August 20, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
[Last week FotM reported on the seizure by police in Orissa, India of U.S. educator Dave Pugh and his Indian travel companions and we joined with several other blogs in encouraging our readers to bombard Indian government headquarters on his behalf. Well, something worked!
Fire on the Mountain is delighted to publish the following statement by Dave on his return to the U.S. and we hope that you will read it and the accompanying article from yesterday's flagship paper The Statesman on how Orissa authorities are lightning fast to brand as Maoist terrorists anyone and everyone who helps or even spreads the word about the rural poor facing displacement by huge mining and industrial firms.]
Statement by Dave Pugh on his Detention during his Fact-Finding Trip to India
August 16, 2008
Yesterday I returned to the U.S. after spending three and a half weeks gathering information about the anti-displacement movement in India. I traveled across five states in central and eastern India to the sites of projected industrial and mining projects and real estate developments. I spoke with hundreds of villagers who are threatened with displacement and with many dedicated activists who are helping to organize the people’s resistance.
On the evening of August 12, I was returning to the state capital of Orissa, Bhubaneswar, after spending a day in the area of Kalinganagar. This was the site of a massacre of 15 tribal farmers in January 2006 by Orissa police who were protecting the construction site of a large steel plant owned by the Tatas, one of the biggest industrial houses in India. Since then the farmers and their allies have stopped construction in its tracks, much to the consternation of Tata Steel and the Orissa government.
At approximately 8 pm, the car transporting us was pulled over by local police for a traffic-related reason. My translator Pratima Das, my guide Pradeep, our driver and I were taken to a police station for questioning. For the next eight hours, all of us were interrogated, first by the local police, and then by the chief police official of the state of Orissa. The latter was particularly hostile, accusing me of being an “anti-government agitator.” When I insisted that I was a teacher researching the issue of forced displacement in India, he insisted that only “communists” would be interested in speaking with villagers.
After a night of harassment by the Orissa police, I was dropped off at my hotel at 4 am and told to stay there while they “verified” my story with U.S. Homeland Security and Interpol. I was questioned once more in my hotel room the following day. Whether due to the efforts of my local friends, or the police leaking the story to the press, or both, I was interviewed by two TV stations and a local newspaper in my hotel room. A press release issued by Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (the nationwide Anti-Displacement and People’s Development Movement) produced many phone calls and emails to government officials in Orissa and New Delhi. In addition, supporters of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle called Indian embassies and consulates in many countries. These calls undoubtedly made it more difficult for the Indian authorities to detain me any longer.
Shortly before I left Bhubaneswar, I heard that Pratima and Pradeep had been arrested and charged with serious political crimes that can keep them behind bars for many years. This is an outrage which has to be vigorously protested. Pratima and Pradeep are guilty only of being anti-displacement activists and introducing a foreign friend to the realities of India’s villages and the devastating impact that capitalist “development” will have on tens of millions of people in India in the coming years. As soon as I hear from friends in India, I will send you information on how to support the immediate release of Pratima and Pradeep from jail.
'Suspected Maoists' arrest sparks debate
Statesman News Service
JAGATSINGHPUR, Aug 17- The recent arrests of 'suspected Maoists' particularly Pratima Das and Debendra Dash who were moving in broad daylight drawing attention of one and all by accompanying a foreign national David Pugh has inevitably triggered a debate on whether anti-displacement activists were being dubbed and booked as 'suspected Maoists.'
A section of human rights and social activists, poets and journalists raised questions on the recent police action here today. While a local Oriya daily newspaper had a front page editorial captioned 'I am a Maoist' another magazine editor held a meeting at Bhubaneswar to decry state repression. The Oriya daily newspaper which carried a front page editorial claimed that Debendra Dash was a reporter working for the paper in Jagatsinghpur district. Human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo contested the police claim that Dash had been arrested as a suspected Maoist and he was linked to an arms loot case of Sambalpur district. Kanungo noted pointed out that the Sambalpur district police authorities had written to the Orissa Human Rights Commission in 2007 stating that they had no criminal case against Dash. This was after Dash had moved the Commission questioning his detention in 2006.
Several other social and people’s movement leaders like Prafulla Samantray, poet Asutosh Parida took part at a meeting convened by editor of quarterly magazine Nishan at Bhubaneswar today and raised doubts over the recent police action.
Mr Lenin Kumar, editor of the magazine took serious exception to police versions appearing in a section of the media here that the arrested suspects had named his magazine. Nishan is not a mouthpiece or publication of any political party, he said.
He alleged that of late voice of protest against government policy or system in Orissa has been branded as an act of treason or terrorism. He referred to the Dr Binayak Sen case and noted Orissa may soon witness many more Binayak Sen’s being put behind bars.Prafulla Samantray expressed concern over the increasing trend of foisting false cases against social activists who lead movements against displacement and mindless industrialization or SEZ.
Both Dash and Pratima have been arrested under section 121, 121 (A), 124 Indian Penal code, under section 17 of Criminal Law Amendment Act 1908 and under section 10 & 13 of theUnlawful Activities (prevention) Act 1967.