many of them have fake cases filed against them on false or trumped up charges. CJP stands with the AIUFWP in their demand for the immediate implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Support these brave women, who are determined to get their rights despite hailing from oppressed, vulnerable and marginalised communities, by donating here.
The court asked Sukalo and Kismatiya about the time period of their purportedly illegal arrest, to which both of them replied that they had been incarcerated for about three months. The Court also asked them if they had been produced before a magistrate, as mandated by Section 167 of CrPC. Both the women said that they had been “taken somewhere” but they could not affirm if it was a magistrate in the absence of a legal counsel accompanying them. The Court also asked them whether they were ‘properly treated’ during their period of incarceration, and whether they were subject to torture etc. Both of them replied saying they were not treated in a problematic manner and they were given food etc. regularly.
Adv. Farman Naqvi also sought permission from the Court if the Adivasi forest leaders could meet their families, to which the Court agreed and said that they could meet them for as long as they deem satisfactory. The families, then reportedly said that Sukalo and Kismatiya looked fine. Though Kismatiya looked a bit distraught, this kind of incarceration being her first experience, Sukalo seemed a little better.
You can view Sukalo and Kismatiya’s story here:
This is a shot in the arm in our campaign for justice and accountability, especially since the women remained untraceable for a long while. However, owing to the Court’s intervention, the UP police was compelled to produce them before the Court. The families meeting their beloved family members after three months of struggle was an emotional moment.
Brief background of the case
Sukalo Gond and Kismatiya Gond, along with Sukhdev Gond and two others were arrested on Friday, June 8. The Sonbhadra (UP) police picked them up in a clandestine manner at the Chopan railway station, when they were returning from a meeting with UP forest minister Dara Singh Chauhan and the forest secretary in Lucknow. In fact, at the meeting, Chauhan had promised to look into previous assaults on villagers in Lilasi that were allegedly conducted in connivance with the forest department. The women’s names were not even mentioned in the FIR.
Sukalo’s and Kismatiya’s ordeal has lasted more than two months. CJP and AIUFWP were compelled to file a Habeas Corpus petition with the Allahabad High Court. Following CJP’s and AIUFWP’s campaign for their release, political parties such as the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have also voiced support for their release on social media and other platforms. Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted in August that he was concerned about the women and that local Congress leaders should follow up on the matter. On August 28, the Allahabad High Court haddirected the SP of Sonbhadra police to produce both of them in Court today, September 7. Recently, UP MLA Sanjay Garg met the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath and submitted a letter informing him of the constant police violence that Sonbhadra villagers have faced. He also highlighted the issue of “painting the [AIUFWP] union in bad light”.
This order from the Allahabad High Court will set in motion the process of their release. The next step is their bail applications in lower court and hopes to get immediate relief.