INDIA: Intimidating human rights defenders is despicable 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the intimidation by the state police/government of Ms Kavita Srivastava, the General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) by undertaking a raid at her residence today. The PUCL is a social action group based in India. It is reported that today morning (3 October) at about 6.30 am a large armed contingent of the Special Task Force, led by Superintendent of Police Mr Ranjendra Singh Shekhwat came to Kavita’s house located in Jaipur, Rajasthan state claiming that they had a search warrant obtained from the court authorising the officers to conduct a search at Kavita’s house. The officers reportedly claimed that they were looking for a dangerous Naxalite, allegedly harboured at Kavita’s residence. The search reportedly revealed nothing and none were arrested. A search warrant, reportedly produced by the police merely mentions Kavita’s name as the ‘accused’ and mentions her residential address.

Kavita was reportedly not present at the house at the time of the search. Kavita and her associates allege that the raid is an act of vengeance by the government against her since Kavita has been speaking up against the atrocities committed by the government against poor villagers in the name of combating Naxalite activities. It is further alleged that the house search, with show of force, is the direct consequence of the PUCL challenging the government concerning the controversial poverty line. Kavita is the Convener of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign and the PUCL is the petitioner in the Supreme Court case against the government on the question of right to food.

The police and the law enforcing agencies have every right to undertake the search of a house, provided they reasonably suspect that either a crime is committed or the preparations to commit a crime is made in the property, or persons or materials related to a crime is likely to be recovered from the property. This means that as such a search conducted in a house, irrespective of its ownership, does not constitute any breach of law. In this case, the search party reportedly had a ‘search warrant’ issued from a court. Sections 47, 93 and 94 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 cover these aspects. This line of legality in the process makes the raising of any objection about the incident legally non-tenable. However the fact that the police, in this case arriving in large numbers, at Kavita’s house is indeed an intimidating factor, given the brute force the Indian police is notorious for. It is also reported that the police have allegedly misbehaved with the housemaids as well as with Kavita’s 87-year-old father.

While more details, concerning the incident is yet to be obtained, it has to be assumed that the very reason for the search is to intimidate Kavita and her colleagues. It is only from the court records the grounds upon which the police have sought for and obtained a search warrant could be ascertained. Should the grounds mentioned in the petition appear false or concocted, it will not only reaffirm the perception that the search is an act of vendetta by the police/government, but will also expose the callousness with which the court issued such an order. It has to be borne in mind that Kaivta is a person known through out the country for her commendable work on human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country.

Arresting human rights defenders on false charges or otherwise interfering with force in their activities, like raiding their residences or offices on false pretences is a typical manner in which the country’s police have responded to human rights activists or to the media, should their independent work annoy the government. It is a practice that has been used widely in states like Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, a factor that is reflected in the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders vide report A/HRC/16/44/Add.1. This is a reiteration of the report, of formerly, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, in the report vide number E/CN.4/2006/95 and Add.5. Similar concerns were expressed by the Rapporteur on Torture during India’s Universal Periodic Review on 10 April 2008 vide document number A/HRC/WG.6/1/IND/2. Kavita had met the Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights defenders during the Rapporteur’s visit to India in January this year.

The AHRC condemns the act of the state government and views the incident as nothing but intimidating a human rights defender to deter her from work. The AHRC calls upon the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India to immediately take notice of the incident and undertake a suo motu investigation into the incident. The AHRC is of the opinion that it is in times like this when a human rights defender is threatened the NHRC must step forward and offer moral and physical support to the defender in threat.

The AHRC joins hands with the protest meeting organised by concerned individuals and organisations in India concerning the incident. The protest letter issued by the gathering is reproduced below.


October 3rd, 2011

Arbitrary Raid on Kavita Srivastava’s house:
Latest act of harassment of human rights workers

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the arbitrary raid this morning (3 October), in Jaipur, on the house of Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary of PUCL and convenor of the Right to Food Campaign’s steering group. This is yet another instance of harassment of human rights workers under the cover of fighting Naxalism. Kavita Srivastava is the convenor of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign and PUCL is the petitioner in the Supreme Court case on the Right to Food which has recently challenged the Government on the issue of the poverty line.

Around 6.30 am a large contingent of armed Special Task Force Police, led by Deputy SP Rajendra Singh Shekhwat, descended on Kavita’s house claiming to be looking for a “khatarnak Naxalite”. In Kavita’s absence, the police harassed her 82-year old father and two domestic helpers. The raid was apparently conducted at the behest of the Chhattisgarh police, with the help of a “warrant” that merely carried Kavita’s address and the word “abhiyukt” (accused).

Kavita Srivastava has been a tireless defender of human rights for many years and has already been harassed earlier for her fearless opposition to the criminal activities of the Chhattisgarh government (arbitrary detentions, encounter killings, false cases, and such) under the garb of fighting Naxalism.

This is a wholly reprehensible act of targeting of human rights activists as well as a totally unacceptable attack on civil liberties in general. We condemn it and demand an unconditional apology from the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh police on this reprehensible action.  We would like to remind the Government that such undemocratic and arbitrary actions will not silence human rights defenders and instead amplify their voices against injustice and state repression.

The Steering group of the Right to Food Campaign:

Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan), Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar,  Gautam Modi and Madhuri Krishnaswamy (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva and Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kotwal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers), Anjali Bharadwaj (SNS), Jean Drèze and V.B Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign), Harsh Mander, Ritu Priya (JNU), Dipa Sinha, Biraj Patnaik

Representatives of Right to Food (State campaigns):

Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote (Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Samir Garg (Chhattisgarh), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das, Manas Ranjan (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh).

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-132-2011
Countries : India,
Issues : Human rights defenders, Right to food,