//INDIA: Human rights defender murdered for challenging corruption

INDIA: Human rights defender murdered for challenging corruption

ISSUES: Corruption; Police inaction; Right to life; Threats to human rights defender

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding the murder of human rights activist Mr. Niyamat Ansari in Kope Gram Panchayat of Latehar District, Jharkhand state, on 2 March, as well as a similar attempt on the same day upon the life of his associate Mr. Bhukhan Singh. It is reported that the local private contractors engaged in the implementation of employment generation schemes under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA) are behind the murder since Ansari and Singh were trying to expose the corruption behind the utilisation of funds under the MGNREGA. Only one person has been arrested so far despite nationwide public outcry for immediate arrest of the suspects.

CASE NARRATIVE:

As provided by the notes prepared after detailed enquiries conducted by Prof. Jean Drèze, Mr. James Herenj and Ms. Reetika Khera and also draws on the findings of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) fact finding team on 6 March, 2011. Some details may require further corroboration, but the main points are well established.

On 2 March, 2011 a group of armed men in uniforms abducted Niyamat from his residence in Jerua village (Kope Gram Panchayat). He was brutally beaten for nearly one hour. According to eyewitnesses, the same people who attacked Niyamat in October 2008 did this. It is strongly suspected that Mr. Shankar Dubey, a petty contractor in the locality and his associates instigated these men. After they deserted him, Niyamat’s brother and other family members carried his unconscious body on a charpoy from Jerua village to Manika Police Station, a distance of about 10km. Niyamat’s family reached Manika Police Station by foot, with Niyamat unconscious on a charpoy, before the administration managed to send an ambulance to them. After this, Niyamat was brought to Latehar Sadar Hospital. Soon after reaching there, he died.

The suspects were also seeking out Niyamat’s associate, Mr. Bhukhan Singh to be assaulted. But he was able to save his life by hiding. On the morning of 3 March he was brought to Latehar by the district authorities.

Niyamat is a resident of Kope Gram Panchayat in Manika Block, Latehar District. During the last few years, he was working with Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, a local campaign for village self-rule, also involved in issues such as the right to information, the right to food and the right to work.

Since MGNREGA was launched in 2006, Niyamat and his close friend Mr. Bhukhan Singh (also from Kope Gram Panchayat) have been working for the rights of MGNREGA workers in the area. This included helping labourers to file work applications. From 2007 till February 2009, they supported a demand for unemployment allowance for several workers in Kope Panchayat. Their efforts bore fruit when in the Latehar Lok Adalat in February 2009, more than 90 workers were paid unemployment allowance for the first time in Jharkhand.

Their fight against corruption in MGNREGA made them very unpopular in the eyes of local vested interests especially private contractors who are still in control of many MGNREGA works in large parts of Jharkhand. In October 2008, they were attacked in their village and hid in a pile of wood to save their lives. In February 2009, immediately after the Lok Adalat, false cases were charged against them.

Goons attacked residents of Kope Gram Panchayat in March 2009. Several people, including women, were brutally beaten. In October 2010, Bhukhan and Niyamat’s homes were locked up and other residents of the village were warned against helping them. Bhukhan and Niyamat clearly identified Mr. Shankar Dubey (a notorious local contractor) as the person behind this attack upon them as well as behind the earlier attempt on their lives, in October 2008.

In February 2011, Niyamat Ansari and others exposed a Rs. 250,000 worth scam in MGNREGA in Rankikalan Gram Panchayat. Kailash Sahu, former Block Development Officer of Manika Block and Basudev Nagesia (Panchayat Sewak of Rankikalan) played a key role in this scam. Babloo Dubey, son of above-mentioned Shankar Dubey, was also suspected of being involved in the scam. After an enquiry, an FIR was lodged against the BDO and Panchayat Sewak on 1 March 2011.

On 3 March, a First Information Report (FIR) was lodged in Latehar against eight persons believed to be responsible for Niyamat’s murder. Those named in the FIR are Mr. Sudarshan, Mr. Shankar Dubey, Mr. Vijay Dubey, Mr. Purushottam Prashad, Mr. Arun Singh, Mr. Vashisht Tiwari, Mr. Prem Chand Singh and Mr. Devas Singh. The Superintendent of Police (SP) Latehar promised to arrest them all without delay.

Sudarshan, named in the FIR, is known as the local Maoist “commander”. The other persons named in the FIR, starting with Shankar Dubey, are mainly local contractors or their associates. Some of them, including Shankar Dubey and Arun Singh, have political party affiliations and are believed to enjoy the protection and patronage of local politicians or former politicians.

On 5 March, local newspapers including Prabhat Khabar and Dainik Bhaskar published a statement by the South Latehar Sub-zonal Committee of Communist Party of India (Maoist) claiming responsibility for the murder. Their main complaint against Niyamat in that statement is that he had failed to appear in a “jan adalat” (people’s court) they had convened to resolve a local dispute about forestland, and turned police informer. In the same statement, they warned Bhukhan Singh that if he remained under police protection and failed to come to a jan adalat, he would meet the same fate. This statement ends by absolving the others named in the FIR of the crime.

On 6 March, a joint delegation of the PUCL and United Milli Forum (UMF) visited the area and conducted a thorough enquiry. This enquiry confirmed the above-mentioned series of events. Their report is awaited.

On 7 March, the Indian Express carried an inaccurate and insidious article claiming that the District Commissioner and SP of Latehar had sent a report to the Ministry of Rural Development stating that Niyamat had cases of “attempt to murder” against him and had been responsible for the burning of Adivasi (tribal) huts. There are no such cases against Niyamat, nor did the DC and SP claim this in their report. The following day the Indian Express carried an apology for the same. A personal apology was also received by email from the concerned reporter.

At the time of sending the appeal (9 March 2011), only one of those named in the FIR (Arun Singh) has been arrested.

An earlier interview with Niyamat is available with all the background information at http://nrega.net.in/content/niyamat-ansari-interview.