We are writing to urge the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), India to intervene in the ongoing human rights crisis in Gobindpur and Dhinkia villages in the Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa. We are deeply concerned about the ongoing use of state and extralegal violence to promote the forcible acquisition of land and livelihood. Recent attacks against affected villagers who have mobilized to resist dispossession of their lands have continued to escalate to an unconscionable level, a situation which demands an immediate response.
On March 2nd, Narahari Sahu, Manas Jena, and Tapas Mandal, three senior members of the local resistance movement POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, were killed when a handmade bomb exploded in their presence as they had peacefully gathered outside a house in Patana village. A fourth activist, Lakshman Mandal, was seriously injured and continues to battle for his life in a Cuttack hospital. According to reports we have received, the police stationed in the area refused to assist Mr. Mandal in accessing the hospital, despite the fact that they were informed of the explosion immediately after it took place. Within hours of the incident, before police personnel arrived on site to investigate, SP Jagatsinghpur Sri Satyabrata Bhoi announced through local and national media that the blast occurred while the deceased were making a bomb. While this official spin gathered steam, their dead bodies lay in Patana to be cleared the following day; an unfathomable delay given that two platoons are stationed within a few miles of the area.
This incident has unfolded in the wake of increased police violence since the resumption of land acquisition in early February. On February 3rd, a police force of twelve platoons, along with senior government officials and POSCO representatives, entered Gobindpur village under the cover of darkness to seize control of land. They reportedly confronted a human barricade composed of women and children with a prolonged lathi attack that injured over 50 people (see link 3 below). These actions are consistent with a documented pattern of abuse, threats, and intimidation by the Indian government. We wish to emphasize that such attacks are in clear violation of Indian law, as well as established international human rights norms and standards.
A fact-finding team composed of civil liberties organizations and independent individual observers visited the district on March 9th to gather information on the bomb blast incident and assess the effects of the land acquisition process on everyday life. Their findings (see link 1 below) are deeply troubling and point to a deteriorating human rights situation in Jagatsinghpur. The tense atmosphere pervading affected villages since 2005, when POSCO was issued a now-expired Memorandum of Understanding, has escalated over the last month to transform Gobindpur into a de facto police camp.
As a consequence of the ongoing threats, harassment, and outright violence against these human rights defenders, mobility between villages and across district lines is so restricted that individuals requiring emergency medical treatment have been unable to access the needed care. The fact finding report contains the following demands: (i) a high level judicial inquiry into the bomb blast incident (ii) immediate withdrawal of the police camp in Gobindpur (iii) cessation of land acquisition throughout the Dhinkia panchayat area including Gobindpur village (iv) compensation on humanitarian grounds to families of the deceased and proper medical care for the injured.
Finally, a large number of organizations, academics and independent experts based around the world have expressed their grave concern at the ongoing repression of the activities of the anti-POSCO resistance and have urged the Government of India to comply with its international human rights obligations, including the responsibility to protect its people against abuses committed by non-state actors.
We collectively urge the NHRC to intervene in this situation and send a strong signal that human rights will not be curtailed by undemocratic state practices under pressure from global capital.
Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group
South Asia Solidarity Initiative