UPDATE (India): Updates on death threats to human rights activists working with dalit and marginalized group in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-100-2005
ISSUES: Human rights defenders,

[RE: UA-138-2005: INDIA: Human rights activist facing death threats for working with Dalit and Backward Community]

Dear friends,
The article below includes the updates regarding the death threats to  human rights activists working with dalit and marginalized group in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India (UA-138-2005). It shows how your support gives an impact to improve the protection of the poor and encourage them to participate in the movement regaining their rights.
We could vote after twenty seven years
“It was like getting some water and food after a long starvation. It was like a rain after long drought…” says Ms. Bhagawathi and Ms. Kalawathi. They could not hide their happiness after being able to cast their vote in Belwa Village for the Village Panchayath election held on 17 August 2005.
For the last 27 years the dalits and the backward community in Belwa Village in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India were not able to cast their vote in any election. The upper caste dominated village in Varanasi District of Utter Pradesh never allowed the lower caste community to enjoy their right to vote. The reasons are manifold. The lower caste and the backward community is a source of free labour and faced all sought of exploitation. The caste Hindus were afraid that if their slaves were allowed to vote, they would capture power which might eventually put an end to their exploitation.
For the Village Panchayath election which just concluded on 17 August 2005, Mr. S. N. Giri, an accepted figure and human rights activist working for the dalits and the backward community filed his nomination as a candidate. Mr. Rajendra Thiwari, the former Village Headman who held the post unchallenged for about 25 years immediately realized the threat to his unchallenged power. He had contested the election formerly through his wife when the seat was reserved for a woman candidate. Mr. Thiwari and his men threatened Mr. Giri and told him that if he did not withdraw his nomination he and his colleague Mr. Lenin Raghuvanshi of People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR) and their family members would be assassinated.
On receipt of the threat Mr. Lenin of PVCHR contacted the AHRC seeking for help to intervene in the situation. The AHRC immediately issued an Urgent Appeal through its urgent appeals network (See further: UA-138-2005) and also contacted various other local and international organisations, including the UN bodies calling for immediate protection of Mr. Giri and Mr. Lenin. The UN responded through its Special Procedures Branch for Human Rights Defenders. The AHRC also contacted various government bodies and foreign consulates in India seeking support.
Due to the immense pressure from various corners, including from local and international organisations there was a response from the state government. The person who called Mr. Lenin and threatened him was arrested and later released on bail. There was a huge police presence during the immediate days prior to election and during the day of election. The following statement by Mr. Lenin itself would show how elections were held in the past and how it was held on 17 August 2005.
I am Dr. Lenin, and I work with the PVCHR, an ngo working for the dalits and the backward community in Utter Pradesh. This 17th was the election at Belwa. During the last years no other person were allowed to file nomination here other than those approved by Mr. Rajendra Thiwari. This time we asked Mr. S. N. Giri to file in his nomination. We thought he could give a fair contest since the majority of the people in this place are dalits and members from the backward community. They never had an opportunity to participate in the democratic process. So we thought there should be somebody whom the members from the dalit and the backward community could trust and could make their voice heard at places of authority. This would also help to break the servitude.
Form the day Mr. Giri filed the nomination; we started getting threats in various forms. Finally when somebody called me over my telephone and categorically said that all of us involved with the work of PVCHR and Mr. Giri would be dealt with and that Mr. Giri and myself would be assassinated, I realized that things have gone too far from what we could manage. I called up the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong and updated them the situation. Later I came to know that they have issued urgent appeals on our case calling in for support from various corners.
Support did come in. many people contacted me over telephone and inquired about the situation which in itself was a great relief. I mean to say that when you understand that one is not alone, that itself is a motivation to continue the work. The next day to all of our surprise the person who contacted me over telephone was arrested by the local police which had never happened in the past. Those who said that the police would never dare to touch them and that the police is with them found that the same police coming up against them. I am sure that it is not because the police wanted to do so, on their own, but because that they realized that if they did not do anything they would be exposed.
The police did something which never happened in the past. They came with public address systems and announced at the upper caste Hindu areas that if anyone would create confusion and commotion preventing the dalits and the lower caste from casting their vote they would be immediately taken into custody according to law. Similarly they went to the lower caste houses and announced that they are free to cast their vote and that every protection would be given for them to exercise their right. This continued for two days immediately prior to the election.
The day of poling was interesting. The dalits and the backward community started pouring in from the morning. But initially many stood behind and watched and once they were sure that no one would attack them as in the past they formed long queues and cast their vote. One another interesting element is that the women from the upper caste also came in huge numbers. Probably Mr. Thiwari was convinced that unless he let their women to exercise their right he would fail the election. The District magistrate also came to the place early in the morning and announced that anyone who disrupts the election proceeding would be immediately taken into custody and those who attempt armed attack would be shot.
At about 1 pm some people, whom we suspect are the aides of Mr. Thiwari tried to cast vote on false names and tried playing fraud. To our surprise they were arrested and taken into custody. To my memory, but for this election, never was there an election here which could be anywhere called as an election. On the election day people employed by the upper caste candidate would come, take all the ballot papers, fix the seal of the candidate of their choice and the put it back in the ballot box and the entire election would be over within a matter of few hours and those who challenged this never could live in Belwa anymore.
But this time it was different. I do not know how to thank all those who made this possible for us. Now the question is to maintain the same calm and peace for the counting, which is coming up next week. I hope things will go smoothly. This is the result of a collective work.
Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi
The whole example shows when the protection of the poor improves, they spontaneously participate in the democratic process.
Urgent Appeals Desk
The Asian Human Rights Commission

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Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : UP-100-2005
Countries : India,
Issues : Human rights defenders,