Eyewitness account – Arrests of activists from Sonbhadra
Arrest of Roma and Sukalo from Robertsgunj office of AIUFWP on 30 June 2015 early morning – an eye witness account from Robertsgunj, Sonbhadra
About 6.15 AM in the morning on 30 June, there was loud banging on the door of the room in which I and one other comrade were sleeping. By the time I could get up to open the door was almost breaking apart. As I opened the door, dozens of police officers, brandishing revolvers and using the choicest and filthiest of language, barged in. They immediately snatched our mobile phones and pushed and shoved us around asking for Roma. In the mean time Roma came out of her room and asked them to behave themselves. " I know you have come to arrest me and I am not running away. Wait till I change my dress", Roma told them. Despite this the CO of Robertsgunj Kotwali , barged in to Roma's room and tried to pull her out of the room, slapped two other women who were there and threatened Sukalo and despite one woman in the process of changing her dress the C.O. of Robertsgunj Kotwali– Kapil Yadav did not have the decency to come out of the room and stood there threatening them and abusing them. He kept telling ," It is because of Roma that my arm got broken, I will have my revenge now." I was not even been allowed to use the toilet, which they relented after I protested ( but had one police constable constantly peeping in!). There was no lady constable to be seen though they had primarily come to arrest a woman leader. They were all standing outside the house.
The landlady (of this rented office – cum – residence of the AIUFWP and Roma) was called and threatened and was told that she should see to it that Roma is not allowed to stay here, also adding that she had time since Roma would not be released easily from jail. So it was clear that they were not arresting Roma to disrupt the demonstration programme scheduled later in the day under the joint banner of AIPF and Bhumi Adhikar Andolan to protest against the Land Acquisition Ordinance and illegal land acquisition and forcible eviction of people for the Kanhar dam, but they were arresting her to thwart and derail the on going peoples'movement in this region.
Around 7 am , we were packed in to police jeeps – Roma and me in one jeep, Sukalo and another comrade in another jeep. There were atleast 10 more jeeps packed with police officers and a van full of heavily armed police personnel . So all in all about 150 -200 heavily armed police personnel had come to arrest one women leader.
We were led in convoy to the SP's office on the outskirts of Robertsgunj. Moment our jeeps landed Roma was taken to a separate room. Sukalo was also sent to a different room. The two of us were made to sit on the verandah in front of the SP's office, who was sitting triumphantly and holding court with several other officers having their morning tea. The SP said that the main culprit of the disturbance in Kanhar and inciting Adivasis and Dalits for their land rights was now in their custody and pointing to Sukalo he commented that here was another community leader who needed to be taught a lesson or two. Then the SP and other officers burst forth with their anger on Roma and the peoples movement in Sonbhadra and the adjoining areas, telling us that they hated her guts in challenging the police and the administration and "inciting" the Dalits and Adivasis to fight uncompromisingly for their land and forest rights. They blamed Roma squarely for the protest in Kanhar saying that people had agreed to hand over land because of the very good compensation being offered by the UP government but Roma had single handedly disturbed the entire process by inciting them to demand for their informed consent and discussions about appropriate compensation, environmental issues etc. Roma was "anti-development" and was misleading people for her own ends of becoming a leader. And then he added something of note. He said that they had no problems with leaders who worked with the administration and police but were against leaders like Roma who was always challenging the administration and police and trying to empower the poor people of the region. Here in lies the crux of the administration and police's anger with Roma – she is empowering the people and specially the women to stand up and speak for their rights. Hatred towards Adivasi and Dalit women were quite open.
Around 8 am another comrade Raghavendra and myself were packed in to a jeep and were taken away to Robertsgunj Kotwali where we were detained till 5 PM. Due to pressure created by the demonstrating people at the days programmes the police were forced to escort us from the P.S. and hand us back to our comrades.
During the day time, while we sat in a room bustling with activity around Roma's arrest, we heard that people coming to participate in the days demonstration programme were being held back, some leaders were also arrested/ detained. We also heard that Roma and Sukalo were produced in court around mid afternoon ; the court was cordoned off by armed police and completely emptied when they were being produced in court through the back entry– such is the extent of the police and administration's fear!There was relief all round the Robertsgunj thana when around 2.30 pm news came in that Roma and Sukalo had been remanded to judicial custody and were on their way to Mirzapur Central Jail.
Inspite of the obstacles and harassment by the local administration to disrupt the protest rally more than one thousand people managed to reach the district court in Robertsgunj to protest against the atrocities and illegal land acquisition currently going on in Kanhar. Several leaders of AIPF and AIUFWP addressed the rally which took a resolution to continue the struggle and demanded immediate release of Roma, Sukalo and other detained leaders and sympathizers.
An update on the cases filed against Roma and Sukalo
All the cases filed against Roma relate to the incident in Kanhar. There are three crime numbers and while Case number 125 is dated 13 April and 14 April , two other Crime Numbers – 126 & 127 are dated 14 & 15 April 2015. Roma was not physically present on any of these days in Kanhar. She had left Robertsgunj on the night of 12 April after completing a womens' training programme from 10- 12 April. Neither Roma nor Sukalo are named in the FIR. Interestingly no case was filed in the name of Sukalo and all of it was prepared in the SP office on 30 June when she was arrested and all cases in which Roma has been charged were also used to implicate her.
After the incident of the 2nd police firing in Kanhar on 18 April 2015, we had come to know through news paper reports that Roma had been debarred from entering the districts of Sonbhadra, Mirzapur , Chandauli etc by an order of the DM – Sonbhadra. That was the reason why she did not accompany the fact finding team which visited Kanhar on 19-20 April 2015. We also got to know that arrest warrants had been issued against her and few other community leaders. Reportedly arrest warrants were issued against Roma related to old cases against her. But after her arrest on the 30 th June, we got to know that she has been mischievously implicated in new cases manufactured against her in incidents in Kanhar dam area – on dates on which she was not even physically present in that area. This clearly shows the intent of the local administration and police to implicate her falsely, put her behind bars and and in this way hope to smash the peoples movement in this area.
Sukalo has also been completely implicated – cases were manufactured against her right after her arrest on 30 June 2015. In protest against this, Sukalo is fasting in the Mirzapur jail. In fact what she told us when we met her on the 1st July in Mirzapur jail that the police did not know what to do with her and were taking her away to a different location , before changing plans and again bringing her back to the SP office to be taken away to the Dsitrict Court in Robertsgunj.
The district administration and the police from the way they behaved in their 6 am swoop on Roma's residence, their handling of Sukalo's case, the threats they have been issuing to people in the districts that Roma and all the leaders and all that opposed the government will be made to suffer is a clear indication of an unsettled, unjust district and police administration.
Avijit / NTUI & AIUFWP
New Delhi – 3 July 2015.