On the morning of January 24, I sent an SMS to Bastar IGP SRP Kalluri. I don't know him personally, neither does he know me. The reason that I felt compelled to contact him was because a woman I admire immensely, a very brave woman, was being hounded by anti-social elements out of her village in Bastar. The woman is Bela Bhatia, social scientist and human rights activist.
I had received information from friends that on January 23, a group of 30-odd men attacked Bela near her house in Parpa village, 8km south of Jagdalpur. They barged into her house violently, and threatened to burn the building down if she did not leave immediately.
Bela persuaded the mob to let her change her clothes and leave the building. In the meantime, the mob attacked the landlady of the residence, and started threatening her to make Bela leave the building immediately. The landlord of the residence and his sons had already been summoned to the station the previous day, and they had been threatened with dire consequences if Bela did not vacate the apartment immediately.
|Social scientist and human rights activist Bela Bhatia.
Bela tried to again reassure the mob that she would leave as soon as possible. However, the mob continued to be belligerent, in the presence of the police, and even when the Sarpanch arrived.
Concerned for Bela's security, I sent the following SMS to IGP Bastar Kalluri: "Mr. Kalluri, please ensure that Bela Bhatia is not hounded out of her residence. The law of the land applies to Chhattisgarh too. Pyoli, Advocate"
|Photo: Pyoli Swatija/Facebook.
An hour later, I got a reply from his number: "Naxals will be kicked out of bastar."
On getting this cryptic reply, I asked him what connection his answer had to my query and added that he should "please stop persecuting adivasis, activists, academicians and journalists".
The answer I got to this was: "F U".
|Photo: Pyoli Swatija/Facebook.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a senior IPS officer on being queried about the safety of a citizen in his jurisdiction, gave the reply "F U".
As things stand, I am not the only well-wisher Bela has. Many activists, lawyers, teachers and others were also SMS’ing Kalluri and other senior police officers of Bastar district since they heard how Bela was being threatened to leave Bastar.
Some of the responses they got from Kalluri's numbers ( 09479194000, 08889900515, 0975430800, 0975563657) are as follows: "the drama has just begun dear"; "stop bitching"; “if you come in front of me, I will chappal you, idiot”; and, “Yes, very soon Maoists and their dogs will be thrown out of Bastar. We will take strong action”.
Sexual abuse of adivasi women
So, what makes an Inspector General of Police act with such brazenness and depravity? On January 7, 2017, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a press note indicting Chhattisgarh police of raping and sexually assaulting at least 16 women in Bijapur. Bela had been instrumental behind this interim order.
She and other friends of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) assisted women in the villages of Chinnagelur, Peddagelur, Gundam, Burgicheru and Pegdapalli to file FIRs against police personnel for sexually assaulting them in November 2015.
The NHRC took suo moto cognisance of newspaper reports and visited the area to interview the women and issued the interim order. The NHRC also issued a notice to the Government of Chhattisgarh to explain why it should not recommend interim monetary relief of Rs 37 lakh to them.
The Commission (NHRC) was further awaiting the recording the statements of other victims who also suffered similar abuse. But between November 2015 and January 2017, Bela had been attacked twice.
On January 19 and 20, a five-member team of the NHRC again toured the villages of Peddagelur and Bellamnendra in Bijapur district. The team was on a mission to record the statements of the rest of the women who had filed cases of rape and sexual assault against the security forces.
They took down the statements of six victims on the first day and of five more on the second. The team was assisted by Soni Sori and Bela Bhatia. On January 23, the attack on Bela took place.
IGP Kalluri’s response to the attacks on Bela Bhatia makes it amply clear that he is in support of this concerted violence and campaign against Bela. An activist and researcher has been repeatedly attacked, harassed and abused, in full view of the police, and the highest ranking police officer in the district is not only blatantly encouraging these attacks, but is also abusing her well-wishers and friends who are calling up to enquire after Bela.
If such messages are being sent to women like me who are sitting in the safety of their offices and homes in Delhi and other metropolitan cities, just think for a moment the condition of the adivasi women in Chhattisgarh.
Labeling us as 'white-collar Naxalites'
Kalluri has a track record of harassing journalists such as Malini Subramanium and Prabhat Singh; activists such as Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi; and human rights lawyers such as the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, and a team of lawyers from Telangana, who were visiting Chhattisgarh in December 2016 on a fact-finding mission and who were arrested for "laundering 1 lakh rupees for Maoists".
IG Kalluri has recently said that in 2017 he is going to go after “white-collar naxalites”, by which he is referring to activists in the area. He also boasts of having killed 134 Maoists in 2016. These extrajudicial killings are under scanner and many victims are said to be civilian adivasis. One of the slain “Maoists” was a nine-year-old boy.
Kalluri thinks that his impunity will continue indefinitely, but the women who were receivers of his depraved messages think otherwise.
Yesterday afternoon, following the complaints filed yesterday by WSS and HRDA, NHRC chairperson Justice HL Dattu gave directions to immediately contact DGP Awasthi and ask him to ensure that Bela is protected from any further attack or harassment. He has been told to report back on the situation.
The NHRC has, in fact, summoned Kalluri earlier to depose in the case of mass sexual assault by police personnel and he has avoided appearing and has taken the plea that he is sick.
Yes, Mr SRP Kalluri, you are a sick man. Get well soon.