INDIA: Human rights defender Ms Agnes Kharshiing released; struggle for land rights of indigenous people continues

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-032-2013
ISSUES: Human rights defenders, Land rights, Poverty & adequate standard of living, Right to redress, Violence against women,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received communication from Ms. Agnes Kharshiing, President of Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO), regarding her arrest, denial of bail, and subsequent release. She was arrested on 8 November 2013 when the Meghalaya Urban Development Authority (MUDA) conducted an eviction drive in the Umsawli area of Shillong to pave way for construction of the New Shillong Township (For further details, please see our original Urgent Appeal: AHRC-UAC-143-2013). We have now received updated information that she has been released on bail on 16 November 2013. While Ms. Kharshiing is released, the struggle for land rights of indigenous people continues.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

Ms. Kharshiing was arrested while protesting a government eviction drive as the documents related to the eviction order were not made available by officials and yet the inhabitants of the houses and land were marked as ‘encroachers’. Several houses and shops were demolished, causing loss to property and livelihood of the inhabitants (For further details, please see our original Urgent Appeal: AHRC-UAC-143-2013).

According to CSWO, the arrest of Ms. Kharshiing is a sign of suppression of the voice of the people by government, and abuse of power. The eviction drive has been perceived as a strategy to drive the indigenous people out of their homes and fabricate charges against those who try to help them, i.e. by intimidating and creating fear.

The state of Meghalaya is rich in natural mineral resources such as uranium, coal, and limestone. Many Lands in Meghalaya are Raid (Community) lands and cannot be sold, as the land belongs to the community. Moreover, the Meghalaya Transfer of Land Regulation Act 1971 (Act 1 of 1972), an Act passed to regulate transfer of land in Meghalaya is in force for the protection of the interests of the Scheduled Tribes living there. Sec 3(1) of the Act states that no land in Meghalaya shall be transferred by a tribal to a non-tribal or by a non- tribal to another non-tribal, except with the previous sanction of the competent authority. And, any transfer of land made in contravention of the provisions of this section shall be void and shall not be enforceable in any court. Land records pertaining to the construction of new township in Shillong obtained through RTI application show discrepancy and CSWO headed by Ms. Kharshiing has exposed incomplete documentation.

AHRC is concerned about the safety and security of Ms. Kharshiing and her team, who are spearheading several campaigns on human rights issues in the state. Some of these are:

1. Ms. Kharshiing and her team were instrumental in instituting an Inquiry Commission on a fake encounter in 2009, where there was a sensational jail break and the leader was shot down allegedly in a fake encounter by the Jowai Police. Despite strong evidence of tampering of FIR, the Arms Register, and the Arms itself, during the inquiry conducted by the Commission, the report has given clean chit to the politicians and cops. There is strong evidence against the then Director General of Police (DGP) and the then Superintendent of Police (SP) Jowai. The former was recently appointed NHRC Special Rapporteur for the North Eastern States of India, and the latter, who is presently SP Tura, West Garo Hills District, Meghalaya, recently arrested a blind youth in Tura, for ‘agitating’.

2. Ms. Agnes and her team have filed an FIR on corruption in the Assistant Lower Primary Appointment Scam, where genuine candidates were deprived their right to get a teaching job as their marks were erased with white Fluid, on the behest of Ministers. Police are stalling the investigation.

3. A joint FIR on the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) Scam where milk of children was adulterated has been filed by Ms. Kharshiing and her team.

4. Ms. Kharshiing has moved a PIL in the Meghalaya High Court, opposing the allotment of Government Land at New Shillong Township to IAS Officers at the rate of one rupee per square feet.

5. Ms, Kharshiing has filed many RTI’s on Government schemes where money has been siphoned and has exposed that dead people were getting allotment for rice while the poor have been deprived.

6. The CSWO has been vocal about land alienation and exploitation of natural mineral resources in the state of Meghalaya.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please urge the authorities in the Government of Meghalaya: 
1. To ensure safety and security of Ms. Kharshiing and her team and prevent further harassment to her person and her team;
2. To ensure transparency in land dealings for the proposed construction of New Shillong Township and protect people’s right to land and property;
3. To prohibit unauthorized eviction and prevent loss of livelihood and property;
4. To protect the indigenous people’s right to land and resources.

The AHRC will write a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of the Indigenous People for intervention in this matter.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear …………….., INDIA: Human rights defender Ms Agnes Kharshiing released, but the struggle for land rights of indigenous people continues Name of victim: Ms Agnes Kharshiing Names of alleged perpetrators: Executive Engineer of MUDA Date of her arrest: 8 November 2013 Date of her release: 16 November 2013  Place of incident: Umsawli, Shillong, State of Meghalaya, India I would like to voice my deep concern regarding the safety and security of Ms. Agnes Kharshiing, President of Civil Society Women's Organisation (CSWO), Shillong, Meghalaya. She was arrested on November 8, 2013, when the Meghalaya Urban Development Authority (MUDA) conducted an eviction drive in the Umsawli area of Shillong to pave way for construction of the New Shillong Township, and released on bail only on November 16, 2013. While Ms. Kharshiing is released, the struggle for land rights of indigenous people continues. I have learned that Ms. Kharshiing was arrested while protesting a government eviction drive as the documents related to the eviction order were not made available by officials and yet the inhabitants of the houses and land were marked as 'encroachers'. Several houses and shops were demolished, causing loss to property and livelihood of the inhabitants. According to CSWO, the arrest of Ms. Kharshiing is a sign of suppression of the voice of the people by government, and abuse of power. The eviction drive has been perceived as a strategy to drive the indigenous people out of their homes and fabricate charges against those who try to help them, i.e. by intimidating and creating fear. I know the state of Meghalaya is rich in natural mineral resources such as uranium, coal, and limestone. Many Lands in Meghalaya are Raid Lands or Community lands and cannot be sold, as the land belongs to the community. Moreover, the Meghalaya Transfer of Land Regulation Act 1971 (Act 1 of 1972), an Act passed to regulate transfer of land in Meghalaya is in force for the protection of the interests of the Scheduled Tribes living there. It has been alleged by CSWO that this Act has been tampered and amended secretly outside the Legislative Assembly. Sec 3(1) of the Act states that no land in Meghalaya shall be transferred by a tribal to a non-tribal or by a non- tribal to another non-tribal, except with the previous sanction of the competent authority. And, any transfer of land made in contravention of the provisions of this section shall be void and shall not be enforceable in any court. Land records pertaining to the construction of new township in Shillong obtained through RTI application show discrepancy and CSWO headed by Ms. Kharshiing has exposed incomplete documentation. I am concerned about the safety and security of Ms. Kharshiing and her team as they are spearheading several campaigns on human rights issues in the state. Some of these are: 1. Ms. Kharshiing and her team were instrumental in instituting an Inquiry Commission on a fake encounter in 2009, where there was a sensational jail break and the leader was shot down allegedly in a fake encounter by the Jowai Police. Despite strong evidence of tampering of FIR, Arms Register, and Arms, during the inquiry conducted by the Commission, the report has given clean chit to the politicians and cops. There is strong evidence against the then Director General of Police (DGP) and the then Superintendent of Police (SP) Jowai. The former was recently appointed NHRC Special Rapporteur for the North Eastern States of India, and the latter, who is presently SP Tura, West Garo Hills District, Meghalaya, recently arrested a blind youth in Tura, for ‘agitating’. 2. Ms. Agnes and her team have filed an FIR on corruption in the Assistant Lower Primary Teachers Appointment Scam, where genuine candidates were deprived their right to get a teaching job as their marks were erased with white Fluid, on the behest of Ministers. Police are stalling the investigation. 3. A joint FIR on the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) Scam where milk of children was adulterated has been filed by Ms. Kharshiing and her team. 4. Ms. Kharshiing has moved a PIL in the Meghalaya High Court, opposing the allotment of Government Land at New Shillong Township to IAS Officers at the rate of one rupee per square feet. 5. Ms, Kharshiing has filed many RTI’s on Government schemes where money has been siphoned and has exposed that dead people were getting allotment for rice while the poor have been deprived. 6. The CSWO has been vocal about land alienation and exploitation of natural mineral resources in the state of Meghalaya. I, thereby: 1. Urge the authorities in the govt. of Meghalaya to ensure safety and security of Ms. Kharshiing and her team and prevent further harassment to her person and her team;  2. Urge the authorities to ensure transparency in land dealings for the proposed construction of New Shillong Township and protect people's right to land and property; 3. Urge the authorities to prohibit unauthorized eviction and prevent loss of livelihood and property; 4. Urge the govt. of Meghalaya to protect indigenous people's right to land and resources. Yours sincerely, ---------------- PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO: 1. Dr. Mukul Sangma Chief Minister Upper Nongrim Hills (Near NEC) Shillong-793001 Meghalaya INDIA Tel: +91 364 2224282, +91 364 2522752 Fax: +91 364 2227913 2. Joint Secretary Chief Minister's Secretariat I. W. Ingty, MCS Main Secretariat Building  Shillong 793001 Meghalaya INDIA Tel: +91 364 2228064 - S2690 Email: ingty.israel@gmail.com 3. Under Secretary Chief Minister's Secretariat D. Kharpuri Main Secretariat Building Shillong 793001 Meghalaya INDIA Tel: +91 364 2222454 4. I. R. Sangma, MCS Joint Secretary Chief Minister's Secretariat Department Main Secretariat Building Shillong 793001 Meghalaya INDIA Tel: +91 364 2506367 - S2649, Mobile: +91 9436112993 Email: irsangma19@gmail.com  5. Principal Secretary Chief Minister's Secretariat K. S. Kropha, IAS Main Secretariat Building Shillong 793001 Meghalaya INDIA Tel: +91 364 2224184, +91 364 2226256 (R), Mobile: +91 9402196384  Email: kropha@hotmail.com  6. Chairperson  National Human Rights Commission  Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg  New Delhi 110001  INDIA  Fax: + 91 11 2338 4863  E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in Thank you. Urgent Appeals Programme  Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)