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UPDATE (INDIA): Landless people stand firm against continuing government attacks

September 7, 2003



Update Appeal 8 September 2003
[RE: UA-35-2003: INDIA: Two hundred Adivasis made homeless over land rights; UP-32-2003: INDIA: Enquiry into the shooting of Adivasis in 2001; land rights; indigenous groups]

UP-34-2003: INDIA: Landless people stand firm against continuing government attacks

INDIA: Land rights; Indigenous groups


Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has recently communicated with John P. Abraham, who is involved in the campaign for the rights of the indigenous Adivasi tribals in India. The Adivasi people have been fighting the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) for their rights over disused land that they have occupied in recent years. According to his letter, the police officers and state government officials have been destroying Adivasi people's huts again and are trying to push them from the land even though the legal process is still continuing. We reprint John P. Abraham's letter below to give you updated information.

Your urgent action is required to pressure the local authorities to immediately stop destroying Adivasi people's huts and intimidating them.

To see the previous AHRC appeals regarding this case, please visit:

[ UA-35-2003: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2003/494/

UP-32-2003: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2003/552/ ]

Urgent Appeals Desk

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)


[John P. Abraham's letter to Basil Fernando, the executive director of the AHRC]

There is a compelling reason why we write to you again. We also want to inform you of the developments.

After a month's negotiation with the government officials, the members of Bhumi Hukka Andolan [Land Rights Movement] decided to go back to their land. They went three times to the district collector [district revenue head official], the Tahasildar [subdistrict head] and to the police station less than 10 times. On 3 September, they gave a press statement (surprisingly it was published, for a change) that they are going to take the land back into their custody. And they did it.

Huts were destroyed by the officials again. Our people have built them again. There is tension between the officials and tribals. The number of [tribal] people involved in this exercise is not more than a hundred.

Our writ in Aurangabad against demolition was heard on 2 September 2003. The government has been asked to file its affidavit within 15 days. Another writ petition is almost finalized and will be filed by Mihir Desai in Bombay. This is to challenge the recent amendment to the Ceiling Act [to obstruct Adivasis from occupying land].

The judicial enquiry into the police firing will resume on 15 September. Fifty-five witnesses will be deposing against us. We are exposing the link between these witnesses and the police. Most of them are involved in nefarious activities or are landlords.

We are filing about 112 private complaints against police and other government officials. Out of these 112 complaints, 108 cases are related to demolition.

We have been told this time again by our friends that our strategy is not appropriate. We are aware of our limitations. All we have now is a group of people who can stand on their feet and raise their voice against injustice and that too without fear.

What baffles me is the indomitable spirit of the people. When people's movements are being sabotaged through sinister designs, these people have withstood the test of time.

Could you please send appeals to the Chief Minister of Maharasthra asking him to stop further atrocities on the tribals in Rahata Taluka.

With regards

John P.Abraham



Please write a letter to the Chief Minister of the State of Maharashtra in accordance with John¡¦s request. A sample letter is attached below.

1. Shri Sushil Kumar Shinde
Chief Minister of Maharashtra
Office of the Chief Minister
Mantralaya, Mumbai
Maharashtra 400 032
FAX: + 91 22 23633272 / + 91 22 22029214
E-mai: sectocm@maharashtra.gov.in
SALUTATION: Dear Chief Minister

With copies to:

1. Justice Shri Arivind Sawant
Maharashtra Human Rights Commission
Fax: +91 22 22885858

2. Vijay Sonkar Shastri
National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
c/o The National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhavan
Sansad Marg, New Delhi - 110 001
FAX: +91 11 2334 0016
EMAIL: nhrc3@alpha.nic.in
SALUTATION: Dear Commissioner

3. Mr. Jean Ziegler

Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Sally-Anne Way
Assistant to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
IUED, 24, rue Rothschild
CP 136, CH 1211 Geneva 21
Fax: +41 22 906 59 83
E-mail: sally-anne.way@iued.unige.ch

4. Mr. Miloon Kothari
Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
Room 4-066
UNOG-OHCHR, CH-1211, Geneva 10. Switzerland
E-mail: rhada.hcr@unog.ch
Fax: +41 22 917 90 10

Suggested letter:

Dear Chief Minister Shri Sushil Kumar Shinde

RE: Attacks on landless communities occupying ceiling lands in Rahata Taluka

I am writing to bring to your attention the ongoing attacks by state officials against the Adivasis occupying ceiling lands in Rahata Taluka, Maharashtra. According to the information I have received, police officers and state government officials have recently been destroying Adivasi people's huts again and trying to push them from ceiling land over which court proceedings are still pending.

I urge you to take strong action to stop the ongoing attacks against these people by government officials and police. Their rights for housing should be protected until the legal process is finished.

I also urge you to take steps to resolve the issue of land ownership and to ensure the personal and proprietary safety and security of the tribal community. I request that immediate action be taken to uphold justice and protect the civil liberty and human rights of the Adivasi people.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully




Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.